When Brandon Moreno made the walk to the Octagon in January as the reigning flyweight champion at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, to defend his belt against arch-rival Deiveson Figueiredo, the roar from the crowd when he became visible in the arena was so loud it was difficult to hear the person next to you speaking.
If ever there was a doubt mixed martial arts would be a hit with the Hispanic fan base which so loves boxing, it was ended on this night.
“The kid’s a legitimate star,” UFC president Dana White said of Moreno, who fights Kai Kara-France on Saturday at UFC 277 for the interim flyweight title, not long after that bout.
He lost his belt that night, dropping a crushing split-decision to Figueiredo in their third fight, all of which had different outcomes. Figueiredo was the reigning champion prior to their first fight and kept the title when the bout was scored a majority draw at UFC 256 in Las Vegas on Dec. 12, 2020.
Moreno won the belt with a rear-naked choke submission at UFC 263 in Glendale, Arizona, on June 12, 2021. And he lost it by the narrowest of margins on Jan. 22 at UFC 270.
All three were scintillating fights. Their bouts at UFC 256 and UFC 270 were chosen as Fight of the Night, and Moreno won Performance of the Night at UFC 263.
But Moreno’s popularity expands beyond just the Mexicans from his native land who have grown to adore him and the Mexican Americans who love his aggressive, high-contact style. Moreno, as the massive ovation at UFC 270 proved, is a star with everyone and it’s almost as much because of his easy-going nature and self-effacing style as it is his fight style.
“Of my fan base, the biggest [part of it] is in Mexico,” he said. “And in the United States, I have a huge fan base, too. But I can feel the love from [so many] countries. A few months back, in March, I went to London and I had a meet-and-greet there. A lot of people were there [and they were] very excited to get to know me.
“Man, that’s awesome. It’s great. But I don’t know if I’m a star or not. I try not to think about it. If it happens, I’d love it and thank you so much. If not, it’s fine for me. I just like to be nice to the people, and that’s it, man.”
The fight with Kara-France is a rematch of a bout they had at UFC 245 on Dec. 14, 2019, in Las Vegas that Moreno won by split decision. That fight serves as sort of a line of demarcation in Moreno’s career.
A little over a year earlier, he was cut by the UFC. He won his fight, came back and got on a roll and turned himself into one of the best flyweights in the world.
He defeated Kara-France, Jussier Formiga and Brandon Royval to earn the title shot and then has had three exceptional bouts with Figueiredo.
But he acknowledge that Kara-France may be at the same point now that he was at in 2019. After losing to Moreno, Kara-France defeated Tyson Nam but was submitted by Royval, meaning he’d lost two of his last three.
But he knocked out Rogerio Bontorin at UFC 259 and Cody Garbrandt at UFC 269 before scoring an impressive win by decision over Askar Askarov in Columbus, Ohio, in March.
The reason, Moreno said, is simple: Confidence.
“We can talk different stuff with technique and that stuff, but the thing he’s improved most is his confidence,” Moreno said. “He lost to me, he won against Tyson Nam and then he lost against Royval. But after that, he looked different against Bontorin and Cody Garbrandt. The last one against Askarov, he was impressive. He looked more brave and more confident. More confidence in the Octagon is very important.”
Moreno’s confidence is sky-high, too, and though he’s not fighting Figueiredo again, who holds the belt, he won’t consider himself any less of a champion if he wins Saturday.
Figueiredo may not fight at flyweight again, though he hasn’t formally made that announcement. And Moreno is just doing what he has to do.
But if his arm is raised on Saturday, there will be no asterisk on his record in his mind.
“In that moment when Dana White puts the belt around my body, I won’t care about interim or anything else,” he said. “I’m the real one. I’m the real one. I’m there to fight. The other guy put out a bunch of excuses. He’s lied about me and my personality. … So in the moment when Dana White comes with that belt, I’ll be the real one.”
There is no one more real in this sport than Brandon Moreno.