Fast-rising Brandon Moreno seizes TUF opportunity

Brandon Moreno’s fight against Ryan Benoit in The Ultimate Fighter Finale on Saturday comes with high expectations following the Mexican fighter’s impressive debut in the Octagon in October.

That showing, a stunning first-round submission victory over (then) No. 8-ranked Louis Smolka, cemented Moreno as a fighter to watch. He accepted the bout on eight days’ notice as a fill-in, and the outcome helped secure Moreno a place on Saturday’s card. Moreno, 22, joins Ultimate Fighter finalist Tim Elliot on the action-packed card celebrating the exciting flyweight division.

The easy-going Moreno, asked by UFC announcer Jon Anik to describe his lack of nerves despite coming in as an underdog, offered this explanation: “What can I say? I’m Mexican!”

“I was nervous,” Moreno conceded. “But then again, you’re always nervous before a fight. I have to say though, for me that is a good thing. Being nervous keeps me focused.”

Moreno turned heads during the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter as part of Team Benavidez. Seeded No. 16, he was pitted against No. 1-ranked Brazilian Alexandre Pantoja, losing via rear-naked choke in the second round but nonetheless putting on an impressive performance.

His perseverance throughout the show earned Moreno the respect of the show’s coaches and fighters, and has led to continued opportunities within the UFC.

“Now I know how it feels to step inside the Octagon -- that’s the difference this time,” Moreno – now ranked No. 12 -- says of his development as a UFC fighter, thanks to The Ultimate Fighter. “I mean, of course, the fact that I had a whole camp, too.

“But you know what the special thing about all this is?” he asked with a smile. “The happiness. I’m so happy for these opportunities, for having the opportunity to live all this. Hard work pays.”

Now, Moreno is considered the favorite againt Benoit, and his coach, Joseph Benavidez, says his potential is limitless.

“People doesn’t even realize how good Brandon is,” Benavidez said. “The way he picks up (everything) -- he came and learned Duane Ludwig’s system like in two weeks. He’s smart, and crazy too, which I love about him.”

Benavidez not only acted as Moreno’s coach during the season, but also a training partner over the last month. Moreno even joined Benavidez in Denver to continue their training.

His opponent Benoit brings a 2-2 UFC record, and has struggled to find consistency in the Octagon. Benoit has enjoyed significant success, winning over Fredy Serrano on short notice and securing a knockout over Sergio Pettis. Benoit is hoping this matchup against Moreno will put him on a winning track.

Moreno knows full well the challenges of inconsistency. His first six professional fights in the World Fighting Federation’s flyweight division were all over the map, until a September 2013 win that began a streak of nine consecutive victories – the last being his successful debut in the Octagon.

Juan Cardenas is a digital producer and writer for Follow him on Twitter at @Desautomatas

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