Brandon Moreno had to deal with some shocking news in December, just a month away from the biggest game of his career.
While coaching in Kansas City, Moreno (29) discovered head coach James Krause was suspended by the UFC in the midst of an alleged gambling scandal, with all fighters under his tutelage banned from working with him.
The announcement left Mexico’s Moreno searching for a new head coach just a month before a historic fourth fight against flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo.
After beating Kai Kara-France for the interim title in July – a victory Krause engineered – Moreno will meet Brazil’s Figueiredo for the undisputed title in the co-main event at UFC 273, in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday.
Never before have two fighters met four times in the UFC.
“It was of course a difficult situation for me because it was not part of my plan,” Moreno told BBC Sport.
“I had to make a lot of changes in a very short period of time, so I think that was the hardest part.
“[Krause] showed me a lot and opened the doors of his home and gym to me, so I feel very grateful. Hopefully, everything can be clear in the future.”
Suspicions were first raised about Krause when betting irregularities arose regarding one of his fighters, Darrick Minner, at a UFC event in November.
Following investigations by the Nevada Athletic Commission, both Minner and Krause were suspended with the UFC banning all of its fighters from betting on fights.
Another of Krause’s fighters, Jeff Molina, was banned earlier this week for his alleged involvement while investigations into UFC gambling activity continue.
Moreno has teamed up with a new head coach, Sayif Saud, hoping to complete preparations for the match with Figueiredo.
“I tried to turn the page as quickly as possible and I did [when Saud reached out]”, Moreno said.
“The first week was difficult because we hadn’t worked together before, but it was only one week, then it was easy to work together.
“We connect and he was open to working with my other coaches. I’m so proud at the end of training camp because my performance was really good.”
“Deiveson is the antagonist of my story”
The rivalry between Moreno and Figueiredo, 35, started in 2020, when the pair fought to a draw with Figueiredo retaining the title.
Moreno won the rematch the following year, becoming the first Mexican UFC champion in history, before Figueiredo reclaimed the belt in 2022.
Throughout the pair’s rivalry, Moreno has been largely cheered by fans with the more outspoken Figueiredo portrayed as the villain.
Moreno says this is the key to their rivalry blossoming into one of the most competitive in UFC history.
“First of all, we have had three fantastic games and everything starts from that,” Moreno said.
“People can expect fireworks inside the Octagon. That’s part of the magic between Deiveson and I – we don’t like each other, but at the same time we do amazing things.”
“After that, I think Deiveson came to this as an antagonist of my own story. People know me – I’m not a guy who tries to scare anybody – but Deiveson is the opposite, so I think it compliments this story really well.”
“I can win the hearts of the Brazilian people”
The event in Rio de Janeiro is the UFC’s first show in Brazil in almost three years.
The country has a rich history in MMA, producing all-time greats such as Anderson Silva, Amanda Nunes, Jose Aldo and more.
Despite Figueiredo fighting in front of his home fans, Moreno is not sure they will support him as voraciously as they have past Brazilian champions.
“He’s a fantastic athlete, he’s very powerful and has very good skills, but as a human the guy’s not the best to be honest,” Moreno said.
“The people know what I’m talking about. I don’t know if he has a very good relationship with the Brazilian people. Maybe when the time comes they will be a little aggressive towards me, but I certainly think I can win their hearts.”
In the main event, fellow Brazilian Glover Teixeira will look to regain the vacated light-heavyweight title he lost to Jiri Prochazka in June when he takes on America’s Jamahal Hill.
Prochazka relinquished the belt in December due to injury, with a bout between Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev for the title ending in a draw, leaving the division without a champion.
Elsewhere in the light-heavyweight division, Scotland’s Paul Craig takes on Brazil’s Johnny Walker.