22 year old Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ace Thiago Moisés is set to face Robert Watley this weekend, and believes he will be fighting for more than just the vacant Legacy Fighting Alliance Lightweight title. If Moisés is correct, a strong performance against his 7-1 opponent could mean a highly-sought after call from the number one promotion on the planet.
“My next fight is July 21st,” Thiago told The MMA Vanguard in an exclusive interview. “I am really confident, and I am hoping this victory will take me to the next level, the UFC.”
The former Resurrection Fighting Alliance Lightweight champion (a company that was integrated into the LFA late last year), Moisés has long been on the radar of prospect hunters the world over. Now 9-1, the talented Brazilian from Indaiatuba, who now fights out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, could be just one spellbinding performance away from taking the next step on the road to achieving his ultimate dream: to become the UFC Lightweight champion.
Standing in his way is Robert Watley, however, a Maryland-based fighter of Puerto Rican origin riding a 7-fight win streak. Able to boast four finishes inside the distance, Watley is a Shogun Fights Lightweight champion, an XCC Lightweight champion, and represents Conquest BJJ and MMA. On top of his impressive 7-1 pro record, the 27 year old also lays claim to a 7-2 amateur record, and holds impressive recent wins over Dan Root, Cole Presley and then-undefeated stand out Josh Visel. Those performances have put Watley on the national stage, ready to stand toe-to-toe with Moisés, a man he acknowledges is his toughest opponent to date thanks to Thiago’s well rounded skill set. Watley, however, does not appear to be shrinking away from the challenge poised by Moisés; instead, he has talked openly about looking forward to testing his skills against one of the best prospects in the world, on the biggest stage of his young professional career.
Still, despite the undeniable talents Thiago has displayed in every aspect of MMA, he remains most strongly associated with his primary love; grappling. In fact, Thiago explained to The MMA Vanguard that he has been training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu since he was just 4 years old, under the tutelage of his father.
“I started training with my father when I was a kid and I loved it,” Thiago intimated. “I kept training every day, and I liked it more and more.” It came as no surprise, then, when Thiago told us that his father was also his biggest inspiration.
In 2012, at the age of just 17, Thiago Moisés turned pro in mixed martial arts. His first victory came, duly, by way of submission; an armbar to be precise, with Wellington Dias playing the role of ‘fall guy’. 5-fight veteran Denis Figueira was next, and this time Moisés showed that he was, already, more than just a submission grappling phenom. A TKO victory advanced Thiago’s career to 2-0, before he completed the set, so to speak, in June 2013 with a Unanimous Decision win over Liga Jiu Jitsu’s José Conceicao.
A month later, Thiago would test himself against debutant Leonardo ‘Dilon’ Guarizzo, in his penultimate fight in his home nation of Brazil. Displaying excellent Muay Thai fundamentals early, Moisés peppered Dilon with leg and body kicks, one so hard on the thigh that Dilon immediately buckled, scrapping around for better fortune on the mat.
Moisés easily took top control, but his interest in a quick finish saw him lose position at about the two minute mark as he fished for a heel hook submission. Dilon defended, pressed forward in a mini-scramble, and wound up in Moisés’ guard. Dilon allowed himself time to catch his breath; too much time, perhaps. Even as the referee asked for action, Moisés striking defence was so watertight the two were soon back on the feet at the official’s behest.
More leg kicks and a threatening and effective Muay Thai stance left Dilon little choice but to try changing levels again, though with thirty seconds left and against an opponent intent on tying him up with smothering BJJ defensive stylistics, he was unable to make the most of his position for a second time.
