One of the most chaotic story lines this year in the world of MMA has been the turmoil of the UFC’s flyweight division.
The 125-pound weight class has been dominated by champion Demetrious Johnson since its introduction, and there really hasn’t been any challengers that have come close to dethroning the champ in the last five years. Despite being arguably the best fighter on the planet, Johnson’s dominance has failed to captivate the interest of fans, as reflected in the ratings of the champ’s most recent title defense in April — a title defense which tied the record for the most consecutive in UFC history. On top of that, Johnson recently experienced some heated issues outside of the cage — which appear to be resolved for now — with UFC president Dana White, which at one point had the very existence of the division in jeopardy.
Despite of all the chaos, the division looks to be on the verge of producing a fresh title contender from the new generation fighters in the 125-pound weight class. Promising prospects and top-10 ranked flyweights Brandon Moreno and Sergio Pettis will collide in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 114 in Mexico City. Many believe the winner of this match up could very well go on to challenge for the belt.
MMA Fighting recently caught up with the 23-year-old Moreno, who’s on an 11-fight win streak, to talk about his pivotal bout with Pettis, and the interesting state of the lightest male division in the UFC.
Danny Segura: Well, first things first. You’re finally fighting in front of your home country in the UFC, and this is also the first time you headline an event. What’s that like?
Brandon Moreno: Yeah, the last time I fought on Mexican grounds it was in Tijuana back in 2012. From there, I went on to fight in the U.S. and for some reason I never fought in Mexico again. Now, I have the opportunity to come back and through the big doors of the UFC — the biggest company in MMA — main event slot, a very tough rival, possibly a title eliminator bout, so yeah, I’m very happy. There is pressure, there are nerves like always, but the the feeling that predominates is happiness. I love my job, I love what I do.
DS: It seems there is no clear contender after Ray Borg. Do you think the winner here gets the next crack at the belt?
BM: Of course, the possibility is open. Obviously, we know that D.J. had a few problems with the company, and he was maybe going to fight T.J. [Dillashaw] or Ray Borg, but he now has the fight with Ray Borg for UFC 215. After that, we don’t know what’s going to happen; it’s possible that if T.J. defeats Cody Garbrandt, maybe he fights Demetrious to make a super fight being champion vs. champion. So I’m simply going to stay ready. If the planets align, I think the winner here should fight for the title. Joseph [Benavidez] is injured, Henry [Cejudo] has a fight with Wilson Reis, and the both of them recently fought for the title and lost. So yeah, I think this fight aims to be a title eliminator bout.
DS: Do you think Pettis is the toughest opponent you’ve ever faced?
BM: He’s tough, he’s super tough. I think we’re very similar but I think he loves to fight on his feet, and to me, I don’t mind it anymore, but it’s also not my specialty. But anyways, he has very good kicks, solid combinations and he sometimes likes to show off like his brother and throw fantasy kicks. We already have a specific strategy, and although though he doesn’t make too many mistakes, he does have the tendency to have certain patterns in every fight, he repeats certain movements. So we already have our strategy and we’re ready. We’re going to see who has the most dominant strategy. We’re fighters that make up the new blood of the division, we’re the future, so maybe the winner here can be the next title challenger, who knows.
DS: Is that something you would like next if you were to win? Or perhaps would you rather get some more time and experience before taking on the champ?
BM: Of course, at the end of the day, I’m still very young. I’m only 23 years old, and I still have many fights ahead of me. If the company decides that it’s my time, then it’s going to be. I mean, at the end of the day, that’s why I fight. And I’m telling you, if I get the chance to fight Demetrious, I’m going to fight with all my heart. Obviously, Demetrious has run though everybody that’s been put in front of him. If I were to fight him and lose, I still have a bright future ahead of me and I would learn a lot and keep advancing. But I would never back down or shy away from fighting Demetrious, and I’m sure I would give him the fight of his life.
DS: Recently, Dana White said the UFC might close the flyweight division. Were you worried when you heard the news?
BM: Well, if that happens, I got to start eating a lot more and put more muscle so I can be at bantamweight. But it is something that makes me a little sad. I feel like, and man, it’s awful to say it, but that’s an ugly problem for Demetrious. He’s the most dominant champion on the planet, at least at this moment, and he’s not getting the recognition he deserves. People don’t appreciate him, people don’t like watching him fight, so it’s sad for him and it’s also sad for us because we’re all clogged. He’s too dominant, there are no real challengers right now, except Ray Borg. So if in the future they decide to close the division, yeah it sounds funny, but I’ll change my nutrition, put on muscle and whatever, I guess go up in weight.
DS: Demetrious Johnson has been champion for a while now, why do you think he’s not getting the love from the fans?
BM: I really have no idea what it is, but he’s just not able to get that connection with the fans, he hasn’t been able take off. He’s doesn’t generate many purchases for events, and that’s the problem. Maybe it’s his attitude? I don’t know. I mean, his fighting style is very technical, very elegant, and I don’t know, he fights beautiful and yet, people don’t like it. So I don’t know, I guess it could be his personalty.
DS: Do you think a change in champion will be good for the division?
BM: It sounds horrible, but I think it will. I think when Demetrious loses, the 125-pound division will regain a light for the future.