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This card was a late addition to the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s early 2020 schedule, and it certainly shows, as it is a weird one. Somehow, the promotion has put together a card based around the vacant flyweight title, the entirety of its women’s featherweight division and a surprising number of fighters from the Republic of Moldova, especially when considering UFC Fight Night 169 will take place on Saturday in Norfolk, Virginia. On the plus side, while there is not much star power here, the event should be quite entertaining and violent, as a great deal of these fights feature fighters who, while not the typical definition of UFC-ready, are prepared to be aggressive and seek out a finish. There is a chance this is one of the hidden gems of the year.
Now to the UFC Fight Night 169 “Benavidez vs. Figueiredo” preview:
UFC Flyweight Championship#1 FLW | Joseph Benavidez (28-5) vs. #3 FLW | Deiveson Figueiredo (17-1)
ODDS: Benavidez (-145), Figueiredo (+125)
Consensus seems to be that Benavidez is the best UFC fighter to never win a title. It has only taken six years, but he finally gets another chance to take himself off that list. Benavidez was the favorite to win the four-man tournament that crowned the UFC’s first flyweight champion back in 2012, but everything went right for Demetrious Johnson to take home the title and start his dominant reign, which began with a close split decision over Benavidez in the final. Benavidez spent most of 2013 beating his fellow contenders to earn a rematch against Johnson, and in it came in his adopted hometown of Sacramento, California. However, that wound up being the turning point of Benavidez’s career. Johnson brutally knocked him out in a shade over two minutes, and the UFC never seemed to have any interest in a trilogy fight, even as Benavidez racked up win after win. After beating future champion Henry Cejudo to cap off 2016, Benavidez suffered a torn ACL that kept him out of action for about 18 months, and when he lost a decision to Sergio Pettis upon his return, it looked like Benavidez’s time as a top contender might suddenly be done. Naturally, that was when Johnson wound up losing the title. On the plus side, while Cejudo was busy fighting bantamweights, Benavidez proceeded to re-affirm that he ranks among the best fighters in the world. He ran through Alex Perez, withstood a career-best performance from Dustin Ortiz and defeated a much-improved Jussier Formiga in their rematch in June. Since then, Benavidez has been waiting for Cejudo’s next move, and with the former Olympic gold medalist deciding to vacate the flyweight title and move full-time to 135 pounds, he gets his long-awaited title fight. It will not be easy, as Figueiredo is as tough of an opponent as there is in the flyweight division.
Figueiredo’s rise through the flyweight ranks has taken much less time. Upon his UFC debut in 2017, it was obvious that strength and power was what the Iuri Alcantara protege brought to the table; his most notorious moment on the Brazilian scene was a “pimp slap” knockout in which he simply backhanded his opponent into unconsciousness. His is not all that dissimilar an approach to Yoel Romero. Figueiredo may get outworked on volume, but he takes his time to measure his opponents and look for his openings, and once he springs into action, few can catch up. Even when “Deus da Guerra” is not separating his opponent from his senses, he hits so hard—particularly at 125 pounds—that his shots simply count more over the course of three rounds. Thus far, only Formiga has managed to exploit the lack of depth to Figueiredo’s game, and even then, Figueiredo indicated he was ill for that fight—a claim which looks more valid after his beating of Alexandre Pantoja in September. Even if Benavidez has clearly established himself at the top of the flyweight division, the puncher’s chance is real, and Figueiredo has about as good of a punch as anyone Benavidez has ever faced.
Both men enjoyed some excellent fights in 2019. Figueiredo’s win over Pantoja resulted in a brutal war, while Benavidez’s scramble-heavy fights were a grappler's delight. This does feel like a two-true-outcome fight that will wind up one-sided in practice. If Figueiredo’s loss to Formiga was not entirely due to illness, then this could be a Benavidez rout as soon as the American manages to get his first takedown and dominate on the ground. However, the first few minutes of this fight are going to be a gigantic danger zone for Benavidez. Even if Figueiredo takes a while to get warmed up himself, Benavidez also takes a while to gauge his range on the feet; and while that works fine enough for some fighters, Benavidez’s stocky frame typically means that the way he learns the ideal range is by getting punched in the face. That has become more of a liability in recent years. Even the relatively pillow-fisted Pettis managed to stun Benavidez early in their fight. If there is a division in which a fighter can get away with getting hit, it is flyweight, but if there is a flyweight against whom that approach will not work, it is Figueiredo, particularly since the Brazilian is excellent at turning up the pressure and hunting for a finish as soon as he senses blood in the water. Benavidez finally getting some gold would be nice, but when does mixed martial arts have happy endings? The pick is Figueiredo via first-round knockout.
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