Brandon Moreno has completed the journey from UFC castoff to UFC champion.
With a dominant third-round submission victory over Deiveson Figueiredo in a flyweight championship bout on Saturday at UFC 263, Moreno became the first Mexican native to win a UFC title and the rare fighter to claim divisional supremacy in their second run with the promotion.
In 2018, Moreno was actually released by the UFC following consecutive losses, a decision that had as much to do with the UFC seemingly becoming disenchanted with the flyweight division as it did Moreno’s performances. Moreno returned in 2019 with a split draw against Askar Askarov in Mexico City and has remained undefeated since. Three straight victories earned him a shot against Figueiredo at UFC 256 in December.
That fight ended in a majority draw, but it was an instant classic that had fans clamoring for an immediate rematch, which was eventually booked. One more chance was all Moreno needed to seal the deal, and he celebrated vigorously in front of a raucous crowd at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz. It was a moment that Moreno was happy to elaborate on later in the evening.
“I can’t believe it,” Moreno said at the post-fight press conference. “This moment is so special. I’m always trying to make jokes and play with everybody, but today was an emotional day for me. I start to cry because I feel it in the bottom of my heart. I worked so hard for that f*cking belt. It’s pretty.
“I have 10 years as a professional, 15 years doing this sport, and this moment is so special not just for me, it’s special for all the people around me who supported me in all this journey.”
The inconclusive finish of the first fight consumed the affable Moreno and he admitted that he couldn’t enjoy the little time he had off following that encounter. Training for a rematch began in January, long before the rematch was officially booked.
The most important adjustment for Moreno to make was in his head and whatever toll the long training camp took on him was worth it in his eyes.
“I learned [a lot] about myself,” Moreno said. “I can talk with you about a lot of technical stuff like the kicks, the boxing, muay Thai, all that stuff, but I learned [a lot about] my mind, it’s made with another material, different material definitely. I worked so hard, six months, was so long this training camp.
“This training camp takes two or three years of my life, but I don’t care. I have the belt right now and that’s the most important thing. I don’t have enough words to explain how I feel today.”
If Moreno was the best version of himself on Saturday, it would be difficult to say the same of Figueiredo. The incumbent champion was slow to start and never seemed to make it out of first gear, while Moreno dominated every phase of the contest.
From their faceoff at a press conference to their last meeting before fight night at the ceremonial weigh-ins, Moreno felt something was different about Figueiredo. The Brazilian star was the last fighter to appear at the official weigh-ins on Friday and he looked visibly diminished from the cut down to 125 pounds.
“We need to be honest, he cut too much weight,” Moreno said. “I think it’s unnecessary. This sport is so hard because you cut weight because you want some advantage in the fight, you want to feel stronger, you want to feel with more energy than your opponent, but we saw the Embedded, Figueiredo crying after making weight. Very dramatic, in the last minute of the time. I think it’s unnecessary, but obviously it’s not my decision, it’s the decision of his team and him.”
Moreno has no shortage of challengers and he speculated that his next fight could be a rematch with Askarov, a fresh challenge in former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt, or perhaps even a trilogy bout with Figueiredo — the latter more likely to take place further in the future.
Otherwise, he’s excited to take some time off, likely returning to his hometown of Tijuana to celebrate. Moreno is the first UFC champion to be born in Mexico, an achievement that is not lost on him even as other fighters of Mexican heritage had previously laid the groundwork.
“That was one of my principal goals,” Moreno said. “Obviously, I have too much respect for guys like Cain Velasquez, Henry Cejudo, they put too much work in the sport for my country too. Cain Velasquez bring the UFC to Mexico in 2014. That was amazing, it put the mixed martial arts in Mexico to another level.
“But now, me, I’m born in Tijuana. I’m born in Tijuana, I grew up there, I went to the school there. I suffered the bad opportunities, the f*cking government there, the huge companies don’t put support in the sports, especially in the mixed martial arts because it’s a new sport for the country. So I know with this belt I put the sport on another level and that makes me feel amazing.”