This past weekend the MMA world got to witness the stacked UFC 263 card, and the hype certainly didn’t disappoint.
We had two world title fights to get excited about, and the return of fan favourite Nate Diaz, as he squared off against, Leon Edwards.
Those of us living in Europe constantly put ourselves through torture, staying up all hours, forcing cans down our necks, just to keep the sandman at bay. Thankfully, this time around it was worth it.
Israel Adesanya closed out the show, with a stunning showing against Italian Marvin Vettori, on route to successfully defending his UFC Middleweight Championship.
The highly anticipated Diaz and Edwards fight was a banger.
Despite, the Birmingham native Edwards putting on a discipline performance, he was rocked by his adversary during a last-minute flurry by the crafty veteran. Edwards managed to hang on for a unanimous decision win.
Elsewhere on the card, the likes of Belal Muhammad, Paul Craig, and Lauren Murphy picked up huge wins, on their respective quests for UFC gold.
Brad Riddell got a decision win over Drew Dober, in what was the Fight of the Night.
The early prelims weren’t short of a talking point either. With 21-year-old Chase Hooper getting handed his second UFC defeat by the experienced Steven Peterson, as he looks to find his feet in the big leagues.
Overall, a fun event, and certainly worth the utter lack of sleep for those of us willing to sacrifice our eight hours.
However, all this pales in comparison when talking about the co-main event of the evening.
New Flyweight King
Brazilian Deiveson Figueiredo put his flyweight title on the line, against 27-year-old, Brandon Moreno.
It was a rematch from their title fight back in December, at UFC 256. Figueiredo retained his championship on that occasion, but only via a majority draw, meaning these two simply had to run it back.
Oh, by the way, that fight just happens to be the consensus, when talking about the greatest flyweight fight in the division’s history. So, it’s safe to say, people were eager to see how this one would go down.
Their first encounter was an instant back and forth classic, with the flow of momentum swaying between both fighters.
However, many experts, bookmakers and fans expected Figueiredo to retain, and continue his path of dominance throughout the flyweight division.
That simply wasn’t the case. Brandon Moreno completely nullified the champion and looked fantastic in all aspects of the fight.
His commanding showing was rewarded midway through the third round. As Moreno cranked on a rare naked choke and forced Figueiredo to tap. Crowning himself the UFC Flyweight Champion, and the first Mexican born UFC champion in the organisation’s history.
Even watching all of this unfold, it was quite emotional, getting to witness someone fulfil their dream, and do it with 17,208 spectators cheering them on in the process.
You see, the rise of Brandon Moreno to the top of the UFC flyweight mountain, was one paved with rocky roads.
Humble UFC Beginnings
Moreno started his UFC journey in 2016, with a professional record of 11-3. He won the flyweight championship in the World Fighting Federation, an MMA promotion operating out of Phoenix, Arizona.
Brandon won the then vacant gold on 20th of September 2014, at World Fighting Federation 16, beating a fellow by the name of CJ Soliven by submission. Moreno went on to defend his title three times, catching the eye of the UFC brass in the process.
The budding fighter was giving the opportunity to appear on the 24th season of the Ultimate Fighter.
That edition of the famous reality television show was called, ‘The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of Champions’, which took 16 flyweight champions from different MMA organisations around the world. Giving them the chance to work under that series coaches, Henry Cejudo and Joseph Benavidez.
With the winner of the show, rewarded with the chance to fight for the UFC Flyweight Championship.
The tournament introduced us to current flyweight contenders like Alexandre Pantoja, Kai Kara France, and Tim Elliot.
With the latter ultimately winning the show, and losing his subsequent title shot during the show’s finale, by then champion, the great Demetrious Johnson.
So, what happened to Moreno during the show?
Well, very little actually. He was dumped out of the competition during his opening fight, by Pantoja, a man that currently sits third in the official UFC flyweight rankings.
In an unprecedented move, while that season of the Ultimate Fighter was airing, Moreno made his professional promotional debut.
He faced off against Louis Smolka during a UFC Fight Night event in Portland, in October 2016. Moreno won the bout, with a slick guillotine submission in the opening round.
This set Moreno off to the races, and he picked up further wins against Ryan Benoit and Dustin Ortiz, as Moreno looked to put his Ultimate Fighter experience behind him.
Can’t Catch A Break
Unfortunately, the good times weren’t to last for the Mexican.
First, he lost his first high-profiled fight with the UFC, during his inaugural main event slot.
Moreno headlined his own Fight Night card, in August 2017. To amp up the pressure even further, it took place in his native, Mexico.
His opponent that night was Sergio Pettis, the current bantamweight champion in Bellator.
