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Call it the “Night of the Flyweights,” as Deiveson Figueiredo and Valentina Shevchenko look to defend their Ultimate Fighting Championship titles in the UFC 255 main and co-main events on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. While neither of them faces a particularly high-profile opponent, they are the clear highlights of this pay-per-view. Both are elite talents who should put on impressive performances.
Beyond the two champions, this main card can best be described as odd. Mike Perry’s confrontation with Tim Means should provide some guaranteed excitement—even though much of it feels muted thanks to everything that has happened involving “Platinum Mike” in 2020. It also remains unclear who asked for Mauricio Rua-Paul Craig rematch from a year ago, but at the very least, Cynthia Calvillo gets an interesting opportunity to reaffirm herself as flyweight contender.
Now to the preview for the UFC 255 “Figueiredo vs. Perez” main card:
UFC Flyweight ChampionshipDeiveson Figueiredo (19-1) vs. Alex Perez (24-5)
ODDS: Figueiredo (-300), Perez (+250)
Is Figueiredo the man to bring some normalcy to the UFC’s flyweight division? Demetrious Johnson was king of the 125-pounders for most of the division’s existence, but despite being an all-time great with some personality, he never truly clicked with the promotion or its fanbase. Johnson’s dominance was met more with a quiet respect than any sort of box-office excitement, and that kept most of the division from gaining any sort of a foothold. As soon as someone gained momentum, he was immediately rushed into a fight with Johnson, outclassed and then typically cast aside. While Henry Cejudo’s 2018 win over Johnson resulted in a controversial decision, it did feel like an opportunity for the division to open up and get a fresh start, but that quickly turned sour. Johnson, who was essentially traded to One Championship for Ben Askren shortly after his loss, was apparently the only reason the UFC saw to keep the flyweight division alive, as it quickly began cutting talent. Then-bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw was sent down to 125 pounds to beat Cejudo and shutter the division, but Cejudo successfully defended his turf with a quick knockout win. Surprisingly, that was apparently enough for the UFC to reverse course. The men’s flyweight division still remains a low priority in the grand scheme of things, but it has at least been functioning normally with a more typical inflow of talent. While Cejudo’s win over Dillashaw guaranteed the division’s existence, the title picture remained a mess, as “The Messenger” immediately moved to bantamweight and kept the 125-pound class in stasis for the better part of a year. A title fight between Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez eventually took place in February but left the situation as cloudy as ever. Figueiredo won the bout in clear fashion via knockout, but he missed weight and was ineligible to be crowned champion. Without anyone else in the title picture, the UFC eventually decided on a rematch, and the whole situation thankfully reached a resolution, with Figueiredo making weight and winning the title. In the end, it all seems to have worked out, with the belt winding up on what might be the division’s most exciting fighter. Now it is time for Figueiredo to try and become the man that can make his division a promotional pillar of the UFC.
This was originally supposed to be Figueiredo against Cody Garbrandt, which made no sense based on merit but was a worthy gambit in terms of getting the weight class up and running. The combination of guaranteed fireworks and Garbrandt’s name value was probably the UFC’s best bet to get some eyeballs on the division. However, with Garbrandt injured, Perez steps in for what remains an interesting matchup on paper, even if it is much less of a marquee fight. Perez impressed in his first few UFC appearances, but his breakthrough win came against Jose Torres in 2018. Even beyond taking out a much more hyped prospect was the way that Perez went about it. Perez had mostly gotten by as a wrestler and grappler to that point, but he showed the ability to overwhelm and finish Torres behind a volume striking approach. Unfortunately, a loss to Benavidez stalled Perez’s momentum momentarily, but he rebounded well in his last three bouts. Wins over Mark De La Rosa and Jordan Espinosa saw Perez lean on his mat work once again, but a vicious leg kick stoppage of Jussier Formiga in June saw the return of his pressure striking game. He was not on anyone’s radar heading into the year, but Perez definitely has the chance of ending 2020 as a UFC champion.
While there certainly is a path to victory, this might be a tough ask for Perez. Figueiredo’s toughest bouts have come against opponents who can take advantage of his low-volume approach and take the initiative with wrestling. While Figueiredo is an active player from the bottom—in fact, he beat a wrestler in Jarred Brooks that way—he is much less dangerous there than on the feet, and it makes the flyweight champion even more reliant on finding a finish whenever he decides to throw. In broad strokes, there is a game plan for Perez to use his pressure and wrestle, make Figueiredo work and hope that the champion is too tired to find a knockout after he has been taken into the championship rounds. Of course, the problem for Perez is surviving long enough to outlast someone as precise in his power as Figueiredo. That is where Perez’s loss to Benavidez becomes a concern. Perez did stick to his pressure approach, but once he got in close quarters with the former title challenger, Benavidez managed to scare him off with power and forced the Team Oyama rep to reset and close distance once again. Perez should continually keep moving forward to try and make something happen, but the worry is that every time he tries to open up and pick up the pace, Figueiredo will be there with a hard counter or two to send him right back to square one. Again, this becomes far more interesting if this last a few rounds, but the smart bet is that it will not get that far. The pick is Figueiredo via second-round stoppage.
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