IT WAS MIDDLE DECEMBER evenings at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas, and Brandon Moreno tried to find the strength to train at the world level. Everything was not going very well.
Moreno was in the middle of preparations for a title unification fight against Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 283 on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro. This is the legacy of both flyweights, marking the first tetralogy in UFC history. Over the past two years, they have fought three times to perfectly equal results: one victory for Figueiredo, the champion; one win by former champion Moreno, who is now interim champion; and one draw. Although everything is possible in MMA, this fourth meeting should finally settle the score. Another fight, winner takes all.
Moreno, 29, is now in good shape ahead of a weekend of this magnitude, but that wasn’t the case five weeks ago in Las Vegas. Moreno has been physically ill and still emotionally overwhelmed by a forced split from his head coach, James Krause, who is at the center of multiple investigations into the alleged betting scandal. The infamous vivacious Mexican star did not smile during training and his energy was noticeably reduced.
It got to the point that Jason House, Moreno’s manager and close friend, quietly considered calling off the fight. The hand they faced was too big to overcome and the fight was too important.
All this seemed unfair.
“Everything affected him and he became seriously ill,” House told Sportzshala. “He didn’t look very good. There were several sparring sessions where he was worse than a dog, and only his stamina was demonstrated.
“Brandon is family to me. I am the godfather of his children. I must do what is best for him and his family. This whole Figueiredo story played out over the course of two years and I needed to make sure he could enjoy it and show his best side. If that couldn’t happen, we needed to consider our options, including pulling out of the fight because Brandon did everything right. He deserves this moment to be the right way.”
What happened during Moreno’s last camp is a testament to his resilience, the dedication of his team, and late replacement head coach Saif Saud, who never held Moreno even by the pillows before he agreed to take the reins of his mid-camp training. . It’s a great story, Moreno rekindles his joy in a difficult situation ahead of the biggest fight of his life.
It will be even better if Moreno succeeds this weekend. Despite all the difficulties that his team faced, everyone in it is confident that it will be so.
“It was hard for everyone [because] he was trying to put it all together,” Moreno said. “But right now, in this moment, I feel like we did it. I’m very confident in what we’ve done and I’m ready to fight.”
MORENO STARTED PREPARING for this fight in November at Krause’s Glory MMA facility in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
This was to be his second full camp under Krause, who was considered by many to be one of the sport’s top promising coaches. After Moreno lost to Figueiredo in a very close five-round decision in their third meeting last January, the Mexican fighter decided to leave his longtime Tijuana MMA team led by trainer Raul Arvizu to train with Krause. The partnership began in July when Moreno won the interim UFC title by knocking out New Zealander Kai Kara-France.
Moreno credited Krause with making such an impact on this victory that within 12 hours he ordered a $1,000 UFC belt and had it shipped to Krause’s home in Missouri. He really felt that Krause had a part of this title.
“When a fighter connects with a trainer, you are essentially fighting on auto-pilot,” House said. “You follow commands and it comes from spending months, hours after hours, with the same coach – watching movies together, working out together, eating together. People don’t know this – Brandon lived in James’ house for a while. That bond, that absolute trust, Brandon had with James.”
Moreno was at Lee’s November 19 summit when the first signs of serious danger to his camp appeared. That week, the Nevada State Athletic Commission barred Krause from fighting in Las Vegas as it was investigating his role in a suspicious bout involving his student Darrick Minner on November 5th. Before the competition, the stakes changed dramatically with Minner losing in the first round via TKO. It was later revealed that Minner entered the fight with an injured knee.
“At this moment all the fighters [at Glory] I wonder what might happen in the future,” Moreno said. “Then I started thinking about the future. Nothing serious, but I started thinking about it.”
Two weeks later, the UFC took action, notifying its roster that “fighters who choose to continue to train with Krause or continue to train at his gym will not be allowed to participate in UFC events until after” the investigation. The UFC also fired Minner from the organization.
