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The three Fight Island cards are building from event to event, and this one has a decent amount of fun stuff to offer. Obviously, UFC Fight Night 172 on Wednesday carries massive implications for the flyweight division with both a title fight and a possible top contender’s bout, helped more by the fact that the four fighters involved are among the most exciting the 125-pound weight class has to offer. The co-main event is as strong as you will see for a non-ESPN card, with former middleweight title contender Kelvin Gastelum looking to get off the schneid against Jack Hermansson. Add in some intriguing prospects like Montel Jackson and Arman Tsarukyan on the undercard, and this is the definition of a sleeper card.
Now to the UFC Fight Night 172 “Figueiredo vs. Benavidez 2” preview:
UFC Flyweight ChampionshipDeiveson Figueiredo (18-1) vs. Joseph Benavidez (28-6)
ODDS: Figueiredo (-200), Benavidez (+170)
Benavidez has been an elite competitor for years and one of the sport’s most underrated talents for just as long, but claiming championship gold has proven to be a Sisyphean task, as he finds himself firmly in danger of becoming the best fighter under the Zuffa banner to never capture a championship. When the UFC established its flyweight division back in 2012, Benavidez was the clear favorite to win the belt and almost ended Demetrious Johnson’s dominant reign before it began. The inaugural 125-pound title fight was a nip-tuck affair that easily could have gone Benavidez’s way. Benavidez quickly earned his way back to another shot at Johnson, but their second encounter was much more decisive than the first, as Johnson laid out Benavidez with a brutal knockout just two minutes into the bout. That was seemingly enough for the UFC to decide a trilogy fight would never be in the cards, even as Benavidez beat on contender after contender for the next few years. Benavidez missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL, then dropped a decision to Sergio Pettis, temporarily raising some concerns that the injury had closed his window as a contender for good. Cruelly, Johnson was upended by former Benavidez victim Henry Cejudo shortly thereafter, but with Benavidez coming off of a loss, Cejudo soon chased T.J. Dillashaw and the bantamweight division, leaving Benavidez once again frozen out of the title picture once he got a few wins. Things finally looked like they would clear up earlier this year, when Benavidez and Figueiredo were set to fight for the now-vacant flyweight belt, but naturally, it just wound up being more hard luck for Benavidez. It was a barnburner of a fight for about six and a half minutes, but the two clashed heads early in the second round before Figueiredo scored a vicious knockout shortly thereafter. Figueiredo missed championship weight, so the title remained vacant, which makes things even more cruel—Benavidez’s dream was deferred once again, and Figueiredo did not even benefit much from the victory. The UFC has decided to run the fight back, which is probably the best move. These two are still the best flyweights in the promotion, and the headbutt gives the cover of enough controversy to justify the rematch.
It looks like the UFC’s flyweight division is here to stay, but Figueiredo was a breath of fresh air during what was shaping up to be its dying days. A protege of the Alcantara brothers, Figueiredo brings a similarly unstructured game to the table but with enough strength and horsepower to blow holes through his opponents’ defenses. Save for a flat performance against Jussier Formiga—Figueiredo afterwards blamed it on illness, which increasingly looks like the truth—“Deus da Guerra” has shown an ability to end fights in one moment, which is extremely rare at 125 pounds. Comparisons to Yoel Romero are not far off the mark. Figueiredo may not look all that great for the balances of his bouts, opting to conserve his energy until the right moment presents itself, but once he keys in on his opponents and sees the opportunity to strike, the curtain often drops. Now the Brazilian just needs to win his battle with the scale.
The first fight between these two was excellent while it lasted. It proved why Figueiredo is a particularly difficult matchup for Benavidez at this point and also gave Benavidez some hope that he can win a rematch. Benavidez has always had to rely a bit on his durability; his way of finding range and being able to counter his opponents was usually to get hit in the face first, then throw back with something more effective. That is all well and good against most flyweights, particularly since Benavidez has gotten a bit smarter about that as his career has gone on, but Figueiredo is probably the last man in the division with whom to try that approach given the knockout power he brings to the table. Add in that Figueiredo looked capable of holding his own in the grappling exchanges during their first fight, and it is apparent more than ever that Benavidez is going to be in danger during the entire time this fight lasts. There is a silver lining: Figueiredo’s gas tank has always been a bit of a concern, and the Brazilian was clearly tiring after a fast-paced first round. While Benavidez is going to have to play with fire, if he can do his thing, keep a quick pace and constantly make Figueiredo work to find his moments of offense, he should be in the clear if he can make it to the championship rounds. That is exacerbated by Figueiredo’s issues leading up to this fight. He almost did not make it to Abu Dhabi after a COVID-19 test that was later determined to be a false positive. That raises some concerns that the last-minute nature of everything means we will not see the best Figueiredo. However, that is more something to keep in mind than something on which to rely. If these two are near peak form, this should be second verse, same as the first—a fun scrap but a reminder that this sport rarely allows for happy endings. The pick is Figueiredo via second-round knockout.
Continue Reading » Gastelum vs. Hermansson