It turned out to be a disastrous night for Moreno, who lost the fight on the judges score cards.
Following this, he surprisingly tested positive upon inspection of an in-competition drug test. It was revealed Moreno tested positive for clenbuterol, which is commonly used by asthma suffers, who use it to improve their breathing.
Thankfully, it was confirmed Moreno had nothing to do with this worrying pop. USADA determined it was likely due to the presence of clenbuterol in contaminated meat the fighter ate in Mexico.
The bad luck continued for Moreno, during the build-up for UFC 223.
Again, it was a marquee event for Moreno to be fighting on. As Khabib Nurmagomedov won the vacant lightweight championship at this event. Plus, Rose Namajunas won her rematch against Joanna Jedrzejczyk on this fateful card.
Of course, most MMA fans will understand the cursed nature of this event.
The build-up for the UFC 223 main event was an utter ordeal, but it’s still not what this event is remembered for.
This is where the famous Conor McGregor bus incident took place.
When the megastar broke into the Barclays Centre as a bus full of fighters was leaving the venue and attacked the bus. Throwing whatever he could get his hands on, through the window.
McGregor and his crew wanted to get to Khabib, after a heated incident between him and McGregor’s teammate Artem Lobov, done the rounds on social media.
This resulted in more fights getting scrapped, last minute. Lobov’s fight with Alex Caceres was nixed due to the former’s involvement in the incident. Michael Chiesa vs Anthony Pettis was cancelled, down to Chiesa suffering facial cuts during the attack.
Plus, our boy Brandon Moreno was impacted, when his schedule bout against Ray Borg was put on ice. Due to Borg getting glass in his eye from a broken bus window. It was a complete mess of a situation and put the entire event in jeopardy.
Moreno’s fight with Borg was already rescheduled once, at this stage. The pair were pencilled in to fight at a Fight Night event, headlined by Donald Cerrone, seven weeks prior. Due to a minor injury to Moreno, it was ultimately doomed to the UFC 223 event.
Moreno and Borg were moved to another Fight Night card in Chile, a month after UFC 223.
Sadly, Borg had to pull out once again, due to his child undergoing brain surgery.
Moreno wasn’t left out in the cold, as his old foe Alexandre Pantoja stepped in as a replacement. Giving Brandon the chance to payback his loss at the hands of Pantoja, during his time on the Ultimate Fighter.
It wasn’t to be, and Moreno capped off an extremely frustrating spell of his career, with another decision defeat to Pantoja.
A spell of inactively followed for Moreno, during the remainder of 2018.
A new year did nothing to change the UFC fortunes of the flyweight contender. He confirmed that the UFC released him from his contract, at the time it was seemingly a harsh decision, now with hindsight, it was an utterly ridiculous one.
Moreno tested the free agency market. Picking up a fight in the American promotion, Legacy Fighting Alliance.
He was thrown in at the deep end. Moreno challenged for the LFA flyweight title, facing champion Maikel Perez at LFA 69, in California.
Moreno halted the championship run of Perez in his opening title defence, stopping the Cuban by TKO in the fourth round. Resulting in Moreno becoming LFA’s flyweight champion and winning his second championship of his career.
Back In The Big Time
It was a short-lived reign, as the UFC came calling again to retain the services of, Brandon Moreno.
Upon his promotional return, Moreno was tasked as the welcoming committee for Askar Askarov, as the Russian made his UFC debut.
Identical to his first bout with Deiveson Figueiredo, this helter skelter fight was marked down as a draw.
Instead of rematching, both men went on an absolute tear.
Moreno went on a three-fight winning run, before facing Figueiredo for the first time. Knocking off the likes of Kai Kara France, Jussier Formiga and Brandon Royval.
Going from cut to champion in the space of three years. It’s truly a script worthy of Hollywood.
Brandon Moreno went through so much adversity throughout his UFC tenor, and the outpour of emotion from him, was evident of the turbulence he had to endure, before getting his hands of UFC gold.
By all accounts, Moreno is one of the nicest people within the UFC, and the MMA community.
Vastly understated, the man is a father, Lego enthusiast and a warm-hearted individual.
Anything can happen in combat sports, especially in such a stacked division like the flyweight one. Deiveson Figueredo, Askar Askarov and Alexandre Pantoja will all be chomping at the bit to fight the champ, once again.
For now, nobody can take away this achievement from the underdog, Brandon Moreno.
In a sport full of tough individuals, we all smile that little bit harder when the good guy finished on top.
From a UFC perspective, if marketed right, Moreno could be the next big Latin American star, to lead the flyweight division into its continued revival for years to come.