“The day before it was on all social media, [Krause] called me and we had a deep conversation,” Moreno said. “He told me everything and it was sad, man. I can’t lie to you. It was disappointing and I was sad. But something special about me that I admit is that I’m very good at turning the page. If I need to do something to change my bad situation, I will do it – and quickly.
With Krause and his gym suddenly unavailable, Moreno had no reason to stay in Missouri. He and his team packed up and moved to Las Vegas, where Moreno has owned a home since 2021.
He lost his head coach, but his team was otherwise unaffected. Jorge Capetillo, Pedro Hoya, Hector Vazquez and Israel Silva – Moreno had a full coaching staff that handled his boxing, muay thai, jiu-jitsu and wrestling. He still had Krause’s game plan.
Maybe that would be enough.
However, House knew better. He believed in Moreno’s ability to keep his head down and cope with adversity, but he understood that his fighter’s team had a lot of weight. They got hit hard and it would be a mistake to ignore it. This needed to be resolved.
“Your coach is your eyes in the sport,” House said. “So to lose that, you feel blind for a while. Brandon needed love. He needed someone to take care of him and take the reins from him because when you go to Brazil and you’re yelled at by the fans and it’s a fight for your legacy, you need someone to take over. ball and run with it. In my opinion, we needed to make some decisions.”
SAUD DOES NOT REMEMBER it was then, but at some point a few years ago, Moreno impressed him backstage at a UFC event. Moreno didn’t fight that night, but had to corner one of his Mexican teammates.
Saud, who runs Fortis MMA in Dallas, understands that MMA is an individual sport, but he remains very passionate about the team concept. This can be seen in the culture of his gym. Fortis MMA is made up entirely of homegrown talent. No transplants from all over the world, no dorms built into the gym for temporary guests who only want to do one fight camp there. Saud has been watching fighters since they were babies in MMA. Several former world champions asked to train with him, and he turned them all down.
Saud has never worked with Moreno, but what he saw about him one night backstage reflected the same culture he believes in as a coach. There was Moreno, the UFC champion, putting everything he had into a teammate.
“I saw the passion and the nerve he had for this fight and I told his manager Jason, ‘This guy has a huge heart,'” Saud said. “How much he cared about his teammate winning, that’s what you want as a manager because these are guys who have character. These are the guys you build teams around.”
Saud got that impression when he and House first discussed the possibility of him joining Moreno’s team in mid-December. Under normal circumstances, Saud would probably not have taken this into account. But the circumstances were not normal, and Moreno was not just someone. Saud felt the same as House as the situation unfolded. It wasn’t fair. Moreno was at a disadvantage ahead of the most important fight of his career, and he did nothing to deserve it.
“I never wanted to take on someone else’s work, it’s not my style,” Saud said. “But it wasn’t Brandon’s fault. I saw how he tried to find his way in his youth in all this. He is someone who needed help and I was able to help him.”
In mid-December Saud captured Moreno’s camp. He texted the team daily from Dallas and flew to Las Vegas at the end of each week to watch practice in person.
As frustrating as the whole situation was, the team was well suited for a quick freeze. Saud is a general by nature. He commands the room and doesn’t mind leadership. On top of that, Moreno’s team really wanted to be led. His stable of coaches wanted a head coach they could follow. There was no ego clash to overcome. All had one goal.
Still, five weeks is not such a long time for establishing relations between the head coach and the fighter. Ideally, this is something that has been going on for many years. Moreno acknowledged this with Saud from the start but still expressed optimism.
“The first day I talked to Saif, I told him, ‘If we can get in touch, I promise that I am a soldier,’” Moreno said. “If you tell me what I need to do [something], I will. If I believe in you, it will work.”
Within one week of Saud’s arrival, it became clear that he and Moreno were connected. Moreno’s energy is back, along with his signature smirk. Everyone breathed easier, and House’s thoughts of postponing the fight were put aside.
“Given everything that’s happened and this big change happened five weeks later, everyone was a little worried about how things would turn out, including Brandon,” Saud said. “But the way we’ve been getting together for the last four, five weeks is we’ve been doing rounds and taking time and working together. We really just…