After his victory over Deiveson Figueiredo, Moreno began to slowly saunter around the Octagon, as if the weight of the moment had not yet hit him. And when it did moments later and the occasion’s significance fully dawned on him, it is then when the warrior began to openly weep tears of joy, with his new and cherished possession draped across his shoulder.
He did it. Brandon Moreno had just finished sacking the flyweight kingdom without being defeated in any of his last seven fights. It was a moment that was no doubt surreal for Moreno, who had just finished checking all the boxes of a man fit to wear the crown in his stellar performance. And it was also a moment that was not foretold by most spectators.
Brandon Moreno wasn’t expected to be in this spot. From day one, even prior to his UFC debut, Moreno wasn’t viewed as a prospect with a championship ceiling. Moreno took the MMA world along with all their expectations for a spin when he turned in the performance of his career to become the new flyweight champion. However, the new champ’s road to gold wasn’t strewn with roses.
The Last Pick
Going back even prior to his promotional debut, Moreno was assigned the lowest seed out of 16 fighters on his run on The Ultimate Fighter 24 in 2016. Moreno would then fall in line with the coaches’ projections when he lost in the tournament’s first round to #1 seed, Alexandre Pantoja. After watching Moreno lose immediately after being picked last, how many people at home thought to themselves, “Yep. That’s the guy. That guy’s going to be a future flyweight champion”?
Moreno would later gain vindication in the TUF 24 Finale when he defeated the explosive Ryan Benoit via split decision. He then followed that up with his first stoppage in the UFC with a win over Dustin Ortiz, even taking home Performance of the Night at UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Lobov in 2017. So maybe this kid from Tijuana, Mexico, had a high ceiling after all.
Those thoughts quickly dissipated when Moreno suffered back-to-back losses: first to Sergio Pettis in 2017 followed up by a 2018 loss to the man who eliminated him from The Ultimate Fighter tournament two years prior, Alexandre Pantoja. Moreno was then cut from the UFC; and as far as the world could tell, this Mexican-born upstart’s title hopes in the UFC were permanently terminated.
An Unlikely Use Of A Second Chance
Moreno would make the most of his second chance when he returned to the UFC. In the six fights since his return, Moreno has not lost a fight. His two draws came to the men currently occupying the #1 and #2 spot in the rankings, one of whom of course being former champion Deiveson Figueiredo, the other being the undefeated Askar Askarov.
Still, at no point during this remarkable run was Moreno widely viewed to be a threat for the world title. In fact, Moreno was the underdog in all but one of the six fights he’s competed in during this second UFC stint.
During his first UFC run, Moreno was even a +325 underdog against Louis Smolka, with Smolka closing as a -625 favorite. To put things into perspective on what that means for how the public viewed Moreno, Smolka has fought in the UFC a total of 17 times. Of those 17, Moreno was the opponent Smolka was the most highly favored against and by a wide margin. And when Moreno did work his way up to a title shot, he found himself once again a sizable underdog at +250, with Figueiredo closing as a large -445 favorite.
After Moreno pushed Figueiredo to the brink of defeat at UFC 256, he couldn’t help but get more respect after coming so close to winning the strap while turning in a candidate for Fight of the Year. Nonetheless, most people predicting the fight sided comfortably with the then-champion, with even UFC President Dana White admitting that he was fully expecting Figueiredo to run through the Mexican.
In the end, Brandon Moreno has proven that he has the mold of a true champion, and he has done so by surviving wars with respect earned and an ever-widening smile after each conquest. Moreno managed to make firewood from his initial tree of aspirations that tumbled down in 2018 and has now become a bonfire of hope, signaling to his countrymen back home that anything is possible.
But all things considered, given the odds he’s overcome and looking back to where he started as the #16 seed to becoming the head honcho at 125, where does Brandon Moreno rank on the list of most unlikely champions in UFC history?
Stay tuned, as next week, I’ll rank the most unlikely champions in UFC history, which most definitely includes Tijuana’s favorite son, their beloved “Assassin Baby,” Brandon Moreno.