Home Sports The inside story of Morgan Charriere’s unique journey to the UFC

The inside story of Morgan Charriere’s unique journey to the UFC

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The inside story of Morgan Charriere’s unique journey to the UFC

As Manolo Zecchini clutched the dent where his abs used to be, trying desperately to haul his faltering frame from the canvas, Morgan Charriere took a slow step forward, his arms hanging casually by his side. He tensed, balanced himself, and propelled his right shin at the Italian.

The preceding kick, a front kick, had exhibited Charriere’s technique; this follow-up soccer kick showed a different side to the featherweight. This was spite and brutality distilled into one strike. It ended Zecchini, launching the tourist back to the fence, where he collapsed under punches from Paris’s hometown hero.

With that, Charriere’s UFC debut – a fight years in the making – was over within four scintillating minutes. Around him in the Accor Arena, fans were engulfed in ecstasy. For some, this was an initiation into Charriere fandom; others had supported the “Last Pirate” for years, his following dwarfing many top UFC stars’.

“When I reached 100,000 subscribers, I had more than some UFC champions,” Charriere tells The Independent ahead of his sophomore UFC outing, against Jose “Chepe” Mariscal on Saturday (6 April). “[Up to then], I was doing small jobs – deliveries, working in restaurants and supermarkets. It’s so hard alongside fighting, you’re so tired. But with social-media [success], I could stop fighting! Or, I could focus on fighting.”

Charriere focused on fighting, trusting his in-ring growth to match the growth of his following. But how did the Frenchman amass such support before even entering a UFC cage? With a shrewd plan.

* * *

In 2017, MMA’s legalisation in France was looming, with the sport set to finally replace Pancrase – a diluted version of MMA. Ultimately, this pugilistic dawn would not arrive for three more years, but Charriere saw it coming. Furthermore, he saw his place in a brave new world. For the then-21-year-old, the plan was this: “When MMA becomes legal in France and the UFC comes to Paris, they can’t come without signing me. It has to be impossible.”

So Charriere embraced social media, as one of the first European mixed martial artists to nurture a YouTube channel. It seems a simple move, yet Charriere was ahead of the curve, and his following bloomed around the time of France’s legalisation of MMA, when he caught the attention of one of the nation’s biggest streamers.

“Kamet0 sent me a DM: ‘Hey bro, help me lose weight, send me a programme,’” Charriere explains. “I said, ‘I’m not sending you anything, you won’t follow it!’ He was about 300lb, so I said: ‘I’ll come to your house for one month, coach you, we’ll put everything on YouTube.’ I travelled to Marseille, we did two videos a week, and it blew up on French YouTube; we did millions of views. It felt like everyone in France was watching. The mainstream people all knew me and got my cause.

“It was really clear: ‘I’m not the best fighter right now, but I’m trying, and I need your support. When I fight, just be there for me on social media and make noise. That’s all I need.’”

Around that time, Charriere had finished studying, and due to his dedication to fighting and his brand, there was no need for side jobs. The featherweight had become a fixture of Cage Warriors – Europe’s marquee MMA promotion – where he had even challenged for the interim title on his debut, losing a narrow decision.

Charriere during his run in Cage Warriors, where he briefly held the featherweight title

(Cage Warriors)

But the Last Pirate took the gold in 2021, winning the official title by crumpling Perry Goodwin. Charriere would soon lose the belt via split decision, but his trajectory still pointed towards the UFC.

The call would come, though not for two more years. Still, the Last Pirate had come a long way since first navigating the treacherous waters of pre-MMA France.

***

“The atmosphere was tense, you could feel it in the air,” Charriere recalls of the French shows that preceded MMA’s legalisation. “There weren’t a lot of pros, we had to learn everything – cutting weight, choosing opponents, managing ourselves. Some French guys flew abroad to compete and got their asses beat, because the level in France wasn’t high yet. The UFC didn’t seem reachable, and there was no money for us. I didn’t know what to do. I just thought: ‘That’s a man, that’s a fight, f*** it.’”

Charriere suffered four straight losses, though he downplays those results, given the state of play in France at the time. Still, “It was hard to stay motivated,” he admits. “I had no gameplan, I didn’t know the opponents before the fights, I took fights I shouldn’t have taken. In one fight, I was like a kid against a grown man. Lots of bad choices… but nobody finished me really, nobody beat the s*** out of me; I was good, I just didn’t know how to win a pro bout.”

Charriere’s ability to connect with French fans caught the attention of the UFC

(Cage Warriors)

And so Charriere increased his training while researching “how the MMA game works”. He hired a manager and started making money – “not a lot, but some” – and, crucially, started his own YouTube channel.

“It brought a lot of pressure, all these people watching me and waiting for something,” he says. But Charriere coped well with the pressure, and the wait was worthwhile for the fans.

***

Injury cost Charriere a place at the inaugural UFC Paris in 2022, but with a 3-0 run of stoppages in 2023, he was undeniable.

“Everyone was buzzing,” Charriere says of his UFC debut in September. “People were looking on my social media like, ‘He made it! He told us, and we didn’t listen.’ Because there had been a lot of hate, too; I’d made a series called ‘Road to UFC’, and some people took it the wrong way.

“But I could feel the traction. The hardest part was not getting touched by the emotion – I worked hard on that. When I walked to the cage, I took five seconds to look around. It had been almost seven years since I’d fought in France, and the Accor Arena was sold out. It’s a legendary arena. When I was a kid, I would go there to see the big music stars.”

The ‘Last Pirate’ captured the Cage Warriors featherweight title in 2020

(Cage Warriors)

Pulverising Zecchini in Paris, Charriere saw his own star glisten. Now, France is watching – if at a distance, as he prepares to fight in Las Vegas this weekend.

“Everyone is mad about MMA back home,” Charriere says. “They love it… too much, really! They want you to win, they want to celebrate, they want you to become a legend. It’s good pressure.”

Pressure is nothing new for the Last Pirate. And, finally, what of that nickname?

“My dad chose the name Morgan because of the first pirate to govern Jamaica, Henry Morgan. That thing with pirates stuck with me, and as a fan of the anime One Piece, I liked the idea of the fear of a pirate – finding a country, taking everything, getting the gold and going home. At the time, I was always fighting on enemy territory.”

On Saturday, the Last Pirate wades into enemy territory once again.

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