Moreno heard top-tier contenders Alexandre Pantoja and Askar Askarov were dealing with injuries, and he wanted to stay active. Figueiredo was the UFC’s first official officer, and it’s his personal policy not to refuse fights.
Still, that’s more than one year of thinking about and training for the same opponent, and Moreno will be glad to put this opponent – and his very visible team – in the rearview mirror when they meet at UFC 270 on Jan. 22.
“I’m tired of thinking about him because all these fake people around him, man, it’s too much to me because I’m trying to be very, very real in my normal day,” Moreno said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I’m trying to be very real with my people, on social media. I’m trying to be very clear in my regular life, but this is guy is like...sometimes, I think this guy doesn’t believe in his words. When he talks, it’s like everything is talk about lies and the fake people around him. It is what it is. I’m tired of that, but a fight is a fight, and I’m ready to fight him again.”
Moreno played coy, but when asked if he was talking about Figueiredo’s manager, Wallid Ismail, he responded, “When I say fake people, the first name people say is Wallid. I don’t know. You said it, not me.”
Ismail has injected bad blood into the trilogy fight by setting up a training camp for Figueiredo with former two-division champ Henry Cejudo, a former training partner and coach of Moreno. The former MMA fighter turned manager accused Moreno of betraying Cejudo by joining Joseph Benavidez’s team on The Ultimate Fighter 24. He claimed Cejudo was ready to make Moreno “pay” for the transgression.
Moreno doesn’t dispute he chose a different path on the long-running reality show – there’s tape on it. But he said that doesn’t tell the whole story.
“A lot of little drama,” he said when asked for his side of the conflict. “To be honest with you, when I heard about that the first time, I was a little bit sad and a little bit disappointed. But man, fake people fake things. Definitely, he has his own version of history, I have my own version of my history, and people can judge that. Now, I don’t care if Henry Cejudo wants to help Figueiredo for this trilogy. I think he needs it, because he needs to do something different because last fight was horrible for him.
“I went to The Ultimate Fighter, he took Pantoja and he said, ‘F*ck Brandon,’ and I went with Benavidez’s team,” Moreno said. “I need to be very clear in that point, because the training with Benavidez was amazing, was very nice, because he gave me different techniques and another perspective on fighting. I want to be very clear on that point. Benavidez was very respectful with me, and he helped me a lot, too. It was a sad part of my life, but we are here, right?”
Right now, Moreno is in the catbird seat, making new career inroads and adding to his bottom line in a way he’s never before experienced. None other than the president of Mexico and Canelo Alvarez are a few of his new acquaintances following a victory tour for his UFC 263 submission of Figueiredo, a heartwarming comeback for the challenger after several years of ups and downs in the octagon. The way Moreno sees it, there’s a benefit to beating a dominant Brazilian whether it’s once or twice.
“Figueiredo is my best sponsor ever,” he said. “I never had another sponsor like Figueiredo. He’s paying my house, he’s paying my car, so we can do it again.”
Assuming he comes out ahead for a second time, Moreno sees Pantoja and Askarov as the most worthy candidates to challenge him. But he’s also aware of the way the UFC’s business works, and that means he could wind up fighting ex-bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt, who’s moving down a division after several setbacks to take on Kai Kara-France at UFC 269.
“So the fight is between [Pantoja and Askaraov] in my perception,” he said. “But the last decision is of the company. It’s not my decision. I am the champion, and I need to wait for the offer. My only job is to train so hard.”