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Back in Mexico City, Brandon Moreno’s goal ‘was always to return to the UFC’

UFC Fight Night 96 photos
Brandon Moreno (pictured) fights Askar Askarov in a flyweight bout at UFC Mexico on Saturday
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Officially, this weekend marks the return of Brandon Moreno to the UFC roster. But in some ways, he was never really gone.

After all, Moreno’s departure had much to do with the potential shuttering of the UFC’s flyweight division. Coming off of back-to-back losses in 2018, it wasn’t a difficult decision for the promotion to cut the young fighter loose. Over a year passed before he resurfaced in Legacy Fighting Alliance, a promotion with close ties to the UFC. This past June, he took on Maikel Perez and captured a 125-pound title.

Soon after, Moreno had re-signed with the industry-leader.

Still just 25 years old, “The Assassin Baby” is now set to fight Askar Askarov on Saturday in Mexico City, Mexico. It’s the same place where headlined a UFC show for the first time and suffered his first Octagon loss.

While Moreno’s management had long been in contact with UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby, there were no guarantees he would get another call-up. However, he was confident that if he performed well, he’d be back in the big leagues soon enough.

“At the time, I knew my future was unclear,” Moreno said in an interview with MMA Fighting via e-mail, translated from Spanish. “But if I knew that if I had a dominant victory, there was a great chance of the UFC welcoming me back quickly, and that was what happened. I wasn’t sure what the future held at that point, but my goal was always to return to the UFC, and I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.”

Moreno’s instinct proved correct. Even better, his new contract called for him to rejoin the revitalized flyweight division. Speaking to MMA Fighting in April, Moreno had indicated that his quickest route back to the UFC could be as a bantamweight. But after he won a title in LFA and saw the high level of competition at 125 pounds, he was comfortable making flyweight his home for the foreseeable future.

“The decision was because I thought the flyweight division was finished and my intention was always to return to UFC,” Moreno said. “But once I saw that the division stayed, I knew that my place was always in the flyweight class. That’s where I belong.”

In his first run with the UFC, Moreno had plenty of success—maybe too much, too soon given his relative inexperience. After failing to make it past the first round of The Ultimate Fighter 24 flyweight tournament, he burst onto the scene with a surprising first-round submission of Louis Smolka and then made it three straight UFC wins with victories against established names like Dustin Ortiz and Ryan Benoit.

Those performances earned Moreno a main event spot in his native Mexico against Sergio Pettis at a show in Mexico City in August 2017. Moreno finally hit a wall, losing a unanimous decision to Pettis. In his next outing, he would meet TUF 24 foil Alexandre Pantoja in a rematch and again end up on the wrong end of the scorecards.

Sixteen months after his previous UFC outing, Moreno sees himself as a new man as he prepares to fight in Mexico City once more.

“If you saw my previous fight (in the LFA), you will realize that my fighting game is completely different now than it was before,” he said. “Also, mentally I’ve changed a lot. I’m a more aggressive fighter and more determined to end the fight.”

Moreno credits fatherhood with helping him mature. He has a second daughter, born around the time of his UFC release, and the life change has pushed him to become even more focused as he approaches another run with the promotion.

Moreno’s whole family will be in attendance at Arena Ciudad de Mexico on Saturday; his wife, children, and parents will be in the audience, and his brother will be in his corner. That’s all the motivation he needs to feel confident that this homecoming will be more fruitful than the last one.

“Being a father has changed my life in unimaginable ways; I’ve taken everything in a more serious way because I know that my wife and daughters wait for me at home and depend on me to move on,” Moreno said. “That’s not something I take lightly, and I think fans will see that in the Octagon.”

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