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UFC 255: Moreno v Royval Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 256’s Brandon Moreno

The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran, Brandon Moreno, will challenge Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight roost-ruler, Deiveson Figueiredo, this Saturday (Dec. 12, 2020) at UFC 256 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

At 27 years of age, Moreno’s 24-fight professional career has already seen its share of ups-and-downs. He rocketed out of the gate to score a trio of title wins and subsequently earn his first main event slot opposite Sergio Pettis, but he came up short and lost his following bout, too. Those defeats came at a bad time, as UFC was cutting Flyweights left and right. Fortunately, it only took one victory to see Moreno return to the roster, and he’s since put together a four-fight unbeaten streak against some of the best 125-pounders on the planet.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

Striking

Overall, Moreno’s mixed martial arts (MMA) game has grown consistently since he first demonstrated some talent on TUF. However, his most recent significant leap in ability has come in the stand up, as Moreno has adjusted his style and become a better boxer.

Historically, Moreno liked to leap into the fray with punches, throwing quick combinations to the head and body (GIF). His habit of lunging forward often saw him eat counter punches, particularly against more savvy kickboxers. Nowadays, Moreno stays within his stance far better, remaining balanced throughout exchanges.

UFC 255: Moreno v Royval Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Notably, Moreno likes to fight heavy on his lead leg. That sounds like a risky proposition given how many Flyweights target the calf, but “The Baby Assassin” nevertheless manages to avoid getting his leg destroyed. Instead, Moreno established the jab from his forward leaning, often pawing with the left hand a bit before quickly stabbing at his opponent.

Moreno’s bout with Kai Kara-France is perhaps the best example of his improved kickboxing. Kara-France is a well-oiled machine on the feet, an excellent mix of feints, distance management, and smart combinations. However, once Moreno’s jab began to land, Kara-France lost confidence in his ability to lead. Each time he tried to fire punches, Moreno would pull his head back out of range to make his foe miss then immediately fire back multiple punches.

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, and it can be something of a double threat with his pawing jab. If his uppercut lands, it hurts, but Moreno also tends to over-extend while throwing the lead uppercut, leaving him particularly vulnerable to counters.

The Ultimate Fighter: Team Benavidez vs Team Cejudo Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

As Moreno’s hands have grown effective, his kicks have only improved. On the whole, Moreno is willing to throw naked kicks, but his length and speed help him make it work. In addition, Moreno will shift stances before kicking, such as when he blasted Dustin Ortiz with a perfect left kick from Southpaw (GIF).

Wrestling

I don’t know if Moreno has a wrestling background of any kind prior to 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.

The Ultimate Fighter Finale: Moreno v Benoit Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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.

Aside from the improvements to his boxing, takedown defense and defensive scrambling is the most improved aspect of Moreno’s game. He was once vulnerable to the many backpacking Flyweights, but he’s really shored up that whole on his defense. Whenever an opponent tries to jump his back, Moreno does a good job of fighting hands and breaking away.

If his back is taken, Moreno has a few tricks up his sleeve. For one, he never stops moving, continuing the scramble and forcing his foe to adjust. If he’s able to get his hips higher in the scramble, Moreno can often hip heist into top position or tie up a leg before turning into guard (GIF). Alternatively, Moreno is quick tricky with his attempts to shake opponents off the standing back mount position.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A jiu-jitsu brown belt, Moreno has finished 10 of his foes via submission, though his most recent tapout win came in 2017.

“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.

UFC Fight Night: Smolka v Moreno Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

His aggressive back take game has resulted in five rear naked choke wins. Against Brandon Royval, he also showcased an ability to control the single-leg back control, though the twister did not materialize.

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, Smolka 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 off both sides of Smolka’s neck and forcing the tap.

UFC Fight Night: Ortiz v Moreno Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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 Dustin Ortiz. When a fighter is hugging on the hips very tightly, intent on maintaining top position, that hip bump/kimura is especially effective.

Later, when Moreno kicked Ortiz in the skull, the rear naked choke suddenly became available.

Conclusion

Moreno has a lot of assets one would look for in a fighter trying to dethrone Figueiredo. He’s rangy enough to compete with Figueiredo at distance, yet patience enough to avoid walking into kill shots. On the mats, Moreno is nearly impossible to control, and it’s unlikely Figuiredo will want to expend energy trying. There’s a real chance Moreno can turn this bout around late if he’s able to survive the early rounds — don’t overlook “Assassin Baby.”


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 256 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN 2/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 256: “Figueiredo vs. Moreno” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional 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.

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