UFc featherweight Omar Morales knows Venezuela has much more to give to MMA than what fans have been able to witness so far.

Born in Caracas, Morales is a pioneer for his home country, as he’s one of the very few Venezuelans to have reached the pinnacle of the sport. Morales (10-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) is just the third Venezuelan-born fighter to set foot in the UFC octagon and one of two current active UFC fighters from the South American nation – Veronica Macedo being the other.

It hasn’t been easy for Morales to carve out a path coming from Venezuela. And there’s a reason why he’s a trailblazer in a sport that many consider mainstream, at least in the U.S.

“There’s good sportsmen, good athletes, but the economical situation that the country is going through just makes it harder and harder to be able to work on your craft and be able to leave and make your name known,” Morales told MMA Junkie in Spanish. “There are very little (MMA) events in Venezuela. Basically there are none right now with the everything that’s going on in Venezuela at the moment. But despite all that, some of us have been able to make camps outside of the country, especially here in Florida, and there’s good Venezuelan athletes coming up. I hope to see them fighting one day by my side in the UFC.”

Venezuela has been in crisis for many years, and dire conditions have been exacerbated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It’s estimated that more than 5 million Venezuelans have fled the country since the economic situation worsened in 2014 – making it one of the largest displacement crisis in the world. Many Venezuelans struggle on a daily basis with lack of food, medicine and essential services.

This makes it difficult for a lot of people to focus on a sporting career as it takes a back seat to basic needs becoming a priority.

“In Venezuela, the problem that’s happening is very rough,” Morales explained. “It’s a strong crisis where Venezuelans have had to emigrate from the country, so they can think about living a better life. So imagine if that’s the priority, what’s left for the athletes?

“It’s very hard to focus on your sport when you have the necessity to search for food or a job that’s able to maintain your family, which right now in Venezuela is a very tough thing to do. That’s the main issue. Now, once you leave the country, it’s having the certainty of where you’re going and what steps are you going to take to keep growing as an athlete because if you go to another Latin American country, and like you said it’s also tough to get to the UFC from those countries. It’s still not easy, and you have more obstacles. I studied that well, and I had the opportunity to come to the U.S. and see that the biggest camps with the best athletes were here. I needed to be with them, I needed to train with them at that level, and make my name known. That’s how I did it.”

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After launching his MMA career in 2011, Morales went 4-0 as a professional competing in South America. In 2015, Morales made the move to the U.S. and relocated to South Florida. He became a resident through the sport and trains under the tutelage of coach Henri Hooft.

Two wins later, and a big time opportunity came knocking. Morales got the chance to fight for Bellator. He picked up a 58-second knockout of Troy Nawrocki, extending his then unbeaten record to 7-0.

Following a successful Bellator debut in 2018, he then got a chance to fight for a UFC contract. On Aug. 6, 2019, Morales competed on Dana White’s Contender Series where he put away Harvey Park in the second round.

That night, UFC president Dana White awarded Morales a contract. The 35-year-old debuted a few months later and had a 2-0 start in the company before suffering a decision loss to highly touted featherweight Giga Chikadze last October. It was his first professional defeat.

Morales has achieved plenty and come a long way. He’s certain none of his recent achievements would’ve been possible if he hadn’t left his home country.

“Without a doubt, I would’ve never got to where I am today without leaving Venezuela,” Morales said.

Morales makes his UFC return this Saturday as he takes on Shane Young at UFC 260 in Las Vegas. The Venezuelan is fired up to get back in the win column and does feel a different burn now that he’s tasted defeat.

However, there’s something that hasn’t changed – Morales’ commitment to represent Venezuela.

“It’s a duty,” Morales said. “I always want to represent my flag and show where I come from. Right now there’s only me and Veronica Macedo. We really do our best to represent our country and all of Latin America because we’re not many in this organization, and we have to support each other. Just like I support Veronica when she fights, I support the Argentines, the Colombians, the Brazilians, everyone who I know have paid a price to get to the UFC. I do feel a commitment to represent my country and give it my all and prepare myself 100 percent for every battle so I can leave my flag high in the octagon.”