Found on "Dana White: Lookin' for a Fight" - freshly signed flyweight prospect Joseph Morales spoke with Dalton Lanoza of Alliance MMA about his triumphant night at CFFC 64 and how his relationship with Team Alpha Male helped carve his way towards success.
“Of all the guys we’ve seen ever in the history of “Lookin’ For A Fight” I was blown away and so impressed with him. I’m in on this kid.
— Dana White on Joseph Morales
Back on March 25th, Joseph Morales defeated CFFC Interim Flyweight Champion Sean "Shorty Rock" Santella at CFFC 64 in San Diego via TKO in round two right in front of the one person who needed to see him do it. Morales has been waiting over a decade to prove himself, and he struck while the iron was hot on that faithful night at the Observatory North Park.
After being dropped in round one and forcibly removing a slew of submission attempts throughout the first five minutes of the most important fight of his career, Joseph Morales showed us all why he deserves to be a member of the UFC's flyweight division.
The very next round after looking all but defeated just moments earlier, Joseph Morales landed a massive right hand that rocked Santella and marked the beginning of the end for the pink-haired vet. Morales piled on the punches and before anyone could realize what a comeback he made, he was celebrating in victory while Dana White sat cage side yelling "You're in!" to the 23 year-old prospect.
It was a moment that Morales will remember the rest of his life. The night he got signed to the UFC...
“Man, it was kind of like a big weight being lifted off of my shoulders," said Morales. "I have put in so much work and it’s always been a dream of mine to fight for the UFC and that night I got one step closer to reaching my ultimate goal, which is winning that belt. So it was a relief in a way, but also like reality hitting me to let me know I’m almost there.”
Morales is as composed as they come inside and outside of the cage, so the adversity he faced (which would break almost anyone) was not enough to deter him from getting his hand raised.
“To be honest with you, we knew he was a really tough grappler and we didn’t expect him to come out throwing strikes, so I think it kind of caught me off guard. But I knew I had the advantage in the striking game, that was the game plan going in. I don’t even remember getting caught so it didn’t really effect me too much. I didn’t think to myself ‘Oh I’m in trouble.’ I was just thinking, ‘Ok. Let’s try to fight out of this and let’s try to stay calm.’ This wasn’t something I haven’t been through before. I roll with some of the best guys in the world and they’ve been on my back trying to choke me out, and I don’t let them get it either."
Usually when a high-level jiujitsu blackbelt like Sean Santella takes his opponent's back the fight is basically over, but when you train with the crew at Team Alpha Male, you tend to find yourself in similar situations pretty often. As a result, Morales escaped round one and came out firing on all cylinders after the break in the action.
"So, going into the second round I was just thinking about sticking to the game plan. My coach kind of changed it up a little bit though. We originally kind of wanted to stay to the outside, pick our shots, and defend the takedowns, but he switched it up and he was like, ‘Get after him! Let’s start pushing the pace on him. Make him tired, keep the punches in his face and keep landing em.’ So ultimately that’s what we did and sure enough I got the finishing strike that dropped him and instead of going for the submission like he did against me, I decided to finish him with punches.”
Morales became the first man to ever finish Santella and earned his place amongst the best flyweights in the world in the UFC. After the fight, Morales caught up with Dana White and his crew backstage, and chatted about his future.
“He came up to me and was just like ‘Man you just put away a really good opponent.’ He’s (Santella) fought some high-caliber guys, never been finished, and I took the fight on a week and a half notice. So, after seeing me get dropped in the first round he said, ‘I’ve been doing this a long time and I have never seen anybody go through so much in a two round fight.’ He was like ‘I’ve seen everything I need to see,’ and at that moment he told me I was in.”
So, now that Morales is officially getting his chance, he made it a point to credit his team and speak about what they have done for him. A member of the squad since the age of ten, Morales has been hyped up by his fellow teammates for years. Urijah Faber has gone on record saying Bopo is the next big thing, and Cynthia Carvillo went as far as asking Dana White to give Morales a chance during her post-fight speech after winning her debut at UFC 209.
“I feel like it kind of humbles me in a way, ya know? It opens my eyes to all of their perspectives and ultimately puts a little bit of pressure on my back because people are wondering who all these high-level pros are talking about. So yeah, there’s pressure, but it also just pushes me to get a lot better. My teammates give me these high credentials and I want nothing more than to live up to that hype they’re giving me.”
