Moreno (20-6-2) claimed the interim 125-pound title in thrilling fashion Saturday, as he finished Kai Kara-France in the third round with a nasty left body kick followed by ground and pound. The TKO came at 4 minutes, 34 seconds.
The title fight co-headlined UFC 277 from inside American Airlines Arena. Figueiredo, the defending unified champion and a longtime rival of Moreno’s, was in attendance cageside.
UFC originally wanted Figueiredo to defend his title against Moreno this summer, but Figueiredo was unavailable due to injury. The Brazilian champion entered the Octagon after Moreno’s win and asked to do it in Brazil.
“This guy right here, tonight is his night and he is the champion,” Figueiredo said through an interpreter. “I have a lot of respect for him. … I want to take this fight home to Brazil.”
Moreno, of Tijuana, quickly accepted the invitation. He also apologized to Figueiredo for any bad blood between them in the past. The two have had a heated rivalry, mostly from Figueiredo’s side, since 2020. Moreno challenged Figueiredo for the belt in December 2020 and fought him to a majority draw. He then beat Figueiredo by submission in an immediate rematch before losing a controversial decision in their third fight in January.
“I don’t hate you. I don’t feel nothing against you. I forgive you,” Moreno told Figueiredo. “Please forgive me if I did something bad against you. I want to fight in December.”
Saturday’s fight was Moreno’s first since he left his original training camp in Mexico and joined forces with veteran MMA coach James Krause in Missouri. It proved to be one of the most impressive performances of his career. He already held a prior decision win over Kara-France (24-10) from 2019, and the rematch was similar in that Moreno simply had more tools than the challenger from New Zealand.
He attacked Kara-France with leg kicks, jabs and right hands. He looked for the takedown when the opportunity came but didn’t force it.
However, Kara-France, 29, was certainly competitive until the finish. He relied mostly on leg kicks as his primary offense and had success with it. Moreno’s lead leg was very red from kicks early on. In the third round, Kara-France did his best work after he caught a Moreno kick and dumped him to the floor. He landed a hard elbow from top position that opened a cut under Moreno’s right eye.
Just when it appeared Kara-France had seized momentum, however, Moreno caught him with a spinning back fist and then the body kick that put him down. Kara-France immediately rolled over and covered up, which brought in a quick stoppage from referee Herb Dean, as Moreno swarmed on him with hammerfists.
Moreno, who was cut from UFC in 2018, now holds a 4-1-2 record since re-signing in 2019.