IT WAS A MID-DECEMBER night on the UFC’s Efficiency Institute in Las Vegas, and Brandon Moreno was looking for it in him to coach at a world-class degree. It wasn’t going effectively.
Moreno was in the midst of camp for his title unification bout in opposition to Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 283 on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro. It is a legacy battle for each flyweights, marking the primary tetralogy in UFC historical past. During the last two years, they’ve fought thrice to completely even outcomes of 1 win for Figueiredo, the champion; one win for former champ Moreno, who now holds an interim title; and one draw. Whereas something is feasible in MMA, this fourth assembly figures to lastly settle the rating for good. Yet one more battle, winner take all.
The 29-year-old Moreno is now in an excellent place going right into a weekend of this magnitude, however that was not the case 5 weeks in the past in Las Vegas. Moreno was bodily sick and nonetheless emotionally upended from a compelled break up together with his head coach, James Krause, who’s on the middle of a number of investigations into an alleged betting scandal. The notoriously cheerful Mexican star wasn’t smiling as he skilled, and his power was noticeably low.
It reached a degree that Jason Home, Moreno’s supervisor and shut pal, quietly thought-about canceling the battle. The hand they’d been dealt was simply an excessive amount of to beat, and the battle was too necessary.
The entire thing felt unjust.
“The toll of everything got to him and he got really sick,” Home instructed ESPN. “He didn’t look good. There were a few sparring sessions where he was sicker than a dog, and it was only his toughness that was on display.
“Brandon is household to me. I am a godparent to his children. I’ve to do what’s greatest for him and his household. This entire factor with Figueiredo has been taking part in out for 2 years, and I wanted to ensure he was in a position to get pleasure from it and put his greatest foot ahead. If that could not occur, we wanted to think about our choices — together with pulling out of the battle — as a result of Brandon has executed the whole lot proper. He deserves to have this second in the precise method.”
What happened throughout Moreno’s latest camp is a testament to his resilience, the selflessness of his team and a late-replacement head coach, Sayif Saud, who never had so much as held pads for Moreno before he agreed to take the reins of his preparations midcamp. It’s a great story, Moreno rekindling his joy amid a tricky situation ahead of the biggest fight of his life.
It will be an even greater story if Moreno is successful this weekend. Despite all the odds his team has faced, everyone on it is confident that will be the case.
“This was laborious for everyone, [because] it was making an attempt to construct the whole lot again collectively,” Moreno said. “However proper now, on this second, I really feel we did it. I really feel very assured about what we did, and I’m able to battle.”
MORENO STARTED PREPARING for this fight back in November at Krause’s Glory MMA facility in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
It was to be his second full camp under Krause, who was widely considered one of the sport’s top up-and-coming coaches. After Moreno lost a very close five-round decision to Figueiredo in their third meeting last January, the Mexican fighter decided to leave his longtime MMA team in Tijuana, led by coach Raul Arvizu, to train with Krause. The partnership got off to a beautiful start in July, when Moreno won the UFC’s interim title by knocking out New Zealand’s Kai Kara-France.
Moreno believed Krause was so influential in that win that within 12 hours, he’d ordered a UFC belt to the tune of $1,000 and had it shipped to Krause’s house in Missouri. He truly felt Krause owned a part of that title.
“When a fighter bonds with a coach, you are mainly preventing on autopilot,” House said. “You are following instructions, and that comes from spending months, hours upon hours, with one coach — watching movie collectively, coaching collectively, consuming collectively. Individuals do not know this — Brandon lived in James’s home for some time. That bond, that absolute belief, Brandon had that with James.”
Moreno was in Lee’s Summit on Nov. 19 when the first real sign of trouble for his camp emerged. That week, the Nevada State Athletic Commission stopped Krause from cornering a fight in Las Vegas, as it investigated his role in a suspicious bout involving his student Darrick Minner on Nov. 5. Before the contest, betting odds shifted dramatically away from Minner, who went on to lose in the first round via TKO. It was later revealed Minner went into the fight with an injured knee.
“In that second, the entire fighters [at Glory] puzzled what may occur sooner or later,” Moreno said. “I began to consider the longer term then. Nothing actually severe, however I began to have that thought.”
Two weeks later, the UFC took action by notifying its roster that “fighters who select to proceed to be coached by Krause or who proceed to coach in his health club won’t be permitted to take part in UFC occasions pending the result” of investigations. The UFC also released Minner from the organization.
“At some point earlier than it was throughout social media, [Krause] known as me and we had a deep dialog,” Moreno said. “He instructed me about the whole lot and that was unhappy, man. I can not misinform you. It was disappointing and I used to be unhappy. However one thing particular in me that I acknowledge is that I am superb at passing the web page. If I must do one thing to vary my unhealthy scenario, I’ll — and quick.”
With Krause and his gym suddenly unavailable, Moreno had no reason to stay in Missouri. He and his team packed up and relocated to Las Vegas, where Moreno has owned a house since 2021.
He’d lost his head coach, but his team was otherwise intact. Jorge Capetillo, Pedro Joya, Hector Vasquez and Israel Silva — Moreno had a full coaching staff around him that covered his boxing, Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu and wrestling. He still had Krause’s game plan.
Maybe that’d be enough.
House, however, knew better. He believed in Moreno’s ability to put his head down and deal with adversity, but he recognized that his fighter’s team was carrying a lot of weight. They’d taken a massive hit, and it’d be a mistake to ignore that. It had to be addressed.
