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Brandon Moreno's masterful UFC 277 kick symbolizes interim champ's evolution

Moreno wants to be known as more than a boxer and again become the undisputed flyweight champion.
brandon-moreno

A kick moved Brandon Moreno one step closer to becoming the undisputed flyweight champion.

Moreno defeated Kai Kara-France to become the interim flyweight champ at UFC 277, with the fight's defining moment taking place in the third round. Moreno (20-6-2 MMA, 8-3-2 UFC), wearing a bloody gash under his right eye from a ground-and-pound Kara-France elbow earlier that round, found an opening and delivered a ferocious left kick to Kara-France's liver.

"I knew I connected and hit him hard," Moreno says. "I was ready to keep going, but I hit him in the right place."

A few strikes followed, but that kick effectively ended the bout, breaking a three-fight win streak for Kara-France (24-10 MMA, 7-3 UFC). It also necessitates a UFC-record fourth bout pitting Moreno against reigning flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo to unify the flyweight titles.

"That kick, it's part of my evolution," Moreno says. "I want to be someone who can take the fight to the ground and use combinations with my hands, kicks, elbows, and knees. I'm working to be a complete mixed martial artist.

"I don't want to be known as just a boxer. The flyweight division is so deep, and everybody is so prepared. I want to be the best and be the champion for a long time, so I'm putting in the work."

Surprisingly, the fight was scored evenly before the stoppage. Despite Moreno controlling the pace of the first two rounds, he was only ahead on one scorecard.

"It's always something with the judges," says Moreno, who landed less volume than Kara-France in the first two rounds yet did more damage. "I was surprised to see one judge give two rounds to Kai. But now, after what happened, I don't care."

This performance marked another "Fight of the Night" for Moreno, the third honor in his past four fights. His upcoming bout against Figueiredo will decide the series. It is currently even, with each fighter victorious once after their first bout ended in a draw.

Figueiredo appeared to be seeking a new opponent, but he will now face Moreno for a fourth straight time. The two had a face-off in the octagon during Moreno's post-fight celebration, and while it looked as if a physical encounter was about to ensue, Moreno defused the situation.

"I'm done with the hate," Moreno says. "I'm done with the trash talk. What's wrong with being respectful? I knew my daughter was watching the fight. I want to be an example for her. I could have used that spot to make huge drama and put huge attention on us, but that's not my way.

"Don't be confused, I want to fight Figueiredo. I want to prove I'm the best and be the champion. But I'm done with all the hate."

Moreno envisions the title unification bout taking place in December. Figueiredo stated in the octagon that he wants the fight to take place in Brazil. Regardless of the location and venue, Moreno will be ready.

"I have a cut near my right eye, but I'm healthy," Moreno says. "Deiveson said he'll be ready for December. That's perfect for me. He said he wants the fight in Brazil, but the UFC usually has the last fight of the year in Las Vegas.

"No matter where it is, I'll be ready by the end of the year."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.