Backup Fighters Help Show Go On

December 10, 2023
4 months

Former UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno is desperate to get his belt back. Moreno hasn’t fought in a fight that didn’t have a championship on the line, either interim or unified, since November 2020. While Moreno’s next scheduled battle against Amir Albazi isn’t until Feb. 24, 2024, Moreno said he will turn out quicker if the UFC needs him to.

Moreno is set to serve as the backup fighter for the flyweight championship bout set for UFC 296 on Dec. 14 at T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nev. Champion Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Royval are set to battle for the flyweight championship. While it is unlikely that Moreno will have to fill in, the Mexican fighter desires to get back on top.

That will score him points with UFC CEO Dana White down the road. Any fighter called to fill the backup fighter role has to make weight, just like the two men scheduled to participate in the championship fight, according to MMA news sites.

Showing Up to Not Work

Moreno being selected as the backup fighter will be the 13th event where the UFC has chosen a backup fighter for a main event. None of the men selected for those fights would have to compete. However, perhaps due to the willingness to travel to the fight location and having to cut weight, six of those replacement fighters would be chosen for the next title shot.

Glover Teixeira (light heavyweight) and Jiří Procházka (light heavyweight) are the only two who won the championship in their next fight. Royval will be the sixth fighter to attempt to win after being the backup fighter.

Why Pick Moreno as the Backup Fighter?

There was a time when Moreno appeared to be stuck as a middle-of-the-road prospect. After losing his first fight to Pantoja in May 2018, Moreno’s record fell to 15-5. But when Moreno returned after over a year off, he was rejuvenated.

Moreno went on an unbeaten five-fight streak when he returned, only blemished by a draw with Askar Askarov in September 2019. He would cap the run with a TKO win over Royval at UFC 255. Finding a way to finish the wild Royval earned Moreno a lot of respect and a chance to win the belt.

Moreno then would have a rivalry with Deiveson Figueiredo that lasted four fights and nearly three years. The first of those fights likely would have been a loss for Moreno and ended the rivalry there, but Figueiredo was deducted a point for strikes to the groin, and the bout was scored as a draw.

Moreno would win the championship at UFC 263 with a submission win over Figueiredo, only to lose it right back at UFC 270 on a decision. They would have a fourth fight at UFC 283 when Moreno would settle the rivalry by beating Figueiredo so severely that the doctor was forced to step in and stop the fight.

UFC Has Had Some Chaotic Matchmaking

If there was ever an event that the UFC needed a backup fighter, it was at UFC 279. Khamzat Chimaev kicked off the madness by missing weight by 7.5 pounds, which canceled his scheduled fight with Nate Diaz. However, the UFC broke with protocol and decided to switch around their entire PPV card to keep the fight on as scheduled.

The best MMA news sites show that Chimaev would be paired with Kevin Holland at a catchweight of 180 pounds instead. Holland was initially slated to fight Daniel Rodriguez. Rodriguez would instead be matched up with Li Jingliang.

Moreno Will Have Difficult Fight in February

There has been little question that Moreno has been at the top of the UFC flyweight rankings for years. But after Moreno lost his title to Pantoja last July, there were questions about what his best path forward would be. Despite Moreno’s loss to Pantoja being a tight decision, there didn’t seem to be an appetite for an immediate rematch since Pantoja had a prior win against Moreno.

Instead, the UFC decided to pair Moreno with an up-and-comer. Albazi is the No. 2 ranked contender in the flyweight division. The Iraq native shot to the top of the rankings quickly. He debuted in July 2020 by submitting Malcolm Gordon in the first round. 

Since then, Albazi has won four more fights, including a split decision over former interim title challenger Kai Kara-France in his last fight. The big question for Albazi is if he will be ready for the big step up in competition. Any winning streak a fighter can put together in the UFC is impressive, but he must show he is ready for an experienced veteran fighter like Moreno.

Is Moreno-Albazi a Title Eliminator?

While Moreno and Albazi are both strong contenders to earn a championship fight, the chances of that happening depend mainly on what happens in the Royval-Pantoja fight. The UFC has shown that they are comfortable with giving a champion who lost their belt in a close decision an immediate rematch for the championship. Whether or not Pantoja has earned that honor will depend on how he does against Royval.

If Moreno doesn’t fill in as the backup fight and beats Albazi as scheduled, he would be an appealing next fight for Royval. There is history between the two men, as Moreno dominated his first fight with Royval. But for next weekend, Moreno will head in and make weight and see if his chance to recapture the title comes early.

While it has never happened in UFC history, it would provide some gripping drama for the promotion’s last pay-per-view card of the year. Moreno has always proven to be a company man and would be a good choice to step in against two other competitors that he has history with.

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