Analytics is such a big part of sports these days and we try to crunch numbers to not only predict the outcome of games, but to determine which players are the best.
But numbers cannot measure an athlete’s heart, or his desire to push even when things seem hopeless. Numbers can’t measure how much someone cares or what they’re willing to go through to achieve their goal.
And numbers don’t define the UFC’s newest champion.
Brandon Moreno became the first Mexican-born champion in UFC history when he submitted Deiveson Figueiredo in the third round of their rematch for the flyweight title Saturday at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, in the co-main event of UFC 263.
He did it because he cared. He wanted it so badly that even when he was home with his family over the Christmas holidays, he wasn’t fully engaged with them because he knew this day would come. Everything he had, physically, emotionally and spiritually, went into his preparation.
He trained for six months and on Saturday, that work paid off. The guy who just three years ago was unceremoniously dumped from the roster had picked himself up, turned himself around and made it all the way to the top.
“I can’t believe it,” Moreno said Saturday at the post-fight news conference. “This moment is so special. I’m always making jokes and trying to play, but today was an emotional day and I started to cry. I worked so hard for that [expletive] belt. Ten years as a professional, 15 years doing this sport, it’s so special, not just for me but for all those around me who support me.”
Moreno is a charming and self-effacing man who has everything it takes to become a huge star. That he comes from a country where fighting is one of the national pastimes only makes his potential impact that much more significant.
And he was self-aware enough to recognize those who came ahead of him who helped pave the road he’s walking now. Cain Velasquez became the first Mexican-American to win a UFC belt when he captured the heavyweight title. The UFC went to Mexico for the first time to try to take advantage of Velasquez’s popularity there.
Henry Cejudo, who won the flyweight and bantamweight belts, also pushed the sport ahead in Mexico.
But they were Americans. Moreno is Mexican, born in Tijuana, and his presence with a belt around his waist will help raise the notoriety of the sport in his homeland.
“That was one of my principal goals,” Moreno said of raising the sport’s profile in Mexico. “I have too much respect for Cain Velasquez. He was the heavyweight champion and he did so much work for this sport. Cain Velasquez brought the UFC to Mexico in 2014. That was amazing. That put MMA in Mexico to another level.
“Me, I was born in Tijuana. I went to school there and this opportunity … I know with this belt, I put the sport on another level [in Mexico] and that makes me feel amazing.”
The odds were stacked against him all along the way. After being cut, he made it back to the UFC and earned a title shot. He got a split draw, achieved only because Figueiredo had a point deducted for a low blow.
It was a Fight of the Year candidate for 2020, but not even UFC president Dana White thought that Moreno could pull it off in the rematch.
“I’m going to be brutally honest with you,” White said. “Going into this fight, I didn’t see how Moreno wins this fight. Figueiredo is a savage and I thought the second fight was going to be much different than the first fight. I was right, but I was wrong. Good for him. Incredible performance tonight.”
He’ll become massive, not only in Mexico but around the world, if he can string together a few title defenses. He’s a warm, charismatic guy who laughs easily, at himself as often as anything.
And he’s not fixated on himself. He understands his place in the grand scheme of things.
“I’m enjoying this moment because you never know what happens tomorrow,” he said. "You never know what happens next month. I’m enjoying so much this moment. This fight camp was so long because I prepared myself not just technically, but mentally, too. Six months. It was crazy. I definitely need to rest because my mental health is on the line.”
He’s an easy guy to like and an easy guy to watch fight. All the numbers that scouts love to devour aren’t what make Brandon Moreno the champion he has become.
It’s that mind of his and that heart that beats so proudly in his chest.
That’s what led him to his victory and what may eventually help him change the course of his sport in one of the fight-crazy countries in the world.
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