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Sports Illustrated Notebook: Brandon Moreno sees danger at UFC 277 in Kai Kara-France but remains unafraid

"I have a lot of respect for Kai, but man, I can't wait to get in the cage," Moreno says.

Brandon Moreno is ready to add a new chapter to his legacy.

The former flyweight champion, who fought to a draw in the greatest-ever flyweight fight in UFC history, steps back into the cage this Saturday at UFC 277 to challenge Kai Kara-France for the interim flyweight title.

This is a rematch from a 2019 bout against Kara-France (24-9 MMA, 7-2 UFC) that Moreno won by unanimous decision. It affords Moreno (19-6-2 MMA, 7-3-2 UFC) an opportunity to regain the flyweight gold he believes he never lost, despite judges scoring his fight this past January in favor of Deiveson Figueiredo.

"I still feel like I won that fight," says Moreno, who fought Figueiredo to a draw in their epic 2020 bout, defeated him in June of 2021 for the title, then dropped the belt to him six months ago. "That's why you need a short memory in this sport. I've turned the page. I am focused on my next opponent, and I'm confident I'll get the title back."

Kara-France is a difficult opponent. He is in the midst of a career-defining run, a much more detailed striker than he was in their last bout. But there are two sides to that equation, as Moreno has also improved, especially with his slick boxing and overall level of precision in the cage.

"I've had a few wars against Deiveson, which made me the newest, best version of myself," Moreno says. "Now I've corrected my mistakes and I feel incredible.

"And I know striking is Kai's biggest weapon. He's very dangerous, especially that power in his right hand. But when you're talking technique, I'm better. If we talk about all the areas of martial arts, like jiu-jitsu and wrestling, I'm better. I have a lot of respect for Kai, but man, I can't wait to get in the cage."

There are few fighters with a more captivating, must-see style than Moreno, who personifies nonstop action in his fights. Following an intense training camp in Lee's Summit, Missouri under the watchful eye of James Krause, he enters hungry to regain the flyweight title, undaunted that this is for the interim belt.

"This championship is a real one," Moreno says. "The champion isn't here, but I am ready to fight. Kai Kara-France is ready to fight. There are no excuses, we are ready to go.

"I'm fighting for the world title, I will do whatever it takes. This is the hurt business, so I'm willing to take damage if that's what is needed to win the fight."

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Last December, in a preview for UFC 269, I wrote, "There is no path for Julianna Peña to win against Amanda Nunes."

It wasn't my finest prediction. Peña fought fire with fire at 269, ate some vicious shots, and ultimately exhausted Nunes before making her tap out. It was an unexpected finish, yet one that will forever play in Peña's highlight reel.

Even though I was wrong then, I still don't see a path to victory for Peña in her bantamweight title defense against Nunes at 277. Peña (11-4 MMA, 7-2 UFC) deserves the credit for a legitimate, awe-inspiring upset, ending Nunes' 12-fight win streak, but I simply cannot see her doing it again.

Based on her quick fatigue and lack of balance, it certainly looked like Nunes (21-5 MMA, 14-2 UFC) struggled through a bad weight cut before 269. When that happens in a setting as unforgiving as the octagon, there is a steep price to be paid – and Peña pounced. Now presented with a chance to rewrite her legacy with a second win against an all-time great, officially solving the Nunes puzzle in a way no one else has ever before – Peña is on the precipice of greatness. But Nunes looks too healthy and too sharp to suffer a second straight loss.

This has the makings of a spectacular main event, which is needed after the last two UFC cards have struggled to finish with injuries suffered in the last fight of the past two cards. Just like I previously predicted, I see Nunes emerging victorious.

* * * * *

Amidst surprisingly little fanfare, Derrick Lewis also returns to action this Saturday against Sergei Pavlovich. Considering he and his team are pushing for a fight against Stipe Miocic, he desperately needs this victory.

This is a perfect matchup for Lewis (26-9 MMA, 17-7 UFC), who needs a bounce-back performance after getting knocked out by Tai Tuivasa in February. Pavlovich (15-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) has won three in a row, but has yet to defeat anyone near the elite level of Lewis. He struggled to get his timing in a 2018 fight against Alistair Overeem, which ended with Pavlovich losing in the first round by TKO. It is a low-stress bout for Lewis, far enough away from the main event and against an opponent ripe to be knocked out.

While Lewis hasn't been able to elevate himself to the top of the division, he is the perfect gatekeeper for those seeking to enter the top five of the heavyweight division. A vintage knockout here re-establishes his place as one of the most dangerous fighters in the game.

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.