The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran, Brandon Moreno, faces off with fellow up-and-coming contender, Sergio Pettis, this Saturday (Aug. 5, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 114 inside Arena Ciudad de Mexico inside Mexico City, Mexico.
When his season of TUF went on air, few expected much of Moreno. He was the No. 16 seed in the tournament and thus forced to face off with No. 1, Alexandre Pantoja. He put up a spirited battle, but ultimately lost, and he was a massive underdog in his UFC debut to Louis Smolka. This time around, Moreno scored no moral victory. Instead, he strangled Smolka halfway through the first round, and he’s put together another pair of quality wins since. Moreno is now a bonafide Top 10-ranked fighter and is looking to break into title contention ... and it’s been less than a year since his debut.
When Moreno fought Pantoja on TUF, he was a grappler striking because he had to. Showcasing aggression, decent power, and a stiff chin, Moreno leaped at his opponent with combinations to the head and body, trying to knock his foe out. That’s the groundwork Moreno has since built from, continuing to work with his TUF coach, Joseph Benavidez, as well as Duane Ludwig.
For all Moreno’s improvement, he does still tend to leap in. That definitely leaves him open to counters — something Ryan Benoit exploited a bit — but it also means everything is coming with power. On the bright side, Moreno has also become a bit active at distance without committing fully to a jump in, flicking out jab or throwing the occasional darting cross.
Moreno is a fairly tall and lanky Flyweight, and he’s beginning to make use of that in the form of his kicks. He has a habit of throwing naked kicks, but much of the time the extra room he allows for his jumping boxing combinations means he’s out of counter range. Most notably, Moreno brutally dropped Dustin Ortiz with a high kick by suddenly switching into Southpaw (GIF).
That kick, along with some of his other kicking set ups and techniques, are analyzed below in Moreno’s technique highlight.
Most of time Moreno jumps in with punches, it’s some form of his left hand following by a long cross. Again, it’s nothing all that complicated, but Moreno throws with good power and covers a lot of distance.
It can be enough to catch his opponent off-guard.
Interestingly, one of Moreno’s favorite punches is the lead hand uppercut. He tends to carry his left hand low, which helps him flow into the punch smoothly. If it lands, it hurts, but Moreno also tends to over-extend while throwing the lead uppercut, leaving him particularly vulnerable to counters.
I don’t know if Moreno has a wrestling background of any kind prior to mixed martial arts (MMA), but he’s nevertheless an effective takedown artist. Like a fair amount of his game, it’s nothing overly complicated, but Moreno brings size and determination to this aspect of his game, increasing its effectiveness.
Much of the time, Moreno uses his sudden combinations to raise his opponent’s hands. Once they’re blocking his wide punches, he can pretty easily duck into the double leg. The Mexican athlete prefers to shoot along the fence, where he can take his time to lock his hands. Once that happens, Moreno will easily lift his foe into the air and bring them down with a slam. On occasion, Moreno’s double will be stuffed on the fence, and he’ll try to switch to a single leg instead.
Often, Moreno’s opponent will try to turn away after being slammed by the double. As they go to stand, Moreno is an exceptional back taker, but he’s also good at hanging onto the clinch if that’s not an option. From there, Moreno will lift and return or quickly drop back down into another double leg takedown.
Defensively, Moreno is definitely somewhat vulnerable. Pantoja was able to get him down in their TUF fight each time he tried, and Dustin Ortiz was landing consistent takedowns as well. Moreno did well to fight hands and scramble in that bout, but he still spent a majority of the fight with Ortiz transitioning around his defenses constantly.
Moreno is a jiu-jitsu purple belt, and it pretty clearly shows in his fights. He’s at the stage in his grappling where he’s undeniably effective and very aggressive, but he’s also not such a master that he’s impossible to submit or threaten himself.
“The Assassin Baby” definitely prefers to work from top position. He’s all about scrambling to the back, looking to jump into the body triangle whenever his opponent turns away. Moreno generally encourages his foe to do that by softening him up with elbows and punches from top position, and Moreno is quick to spin around from the front headlock as well.
His aggressive back take game has resulted in five rear naked choke wins.
Moreno’s introduction to UFC’s Flyweight division came in the form of a nasty guillotine choke over Louis Smolka. He landed an early takedown but didn’t do all that much with it. When Smolka scrambled back to his feet and went for a single leg, however, he attempted the dump with his head on the outside. Moreno grabbed the neck and fell back, locking in a full guard. Despite the positioning, Moreno was able to execute a high-elbow guillotine, cutting of both sides of Smolka’s neck and forcing the tap (GIF).
Finally, Moreno is active from his back as well. He’ll throw up his legs looking for arm bars and triangles, but Moreno actually pulled off a very sweet kimura sweep on the wrestler. When a fighter is hugging on the hips very tightly, intent on maintaining top position, that hip bump/kimura is especially effective. For all his offensive potency on the mat, Pantoja was able to route Moreno’s defenses pretty easily on the mat. The Brazilian is a grappling and back specialist, but it’s still worth-noting for the next time Moreno faces a high-level jiu-jitsu fighter.
Moreno entered UFC as the consistent underdog, but that’s no longer the case. He stands at No. 7 in the world, entering this fight as the favorite opposite another man on a win streak. If Moreno comes through here, there can be no doubt that he’s for real, as he’ll be knocking on the door for a title shot.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.