“Your coach is your eyes on this sport,” House said. “So, to lose that, you are feeling blind for some time. Brandon wanted love. He wanted somebody to take care of him and take the reins from him, as a result of if you go to Brazil and you’ve got followers screaming at you and it is a battle on your legacy, you want somebody to take the ball and run with it. In my thoughts, we needed to make some choices.”
The epic showdown that was Figueiredo vs. Moreno 1
Take a look back and relive the epic match that Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno put on at UFC 256 in Las Vegas.
SAUD DOESN’T REMEMBER exactly when, but at one point a few years ago, Moreno left an impression on him backstage at a UFC event. Moreno wasn’t fighting that night, but was there to corner one of his Mexican teammates.
Saud, who runs Fortis MMA in Dallas, understands MMA is an individual sport, but he is still very big into the team concept. That shows in the culture of his gym. Fortis MMA consists entirely of homegrown talent. There are no transplants from around the world, no dorms built into the gym to house temporary guests who only wish to hold a single fight camp there. Saud oversees fighters from their MMA infancy. Several former world champions have asked to train under him, and he’s turned them all down.
Saud had never worked with Moreno, but what he observed in him that one night backstage reflected the same culture he believes in as a coach. There was Moreno, a UFC champion, investing everything he had into a teammate.
“I may see the fervour and the nerves he had for that battle, and I instructed his supervisor, Jason, ‘That child you have received has an enormous coronary heart,'” Saud said. “How a lot he cared about his teammate successful, that is what you need as a coach — as a result of these are the blokes who’ve character. These are the blokes you construct groups round.”
That impression got here to Saud’s thoughts when he and Home first mentioned the opportunity of him becoming a member of Moreno’s group in mid-December. Beneath regular circumstances, Saud most likely would not have entertained it. However the circumstances weren’t regular, and Moreno wasn’t simply anybody. Saud felt the identical method Home did because the scenario was unfolding. It felt unfair. Moreno had been dealt a large drawback forward of the largest battle of his profession, and he’d executed nothing to deserve it.
“I never wanted to hop on someone else’s work, that’s not my style,” Saud mentioned. “But this wasn’t Brandon’s fault. I saw him trying to find his way as a young man in all of this. He’s someone that needed help, and I was in a position to help him.”
In mid-December, Saud took over Moreno’s camp. He corresponded with the group every day through textual content from Dallas, and flew to Las Vegas on the finish of each week to supervise follow in individual.
As unwelcome as your entire scenario was, the group was effectively suited to jell rapidly. Saud is a normal by nature. He instructions the room and does not thoughts main. On high of that, Moreno’s group was wanting to be led. His secure of coaches wished a head coach they may comply with. There was no conflict of egos to beat. Everybody had the identical aim.
Nonetheless, 5 weeks shouldn’t be a whole lot of time for a head coach and fighter to construct a relationship. Ideally, that is one thing that occurs over the course of years. Moreno acknowledged as a lot with Saud from the beginning, whereas nonetheless providing optimism.
“The first day I talked to Sayif, I told him, ‘If we can connect, I promise that I’m a soldier,'” Moreno mentioned. “‘If you tell me I need to do [something], I will. If I believe in you, it works.'”
Inside one week of Saud approaching, it was clear that he and Moreno had related. Moreno’s power returned, alongside together with his trademark grin. Everybody began to breathe slightly simpler, and any ideas Home had of suspending the battle have been brushed apart.
“With all that happened and making this big change five weeks out, everybody was a little anxious to see how things were going to turn out, including Brandon,” Saud mentioned. “But the way we came together the last four, five weeks — we put the rounds in, put the time in and worked together. We truly just all worked together for one goal.”
EVERYONE INVOLVED IN Moreno’s camp for this battle is linked collectively in a gaggle chat on WhatsApp titled “The Last Dance.” It is a nod to the 2020 docuseries in regards to the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls.
Home and Moreno, particularly, see similarities between this fourth battle in opposition to Figueiredo and people Bulls. In a method, Home is unhappy to see this rivalry finish. It has elevated each flyweights over the past two years.
“This last one is very reminiscent of that last season with the Bulls, because they were going to break up the team at the end,” Home mentioned. “This is such a big part of our legacy because in this sport you need a dance partner, and not everyone is so lucky to get one. How is Anderson Silva’s legacy different if he doesn’t have Chael Sonnen? How is Chuck Liddell’s different if he doesn’t have Tito Ortiz? This is the last dance. We have to win this. This is for everything.”
As a lot as that is true, the tone of “The Last Dance” group chat has remained very laid-back — following the lead of Moreno himself.
When Moreno’s skilled MMA profession started in 2011 in Mexico, he went 3-3 in his first six fights. He was just lately requested in an interview: What saved him going at that time? A mediocre 3-3 begin may need discouraged some athletes from sticking with such a troublesome sport. Moreno responded that at the moment in his life, he wasn’t fascinated about outcomes. He was simply “having fun and trying to punch someone in the face.”
Going into this fourth battle, Moreno has tried to return to that focus. He needs to win and cement his legacy, however much more so, he needs to benefit from the ultimate chapter of what he and Figueiredo have constructed. Fortunately, regardless of all he went by means of, he’s.
“I love Deiveson,” Moreno mentioned with amusing. “We are building something huge together, and after this fight, whatever happens, we are building a huge legacy between us. It’s almost poetic for me, it’s a nice movie. Every single piece of the movie is connecting to this last part. I’m trying to be very focused and be happy. Follow the game plan and be smart, of course, but man, I just want to enjoy the moment.”