Brandon Moreno had early worries about what his mental state would be like as a UFC champion, but little has changed ahead of his first title defense against a familiar opponent.
Moreno will face Devieson Figueiredo for the third time with the flyweight title on the line on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 270, which takes place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
After fighting to a draw in their first meeting at UFC 256, Moreno left no doubt in the rematch at UFC 263 when he pulled off the performance of his career with a third-round submission of Figueiredo to become the UFC’s world champion for the very first time. It’s a moment he’ll never forget, nor take for granted, which is why Moreno isn’t changing much heading into the trilogy fight, despite now having the target on his back.
“I was thinking about it and everything is the same,” Moreno told MMA Fighting. “I have a fight, somebody’s trying to kill me, and I need to defend my title. That’s it. That’s the only difference — I’m defending something. But it’s the same thing. I’m going into the octagon with some guy who is trying to beat me, who is trying to take food away from my family.
“I’ve been trying to be very, very focused, but just be the champion for the cameras, for the media and all of that stuff. But for me, I’m just trying to be Brandon Moreno, and just be the same guy, and just try hard every single day as always.”
Moreno’s coronation created one of the UFC’s all-time feel-good stories: From being released by the promotion following a loss to Alexandre Pantoja in May 2018, to capturing the LFA flyweight title 13 months later, to getting back to the UFC and fighting Askar Askarov to a draw, all the way to getting to a title fight, and then capturing the title.
The No. 1 ranked flyweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings knew there would be some changes in his life being the man at 125 pounds, but he made it a focus to make sure his head didn’t get too big.
“The first month it was like, ‘Whoa, it’s Brandon Moreno, the first Mexican champion.’ Then with the media tour, the interviews, people [were treating me] like a king, just very nice,” Moreno said. “I remember going on vacation to Puerto Vallarta and I went to some restaurant that was very full of people, but the owner of the place recognized me and immediately gave me a table for all of my people — I mean, that part was amazing. I need to be honest.
“But after the first two months, the fever started to [drop]. But now it’s, ‘Brandon Moreno is everywhere.’ Everything changed, but it’s all about dedication, and how you [deal] with this new life in your mind. To me, I’m just trying to enjoy every single moment of this life.
“And I was scared about that because we’ve seen a lot of champions lose their minds, lose their first title defense, start to lose, and there are a lot of examples. I was scared to be that guy. I didn’t want to be that guy, and that was the big reason why I wanted to do a really hard training camp and stay focused on [the fight].”
Figueiredo headed back to the drawing board after having his six-fight unbeaten streak snapped by Moreno and made the choice to change things up. The No. 2 ranked fighter in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings moved his camp to Fight Ready in Arizona to work with the likes of Henry Cejudo, Eddie Cha, Eric Albarracin, and more ahead of his chance to regain his title.
For “The Assassin Baby,” he understands Figueiredo trying to add some new elements to his arsenal, but it isn’t effecting his preparation in any way.
“Obviously, you try and watch the [second] fight and you can see holes in his game and my game,” Moreno explained. “Even with the way I won last June, my preparation was about keeping everything sharp — my strength and conditioning, my cardio, everything.
“I didn’t put too much attention on [adding new elements to my game], because right now, maybe that’s the only advantage he has over me, is that he’s bigger, maybe stronger than me. But right now, I’ve got all of that covered.”