The second round started with Moisés continuing to chew up the lead leg of Dilon. A hard leg kick buckled Dilon’s knee, and another quickly followed as he recovered. Further followed, before Moisés switched to utilizing his hands, only for Dilon to press forward, a motion that effected a mistake from Moisés. Too eager to commit to a sprawl, Moisés lost control of proceedings, and found his back to the cage in a loose standing front facelock. Dilon fished for a double leg, didn’t get it, and instead Thiago threw his legs up for a spectacular standing triangle attempt that was more flashy than effective. Still, Moisés was able to get back to his feet, where he continued to display utter dominance. A hard spinning back kick found the mark in textbook fashion, clearly hurting Dilon badly, and a couple of follow up punches served to gift Dilon the opportunity to cover up on the mat.
It could have been over; Moisés swarmed, dropped several punches on Dilon, but what it became clear his opponent was defending himself intelligently, Moisés calmly stood, and waved for his opponent to do the same. Leg kicks and body punches continued to light up Dilon, as the crowd chanted in support of ‘Thiago’.
The third round saw Dilon fighting like a man needing a finish; but for all his increased aggression, Thiago was clearly a step ahead. His punches were faster, sharper, crisper. They found their mark with impressive regularity. His striking guard was tight, and Dilon reverted back to type with just over a minute gone, achieving a double leg takedown close to the fence. Dilon tried dropping bombs; it didn’t work, however. With half of round three to go, the referee again stood them up due to inactivity. Dilon achieved another takedown swiftly afterwards, but with it clear Dilon was struggling to make the most of the position and mount offence, Thiago started creating distance from his guard, and swiftly locked on a triangle with around 40 seconds to go! When it become clear Dilon was intent on toughing the round out, Thiago moved to triangle mount, and even fished for an armbar late on. Dilon wouldn’t tap, however, and the fight came to it’s conclusion.
Thiago Moisés was declared the winner by Unanimous Decision for a second fight running, and advanced his record to a perfect 4-0.
In early 2014, a fight with Alex Franco fell through, and Thiago had to wait until May to find his next challenge. It came in the form of fellow 4-0 prospect, Francivaldo ‘Massarinha’ Trinaldo.
In his last fight in Brazil to date, 19 year old Thiago Moisés outlined his outstanding potential against an aggressive opponent with legitimate stand up and grappling credentials. Massarinha seemed to get the better of round one, landing a body kick and a body combination early, before Thiago tied him up and took the fight to the ground. An overzealous kimura attempt allowed Trinaldo the chance to take top position, which he held for more than half the first round. A transition to the back looked briefly threatening, but Thiago would be able to reverse positions with around 80 seconds to go, completing a takedown againsy the fence and using expert positional control to ride out much of the remainder of the round, before sparking into life with ten seconds to go, almost achieving a finish with a swarm of strikes with his downed opponent against the fence!
Round two saw Thiago again utilizing excellent leg kicks, exchanging body kicks with his opponent, and even a few punches and knees to the body as Massarinha replied. Trinaldo tied Moisés up, but soon found his back to the fence, before Thiago completed an excellent double leg. Massarinha tried to threaten with a kimura from the bottom, but when that failed, found himself beneath Moisés’ full mount. Massarinha defended relatively well, but Moisés would find himself close to a finish again with a series of hard punches against his turtled up opponent with 2:20 to go. Massarinha rode it out, but continued to find himself out-manoeuvred and out-grappled, and eating punches from a variety of bad positions. When he eventually found his feet with 15 seconds to go, a slip from an attempted knee again gave Moisés full rein to land strikes as Massarinha hung tough.
He would not, however, be able to endure a third and final round, and Thiago’s decision streak was snapped at two. With superior grappling, Thiago worked his way from an arm triangle to a triangle from bottom, loaded up with elbows to the top of the head, and took the submission by triangle armbar with three minutes left on the clock.
It was a superb outing, and another dominant display.
Travelling to America to resume the rest of his career, then, Thiago made his debut on US soil as a featherweight 12 months later. An unblemished 5-0 record and some great performances on tape convinced Atlas Fights to pit him against renowned prospect Jason Knight (12-1), a fighter currently enjoying a four-fight win streak in the UFC, and this proved a step too far for the 20 year old.
