Brandon Moreno debuted at Saturday's UFC Fight Night 96 like no other Ultimate Fighter contestant has ever debuted in the UFC before.
The Mexican flyweight, who was eliminated from The Ultimate Fighter season 24 after losing his first tournament bout, received a call to fight top UFC flyweight contender Louis Smolka, who was on four-fight wining streak, on eight days' notice. The 22-year-old fighter stepped up to the challenge and shocked the MMA world by submitting Smolka in impressive fashion within the first minutes of the fight.
Moreno said he left the fight without any injuries, and admitted he had a few concerns entering the bout with the Hawaiian.
"Look, well, the truth is that I had a lot of worries," Moreno told MMA Fighting. "One of my worries was my cardio. I didn't know what was going to happen with my cardio, you know. I'm always training, but preparing for a fight is different. You do different exercises and all that.
"The other thing was my body. I didn't know how my body was going to react after the fight with [Alexandre] Pantoja because it was super rough, but you realize how things work out, and I'm super content, super happy. Like I said, I left complete, I don't have anything on my body, I didn't take hits to the head, everything happened in a magical way that I couldn't believe. Right now I'm just starting to realize what happened, but yeah, I'm super happy."
Moreno entered the octagon as a heavy underdog, expected to get destroyed by the skilled and crafty Smolka, but left with a huge win over the ninth-ranked fighter in the division. 'The Assassin Baby' describes this whole experience as 'magical'.
"It was a magical experience," Moreno said. "Apart from magical, it was an experience that I feel like life wanted to give me. I've worked very hard for this, and I've battled a lot and made a lot of sacrifices for all of this. I lose in TUF and I leave super disappointed, super frustrated, but I don't stop, I keep training, I keep working hard. And look how life is, I get a short-notice fight with a very tough opponent, but everything worked out. I feel like it's something completely magical and it's almost indescribable."
Apart from making a big statement in the 125-pound division, Moreno also left with a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus. The Mexican fighter recalls getting the news that he had won one of the four bonuses and says the bonus will now help him to set himself and his family up for a better future.
"It was very funny because we were all in the bus with all the fighters and they were taking us to the hotel, and one of the managers of a few Brazilian fighters announced the news, and you already know how the Brazilians are, super happy, super joyful, so everyone was clapping and yelling, ‘Awesome, congrats'," Moreno explained. "It was very exciting; I couldn't believe it. All of this was a dream. Imagine, this fight changed my life completely. Here in Mexico the dollar went up by a lot, so yeah, it's something that I can now make a future with and start forming a base. But also the U.S. takes away a lot in taxes. They take away 30 percent of everything foreigners make, so on that end, things went bad, but it's all good. Obviously, I know that with this fight I still won't be able to do anything, but I can start forming bases."
Now with a win over Smolka, Moreno believes he's now in the top 10 of the flyweight division. But we all know by now how the rankings work in the UFC. If a fighter beats No. 1, that doesn't necessarily mean that the fighter becomes the top-ranked contender. Moreno says the rankings should be a bit more simple.
"I think ranking shouldn't be that complicated, you know," Moreno said. "If you beat No. 9, well, then you take his place and that's it. There is no reason to make things complicated. But anyways, if they consider that I'm not top-10 yet, that's fine, there is no problem with me, but I think it's the fair thing to do. If you beat No. 9, then you become No. 9 and take his spot."
Moreno believes that his run in the UFC is just getting started and expects things to get way tougher, leaving him no choice but to keep working hard.
"I feel like I started in the UFC with everything," Moreno said. "It wasn't step by step, fighting someone outside the top-15, none of that. I think I started with everything in the division, so I know that what's next for me is something super hard, another top-10 opponent that's tough, so there is nothing left for me to do, but to keep working very hard and wait for what the UFC and the matchmaker says what's my next fight."
Although it's obviously too early for the UFC to match up Moreno for his next fight, many fans have already suggested a fight with top-15 fighter Sergio Pettis.
"Yeah, I noticed that a lot of people were saying that, and I don't think it's a bad idea, it could happen," Moreno said. "I think it would be a good fight, and it would be interesting. Sergio Pettis is a good striker and I'm more hybrid. I think I have more abilities, I have good striking but I also have better jiu-jitsu, and I think it would be a very good fight, very interesting.
"I definitely don't have anyone specific in mind, but I'm interested in fighting someone ranked or someone with a name or that's important. That's what I want for my future. Sergio Pettis doesn't sound bad, it would be good."
Moreno want to take a small break from fighting to be with his wife and family, since he's had a very busy year, but plans to return in 2017. However, if there is a good opportunity for him in December, he would consider it. So for now, Moreno plans on preparing himself to make a big return in 2017.
"You know, a lot of people were saying that they wanted to see me fight in Mexico city on Nov. 5, but I feel like it would be very short notice, coming from a short-notice fight and if I were to fight in Mexico it would be another short-notice fight," Moreno said. So technically, I would only have three or four weeks of preparation. So I don't think it will happen, although I would love to fight here [Mexico], it's been a while since I fought in Mexico and I would love to fight here. But I would like to stay a little longer in Tijuana and spend time with my family.
"This year I've traveled so much and I've left my daughter and wife a lot, so this year I would like to be relaxed, but be preparing everything so that 2017 can be an explosive year, and fight three or four times in 2017. And you know, the flyweight division is a division that's short but hard. Every opponent is tough, very technical, very fast, but it's still a short division. One good victory at 125 can launch you very far, so I think a good 2017 could allow me to dream big."
With the biggest upset of the UFC Fight Night 96 card, Moreno believes that his performance should send a clear message to the 125-pound weight class – don't underestimate him.
"The message that they should receive is that and have very clear is that please, don't get too confident, I'm very alert of everything that's going on, and I'm going to continue training, so don't look past me. I'm ready for anyone.
"And for the people that watched the fight, this doesn't stop here, I promise that you guys are going to keep hearing good things about me, that you guys are going to keep seeing me at the top of the division. And the little bump I had in TUF, it was something that helped completely. Every stumble that I have, I make the most of it. I evolve with every mistake I make, so expect the best of me in the future."