The old adage is that "To be the best you have to beat the best," and Morales has seen that come to fruition right in front of his eyes in the gym. Not just by rolling with his elite teammates, but also by sharing their ups and downs with them.
“Experience wise I have a huge advantage there, and just being level-headed. Being able to see everyone else’s challenges and seeing them go through the triumphs and adversity—it’s helped me a lot in my career. Like I said, it was kind of a surreal moment when Dana told me I was in because I’ve seen so many of our fighters like Chad Mendes, Joseph Benavidez and Cody Garbrandt get "The Call" and that's when nobody knows who they are. Even Urijah, I knew him before he was the titleholder at WEC, so it was just an awesome moment for me to finally get that chance as well. It really helped me along my career to see the ups and downs of this fight game and keep my eyes on the prize no matter what.“
Morales does not officially have a fight booked, but he is eager and looking to make his debut very soon. When asked about making his first walk to the Octagon, Morales said he won't let the moment get to him.
“I used to think about that moment all the time as a kid, but now as it’s becoming a reality I don’t really worry about it too much. I want it to be just like any other night for me, and all that matters is that I dominate.”
Even though trash talking doesn't seem like his style, Bopo does not lack confidence by any means. He plans on making his way to the top in expedited fashion by tearing through the division..
"I expect things to go very well. I’ve been training with UFC fighters since the beginning and a lot of the times my training is harder than the fight, so I feel like I stack up pretty well. I don’t expect it to be any different. I know a lot of people are gonna be like ‘Oh it’s your first UFC fight, you’re gonna be nervous,’ and honestly, it’s just a fight and I’m gonna be there ready to throw down. People asked me, ‘Well, how did you feel fighting in front of Dana?’ And I’m just like, man I’ve been preparing for this and it’s that's not gonna be out of the norm when I’m in the UFC. You wouldn’t ask a UFC vet what it’s like to fight in front of Dana because that’s just what they’re there to do. So, I expect things to go my way when the time comes. I’m ready to go and I wanna get in there."
Whenever Morales is not at the gym training, he certainly isn't sitting on the couch relaxing. No, he is one of many MMA fighters with a full-time job that has nothing to do with punching people in the face. On top of that, Morales is now a father to a baby boy who was born not long after his fight in March. All of this leads to one busy Bopo.
“Man I don’t really have time for any hobbies. Any time off that I have I try to spend with my family. For my last fight, the fight before that, and even before my pro debut I balanced fighting with working full time. I’m a construction worker for Urijah’s dad’s company, so I work 8 hour days 40 hours a week and I get my weekends off. Most days I get up at 5 a.m. in the morning to lift weights, go to work, get home, take a shower, go to the gym, teach class, and get my workout in for another three hours. I don’t really get home until nine or ten at night. It sucks, but the hard work is gonna pay off in the end. But yeah, my only real hobby is spending time with my family.”
In case you are wondering where the nickname Bopo comes from, Morales was quick to explain.
“The nickname Bopo is a family nickname given to me probably when I was like one or two years-old. My cousin couldn’t pronounce my name right and he would call me ‘Bopo-eph.’ So my mom, my aunts, and pretty much everybody just decided to drop the F sound with the EPH and they just called me Bopo. One day I think I was about 12 or 13 years-old, I was heading to a tournament in Los Angeles and we picked up a couple of my coaches on the way down. Sure enough they heard my sister call me that and I told them the same thing I just said about how it came about and they went back to the gym during a team workout and they all started making fun of me about it.
At work everybody calls me Bopo, in High School everybody called me Bopo and the gym everybody calls me Bopo, Urijah even introduces me as Bopo to like serious business partners (laughs). It’s just something that stuck. I didn’t ask for it to be announced in any of my fights and people just do it, so I don’t know if that’s gonna be the tradition once I get into the UFC or not, but we’ll see.”
When the day comes for Morales to step foot in that Octagon, whether he's announced as Joseph or Bopo, or whatever, one thing is certain. You can expect Morales to come out looking to put on a show, get the finish, and work his way up the UFC flyweight ladder.