Michael Morales turned in quite the rookie season in 2022. The Contender Series alumnus kicked his UFC tenure off in style as he finished Trevin Giles in the first round of their bout at UFC 270. He followed that up with a nice display of his whole skillset against Adam Fugitt before getting Fugitt out of there early in the third round.
The undefeated 24-year-old quickly put himself on the shortlist for the brightest prospects on the roster, and he hopes that momentum carries into his first fight of 2023 at UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs Magomedov.
“I'm so happy that everybody got to see me triumph in my first UFC fights,” Morales told UFC.com through a translator. “I see this as an opportunity to add one more step, one more challenge towards evolving and becoming a better fighter.”
His next task comes in the form of the steady Max Griffin. The 37-year-old came to the UFC roster in 2016, and after some ups and downs, is in the best form of his career, having won four of his last five bouts. Griffin, a 14-fight veteran in the organization, has been one of the toughest outs in the welterweight division the last few years. He has only been finished once in 28 professional fights, which came to Colby Covington in the third round of Griffin’s UFC debut.
It is a perfect, stiff test for Morales, who has finished all but two of his 14 victories, and it is one he is meeting with great enthusiasm.
“I respect (Griffin’s) experience a lot and the fact that he's been through a lot and has seen a lot of things in the UFC,” Morales said. “He knows everything about himself. He knows where he's at, and I think it's going to be very good for me, as well, because that poses a challenge and an opportunity for me to evolve and to continue going forward.”
A win over Griffin is essentially a message to the division that Morales is ready for the vaunted Top 15 at 170 pounds, representing a huge opportunity for the Ecuadorian.
While that might seem overwhelming for a young fighter, Morales is keeping his head on his shoulders and drinking in the moments as they come.
“There’s a lot more coming,” Morales said. “I'm just trying to enjoy the moment as much as possible. (People should expect) many more wins, many more challenges and a better Michael every day.”
He has aced his first two tests – on pay-per-view – with relative ease and composure, providing more fuel to his already loaded hype train. Griffin is the kind of opponent that can make an underprepared fighter look really bad or provide the right push for a young fighter yet to learn what it’s like to fight the best in the world. On Saturday, fight fans can really see what’s up with him at the moment.
Although he doesn’t seem in a particular rush to show his championship quality before he is 25, that is the path on which Morales set himself with his standout appearances in 2022. A win over Griffin continues that journey for him, but even if people don’t quite see a future champion in Morales on July 1, he knows what he hopes people take away from his effort in Las Vegas.
“I want people to see this fire that's coming up,” he said. “(A fighter) that is in the UFC and a force to be reckoned with, but also an Ecuadorian fighter. A feisty Ecuadorian with Latin blood that is always going to bring that warrior mentality to the fight.”
UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs Magomedov took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 1, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!