Moreno was working on the U.S. holiday as part of the final stages of preparation for his upcoming title defence, and the small, private facility on the outskirts of the Las Vegas Strip was filled with hints of his Mexican culture. A big image of Moreno, the U.F.C.’s first Mexican-born champion, hangs on the wall above the training area, showing him grinning while wearing the title belt and his country’s flag over his shoulders.
Moreno’s success has shone a light on the U.F.C.’s plans to grow in Mexico, plans that have been supported by the recent victories of Alexa Grasso, who won the women’s flyweight championship, and Yair Rodrguez, who won the interim men’s featherweight title.
Moreno will defend his title on Saturday in the co-main event of U.F.C. 290 against Alexandre Pantoja, a Brazilian fighter who has already defeated Moreno twice. On that occasion, the main event pits Rodriguez against Alexander Volkanovski, another prominent contender in terms of weight class.
Moreno was born and raised in Tijuana, Mexico, a bustling port city on the California border. His family had a piata company, and he was the youngest of three kids. Moreno said he went on sales excursions to Southern California with them, namely San Diego and Los Angeles.
He started training in MMA when he was 12 years old because, he says, he was overweight and wanted something to do except play video games and eat Oreos after school. Moreno stated he had to get his parents’ permission to fight professionally for the first time in 2011. He was 17 at the time.
However, Moreno stepped in as a substitute in October 2016, fought five times, and suffered a severe defeat to Pantoja in a dominating performance in 2018. Since the 125-pound category for men has been less successful than the higher weight classes, U.F.C. decided to release Moreno in part because of this uncertainty.
Moreno wants to go back into the UFC as quickly as possible so he could keep making money. Moreno’s new manager, Jason House of Iridium Sports Agency, was instrumental in getting him a title fight in MMA’s flyweight class with the lesser promotional outfit Legacy Fighting Alliance. Moreno prevailed, and he returned to the U.F.C. ring three months later in September 2019.
He won four in a row before facing the flyweight champion, a Brazilian named Deiveson Figueiredo, in December 2020. After a close battle, the judges declared a draw and scheduled a rematch for June of 2021. Moreno won the fight through submission in the third round when he put Figueiredo to sleep with a rear naked choke.
White claims that Moreno’s fame skyrocketed overnight. His affable nature and niche hobbies (he’s a Lego and Pokémon card collector) make him appealing to a large audience. Speaking both Spanish and English has helped him reach a wider audience since he sometimes announces battles for U.F.C.
Cain Velasquez, Dominick Cruz, and Henry Cejudo are all U.F.C. champions of Mexican ancestry, but Moreno is the first to have been born in Mexico. After a surprising submission victory against Valentina Shevchenko in March, Grasso joined Rodriguez on the winners’ podium.
There are now 27 Mexican fighters on the active U.F.C. roster, in addition to the three Mexican champions. This makes Latin American fighters over a quarter of the company’s athletes. In a press conference this week, Rodriguez called Moreno a “inspiration.”
In 2022, Moreno was defeated by Figueiredo by unanimous decision, but he won back the title in January via to a technical knockout after Figueiredo’s right eye swelled after a blow.
The turmoil that surrounded Moreno’s championship defence dampened his celebration. In the midst of his preparations, he was compelled to transfer instructors after learning that his previous mentor, James Krause, was the subject of a gambling investigation.
Significant changes in odds involving a boxer Krause had worked with were detected by a betting monitoring business, U.S. Integrity, before to a bout in November. Darrick Minner, the boxer who lost by technical knockout, was found to have a preexisting ailment that hadn’t been revealed. After reviewing the incident, the U.F.C. threatened to ban fighters who continued to train with Krause from competitions. The investigation is still ongoing by many organisations, including U.S. Integrity and the Nevada State Athletic Commission. When asked for comment, Krause did not get back to anybody.
Moreno started training with Sayif Saud following Krause’s departure, thanks to a practise organised by manager House in Las Vegas. The boxer said that despite the high stakes, Saud and Moreno formed an instant connection. Following his victory over Figueiredo, Moreno signed Saud and teamed up with him to prepare for UFC 290 in Dallas. White has said that, should Moreno win, his popularity will improve, which would be good for UFC outreach efforts in Mexico.
On a Las Vegas fight bill featuring mostly Hispanic competitors, Grasso will rematch Shevchenko in September, around the time of Mexico’s independence. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) aims to launch a performance institute in Mexico City in October, joining existing locations in Las Vegas and China as a hub for aspiring MMA athletes in Latin America. Moreno said that a victory on Saturday would convince the corporation to keep investing in the area.