Brandon Moreno's 'Rocky IV’ moment in hostile territory has arrived

Brandon Moreno, the UFC’s interim flyweight champion, has flown to hostile territory to once again fight his arch-rival. He’s doing so after learning that he wouldn’t be able to train with his chosen coach, since the UFC banned all of its fighters from training with James Krause or at his gym while a gambling investigation involving Krause is underway.

Brazilian fights are routinely rough on fighters who face Brazilians, particularly when the stakes are high, but Moreno accepted a bout against flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, without complaint. It’s a tough situation for anyone to willingly thrust themselves into, but Moreno put his name on the contract and did his best to get himself ready for battle.

That Moreno has agreed to all of this and has done it with a smile creasing his face is not only why he is becoming one of the UFC’s biggest stars, but also why he said he’s been warmly received since getting to Brazil.

He’ll fight Figueiredo on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro for the fourth time — the series is 1-1-1 — for the undisputed flyweight championship in the co-main event of UFC 283.

“Man, for me, this is a ‘Rocky IV,’” Moreno told Yahoo Sports. “For me, this is for legacy. This is a movie, right? The movie is, like, grinding by himself.

"So man, again, of course it’s a lot of pressure and extra pressure. Go to Brazil, go to his hometown. And maybe the people will be against me or not. I don’t know, man. I don’t know.

“Let’s see what happens. I mean, I can see this scenario, like, maybe how fierce the people will be [in favor of] Deiveson. But with the passage of the time, with the passage of the rounds, I feel I can win the hearts of the Brazilian people here in Brazil.”

The biggest challenge for Moreno may well be the coaching situation. He knows Figueiredo quite well, having fought him 12-plus rounds over three fights.

In July, he was trained by Krause in a bout against Kai Kara-France in Dallas at UFC 277 for the interim flyweight title. Moreno looked outstanding in a third-round TKO win. He appeared to have a great bond with Krause, who seemed to be able to push Moreno to the next level.

DALLAS, TEXAS - JULY 30: Brandon Moreno of Mexico reacts in his corner in his flyweight interim title bout against Kai Kara France of New Zealand during UFC 277 at American Airlines Center on July 30, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Brandon Moreno is embraced by former coach James Krause following his victory at UFC 277 on July 30 in Dallas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

But when Krause became ensnared in the gambling investigation, Moreno had to move on. He left Missouri and returned to Las Vegas, where he had been based, and hooked up with Sayif Saud of Fortis MMA.

Saud, like Krause, is one of the best in the game and his gym has seen numerous fighters zoom up the rankings and enjoy success.

It was a tough pill for Moreno to have to mess with success, but he insists that he’ll be at his best despite the late coaching change. He said he cares a lot about Krause as a person and said Krause helped him immensely as a fighter.

But Moreno is also a realist and understands nothing is guaranteed in life.

“Of course it was painful and was hard at first, but again, but I had to turn the page quickly,” Moreno said. “I asked myself, ‘What do I need to do?’ But I also had a lot of support from James.”

That’s the thing about Moreno. He’s able to find the good in nearly every situation. He doesn’t dwell on the negative and looks to find solutions rather than making complaints.

He’s an extremely positive person and it’s exactly that mentality that has helped him develop into a star.

“The same night I lost to Deiveson [at UFC 270] I remember being in the locker room talking to my manager and coming up with a plan, ‘Like, what do we need to do to get that belt back?’” Moreno said. “And in some ways, I did it right in the fight with Kai Kara-France, but obviously, I have to do it again with Deiveson for the undisputed belt.

“I think [my positivity] is something natural. I try to think positively every single time in every single scenario. And that’s it, man. I understand this fight will be very hard. But I did a lot of good things [preparing] for this one and like you say, my evolution in this sport has been really cool. [It’s not] just the physical part, but the mental part, too. I’ve grown up a lot and I’m ready to fight.”

DALLAS, TEXAS - JULY 30: (L-R) Brandon Moreno of Mexico and Deiveson Figueiredo of Brazil interact after Moreno defeated Kai Kara-France of New Zealand in the interim UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 277 event at American Airlines Center on July 30, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Brandon Moreno (L) and Deiveson Figueiredo will meet for the undisputed flyweight championship Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 283 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images)