Ultimate Fighting champion John Moraga at the gym with his two sons, Anthony (left), John (right). (Courtesy John Moraga)

Ultimate Fighting Champion: Fatherhood saved me

At 29 and 125 pounds, John Moraga needs a lot of strength. Not only is he an Ultimate Fighting Champion, he is also the father to a 4- and 1-year-old,  John and Anthony. In order to spend as much time as possible with them, he brings them to the gym with him where he trains daily to prepare for the world championship on July 27.

“If I had a babysitter, I’d never see them,” says Moraga, adding that his girlfriend and mother of the boys, works during the day. “I really don’t get a break. It’s a busy schedule, but I wouldn’t change it.

He treasures every moment he spends with his sons, because he knows what it’s like not to have a father make time for him.

“My dad was around, but we saw him every other weekend,” says Moraga, who is from Phoenix, AZ. “He had to work a lot so we didn’t see him too much.”

His father had custody of him and his sister since age 8, because his mom was put in a mental hospital.

“We felt like no one cared about us,” says Moraga. “I was out on the streets since I was six. I don’t feel like my parents raised us.”

It wasn’t until he was a sophomore in high school, he says, that his life changed for the better.

“My high school security guard got me into wrestling,” says Moraga. “I would go hang out with him during lunch time. He became like a father figure even though he was only five or six years older than me.”

 Moraga says the school security guard, Richard Fimbres, who was also the wrestling coach, and Frank Saenz, the other coach, really went out of their way to make the team members feel like family.

“They did a lot of good for a lot for us,” says the Mexican-American fighter, who went to the same school as Olympic wrestling champion Henry Cejudo. “Big Frank did a lot with us outside of school…he was more a grandfather figure. He would pick me up on Saturdays to run in the mountains in the morning, and then to eat or go to the movies.”

RELATED: Olympian Henry Cejudo trains kids to wrestle and reach for success

He says his male role models kept him out of trouble and allowed him to stay on the right path through high school and into college. Moraga ended up studying at Arizona State University.

Now his priority is being a role model to his kids, and just being present.

“I want to be there for my kids to get advice from,” says Moraga, adding he wants to teach his kids by example. “It’s important for me to just be there. I just want them to know that I love them, that I support them and to work hard in whatever they do — there are no short cuts.”

He says he’s a different person because of the way he grew up. He had learned to build emotional walls to deal with the pain. However, his kids broke down those walls.

“When I was younger, I didn’t care about consequences, because I wasn’t losing anything,” says Moraga. “Having kids made me grow up overnight. I feel like my kids saved me.”

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