Brandon Moreno calls 2023 “the Year of the Mexican,” and he’s not exaggerating.
How can you argue with the fact that going into Saturday’s UFC 290 card in Las Vegas, Moreno, Yair Rodriguez and Alexa Grasso all hold titles they won earlier this year, with a fourth member of the group, Irene Aldana, having challenged Amanda Nunes for the bantamweight crown last month.
Year of the Mexican, indeed.
“Right now, the momentum is on our side; three Mexican champions sharing these kinds of moments for our country is very special,” said Moreno, who defends his UFC flyweight title against Alexandre Pantoja in this weekend’s co-main event. For a nation with such a rich combat sports history, this is a big deal as mixed martial arts tries to catch up with boxing in Mexico.
“This position is a huge responsibility,” said Moreno. “Obviously, for me, for Yair, for Alexa, because all the eyes are on us. Everybody is watching our fights, everybody is waiting for us to get success, not just for us, but for the country to keep getting more eyes in all of the MMA world. So, it's a huge responsibility but, at the same time, it's very special because we are building something huge there.”
It is special and it is a huge responsibility, especially for the 29-year-old Moreno, who first struck gold in 2021 when he defeated Deiveson Figueiredo in the second of their four bouts. In bout three, Figueiredo regained the crown, but Moreno had the last word when he stopped the Brazilian in January. And as the first Mexican to win a UFC title, all eyes have been on “The Assassin Baby” for a long time. How he’s dealt with going from prospect to champion outside the Octagon has been a study in how to handle sudden fame.
“After my victory in UFC 283 and actually even before my first title in 2021, my life changed,” said the Tijuana native. “Now I need to make a better schedule and try to separate myself to be in the gym, then do my media stuff or my meet and greets or whatever and, at the same time, be a husband and be a father.”
That’s not easy, but Moreno seems to be doing just fine under the glare of the spotlight, and while it may be hectic now and for the foreseeable future, he is confident that the craziness now will result in a relaxing life someday.
UFC Breakdown | UFC 290 Co-Main: Moreno vs Pantoja 2
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UFC Breakdown | UFC 290 Co-Main: Moreno vs Pantoja 2
“I'm just trying to use all my energy right now because I can,” he said. “I'm trying to build my future, and then when I'm in that future, just enjoy all the rewards I got for the past.”
It’s a smart plan, albeit one that doesn’t help him now when he’s in the eye of the hurricane. He’s the OG for Mexican MMA, the first one to the top of the mountain, and now he’s facing an opponent who has beaten him twice – once on The Ultimate Fighter 24 in 2016 and once in the Octagon in 2018. A lot has changed since then, but there is still the possibility that Pantoja just may have his number, something Moreno doesn’t give much credence to. And while he’s met the Brazilian twice, he’s just happy he’s not facing Figueiredo again.
“It’s another guy who I met before but, at the same time, I had two years thinking of the same guy,” said Moreno. “This is very refreshing for me, having a new game plan, a new face. It was the same when I fought against Kai Kara-France and now I have a kinda new face. (Laughs) But man, I'm just excited. It's a different style, he's a very tough guy, very durable, really good jiu-jitsu. I’m already thinking about the next game plan and I'm ready to finish this guy.”
If Moreno does get his wish and finish Pantoja, some may think a fourth fight is in order. The champ says that’s probably not going to happen.
“No, no, no,” he laughs. “I don't see more quadrilogies in my future. That makes you tired, just thinking every single time, every single day and night on the same guy. It’s very mentally tiring. So no, I need to be more prepared, I need to be more, need to be smarter, I need to be more technical than him to be clear about who is the best in the flyweight division.”
With Moreno and Figueiredo settling their business and the champion expecting to do the same with Pantoja, you might think it’s a time to exhale. But there’s a hungry group of veterans and up and comers waiting for their crack at the crown, and that’s just fine with Moreno, who plans on making them all think twice about their ambitions by delivering something special at T-Mobile Arena.
“I will finish him,” said Moreno. “I don't have any doubt about it. Right now, I'm very prepared and I'm so happy with myself because I don't feel any extra pressure because he beat me before. I feel amazing, I feel this is my moment and, for sure, I will finish him.”
And keep the Year of the Mexican going.
UFC 290: Volkanovski vs Rodriguez took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 8, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!