A Unanimous Decision loss put him back a step, and it would be six months before he would compete again. This time, RFA had swooped to land his signature, and pitted the young talent against 6-3 Javon Wright, a featherweight stand out from Missouri.
Opening up, Wright hammered the lead leg of Moisés with leg kicks, and put combinations together nicely with both speed and accuracy. A spinning back kick added to Moisés’ early problems calculating timing and distance in the striking stakes, so instead the Brazilian changed tact. Closing down Wright and initiating a clinch, Moisés struggled for and eventually achieved a takedown. Here, Wright showed good ability to prevent Moisés passing, but Thiago was relentless in his search for superior positions and, when the fight went back to the feet momentarily, he quickly grounded his opponent a second time. Looking for submissions ranging from a rear naked choke to a heel hook, Moisés was a constant threat, forcing Wright to spend much of his energy defending rather than attacking.
The second round saw Wright landing a couple of the better strikes, before diving full length for a single leg. It proved a fatal mistake. Thiago Moisés defended, briefly threatened with a guillotine, took Wright’s back, and worked patiently for what would almost inevitably be his: a rear naked choke submission at 2:10 of round two. While it can be argued Wright made a mistake trying to change levels, Moisés made the most of his superior grappling, posting the sixth win of his career.
Next would come a highlight reel submission of experienced 19-7 Dave Castillo, a Salt Lake City-based veteran with no fewer than 9 submissions and 6 TKOs to his own credit. An extremely experienced and well-rounded fighter, it would take something special to force only the third tap of Castillo’s professional career, especially with the RFA Lightweight title up for grabs. That ‘something’, however, occurred at 3:19 of round two, directly following a rocky first round for Moisés. Intent, apparently, on trading blows with Castillo, Thiago almost paid the price when a winging haymaker saw forearm bone connect with the side of his head, wobbling him, and putting him in danger as Castillo smelled blood! Moisés defending well, however, recovered his composure, regained his breath with a failed takedown attempt, and rode out the rest of the round on the feet.
The strong striking combinations from Castillo continued, Thiago eating his share of shots and looking to counter, while remaining just evasive enough to avoid the worst of his opponent’s arsenal. With sporadic takedown attempts easily deflected, Thiago looked to be getting the worst of the second round, only to explode into life and clearly hurting Castillo with a counter punch! Swarming Castillo, Thiago searched for the finish, only for Castillo to complete a strong double leg and wind up on top! It would be a HUGE mistake!
Employing the butterfly guard immediately, Thiago manipulated the posture of Castillo, leg-pressed him into midair, and caught him on the way down with a seamless transition straight into an armbar! It was a beautiful, slick piece of BJJ history has been variously referred to as a helicopter armbar and an elevator armbar. It was the sort of move that comes off only very rarely, and can only be accomplished by the most skilled practitioners of the grappling arts. Watch the move here.
“Yes, I train this armbar often,” Thiago told The MMA Vanguard exclusively. “I have done this movement a couple of times,” he says without a shred of boasting. Follow up title defences over against Jamall Emmers (9-2), the victim of a fifth round TKO, and Zach Freeman (8-1), via Unanimous Decision, have now elevated Thiago from mere ‘potential’ to legitimacy.
With good striking, excellent Muay Thai and BJJ, as well as honed grappling, it’s easy to see why this weekend’s opponent Robert Watley rates Moisés so highly; and why Thiago is entirely justified in dreaming big!
“I will be the UFC champion, this is how far I’ll go,” Thiago told us. “I’ll make history in MMA.” Adding that one of the reasons for his success is his mentality: “I face all my opponents as if they are the toughest. I never underestimate them, so I am prepared for anything.”
The same will no doubt be true of Robert Watley this Friday night. If Moisés can wrest the LFA Lightweight title, he may well be right in his prediction that the UFC will come calling. As we said at the beginning, there is a whole lot more than just a gold belt to play for!