“Mexico, you got one!”
As he so often does, Jon Anik captured the magnitude of the moment when Brandon Moreno submitted Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 263 in Glendale, Arizona, to become the undisputed flyweight champion of the world and the first Mexico-born UFC champion. Even if Moreno appeared to not initially process his accomplishment in the immediate aftermath, “The Assassin Baby” certainly felt the wave of emotions hit him before proudly shouting, “Viva Mexico,” in his Octagon interview.
Making it to that stage from Tijuana was already a major accomplishment for Moreno, but considering the winding path through the mixed martial arts world he took to get there made it all the sweeter.
Crowning Moment: Brandon Moreno
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Crowning Moment: Brandon Moreno
After amassing an 11-3 record on the regional scene, including an eight-fight winning streak after his 3-3 start to his professional career, Moreno appeared on The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of Champions. There, Moreno ended up on Joseph Benavidez’s team as the lowest-ranked seed and lost his first fight via submission to Alexandre Pantoja. Moreno had a chance to turn things around quickly, however, as he made his UFC debut against Louis Smolka while his TUF season aired. He picked up a submission win and a performance bonus, and the ball was rolling for Moreno.
He fought four more times over the next year-and-a-half, beating Ryan Benoit and Dustin Ortiz but losing back-to-back fights to Sergio Pettis and Pantoja. Despite a solid 3-2 run in the Octagon, Moreno was cut as the flyweight division found itself in limbo. However, Moreno surged back in June 2019, winning the LFA flyweight title with a fourth-round TKO win over Maikel Pérez, and that was enough to get him back with the mixed martial arts leader.
Although his return bout with Askar Askarov in Mexico City ended in a split draw, Moreno returned to the Octagon looking immensely improved and much more confident, particularly with his standup skills. He followed that performance with rather impressive decision wins over Kai Kara-France at UFC 245 and Jussier Formiga in Brazil to put him in a No. 1 contender bout against Brandon Royval at UFC 255. There, Moreno got Royval out of there in less than a round to distinguish himself in the title picture. Following Deiveson Figueiredo’s demolition of Alex Perez at the same event, UFC asked both men to come back three weeks later at UFC 256 in what would be the start of a legendary rivalry.
In a year-and-a-half, Moreno had gone from out of the UFC to a title fight, one that would be a late entry into 2020’s hefty Fight of the Year conversation. Figueiredo and Moreno put on a back-and-forth display for the ages, ending in a majority draw and setting the stage for Moreno’s triumph seven months later in Arizona.
Moreno looked like a world-beater in the rematch, dominating each position and wearing Figueiredo down over the course of two-and-a-half rounds before finally getting the rear naked choke to earn UFC gold two years and three days after winning the LFA belt. It was a wicked rise and one that, due to Moreno’s friendliness and wholesome interests in things like Legos and Funko Pops, made him a quick and easy fan favorite.
Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, who headlined UFC 263, made a point to compliment Moreno throughout the week and sincerely congratulated him backstage, saying he would "blow up worldwide" because he is a "f***ing cool guy."
During his post-fight press conference, Moreno gave flowers to Cain Velasquez, who proudly flew the Mexican flag and helped bring the Octagon to Mexico in 2014. Moreno, though, was also proud to be the first Mexico-born champion and hoped it was the start of a long reign.
Over the next 18 months, Moreno would fight Figueiredo a third time (losing a razor-close decision), capture interim gold over Kara-France in a rematch and unify the belt in a historic fourth fight against Figueiredo in Brazil.
Moreno has already had an iconic career at just 29 years old, so one can assume he’ll continue to break ground and lay an even wider path for Mexican fighters to come.