Often when an athlete wins a UFC title, it is the culmination of a life’s body of work. On that journey, the stakes are less about finances but forging a path on the mountain of rankings, notoriety, and fame. The stakes, after the belt is wrapped around your waist, firmly become financial and legacy based. It is therefore not uncommon for a champion to fight 2-3 times in a year, with a 3-4 month gap in between to ensure the appropriate amount of preparation and recovery is undertaken, allowing both of those stakes to be further driven into the history soil of the UFC. Deiveson Figueiredo won his UFC title in July, he defended it three weeks ago, and on Saturday, he goes again.
2020 has been a strange year for the world, let alone the promotion. As the UFC winds down its schedule for the year, it is poignant that the final PPV of the year is headlined not only by a Flyweight Champion. A division in all sorts of jeopardy in recent times, but also by a champion that is staying extremely active. Fly, never die.
Let us talk about some fights.
Deiveson Figueiredo (20-1) vs Brandon Moreno (18-5-1)
Deiveson Figueiredo in his fight against Alex Perez only 3 weeks ago provided a performance that makes it feel like he has been a champion for a long, long time. The knock of the Brazilian is his lack of English, but outside of that, its difficult to see this man not becoming the next star. What is required of a fighter to blast off into the stratosphere of stardom? An exciting fighting style, a unique look, a personality that is separate from other fighters. Well, Deiveson holds that in abundance.
His fighting style is one that he has grown into. Best described by Sean Sheehan of SevereMMA as a heavyweight’s style inside a flyweight’s body. Think of how a heavyweight fight pans out? Lower output that you would expect of a man weighing 100lb lesser, nuclear bombs in all limbs and extremities and a certain patience due to not wanting to be on the receiving end of any nuclear bombs himself. That describes well the stand-up of Deiveson.
Every single shot he throws from his predominant stance of Southpaw has the worst kind of intentions. Separation from consciousness intentions. He has lightening hands, a baseball bat left kick and feints like the best of them. What allows him such a style is the way he chambers all of his bodyweight in his legs, you can see how he flows effortlessly from loose footwork and right back into a more static, loaded position when he see’s throwing opportunities.
As the fight begins to transition from the stand-up into a grappling contest you see Deiveson shed the heavyweight shackles and move like a true flyweight. His performance against Perez, or his title winning bout against Joe Benavidez can show the gears. Slick, accurate submission threats. How he snuck his forearm under the thorax of Alex Perez in a wrestling transition was impeccable. When he has a submission locked in, the belief etched across his face is unheralded.
On the other side of the octagon is a Wildman. Brandon Moreno is a fighter that been warranted a title shot for many years. A fiery style to match a fiery personality, alongside a love for Lego. Moreno is on his second run in the UFC and has looked great in doing so. He stands with an awkward stance to deal with. Hands out, fingers to the ceiling, and his chest and back arched in an unusual fashion, which seems to leave his chin open for strikes.
Known for being in wars, from his time on the Ultimate Fighter Season 24, to his recent win over rising prospect Brandon Royval. What is most impressive about Moreno is his ability to control the chaos of grappling exchanges. This was on show most against Royval, who is a grappler that thrives in the scramble, in the chaos. Grappling can be exchanged in two general fashions, high paced scrambling like you would see from a Tim Elliot or a Royval. Or a methodical, controlled smashing like you would receive from a Rodolfo Viera, a Demain Maia or as showcased by Moreno. When the fight hit the mat against Royval he was able to nullify the scramble and keep static control positions on the Hawaiian. High level grappling.
Moreno has never been finished to strikes, and that he says comes with his Mexican blood. Deiveson has never been finished.
The routes to victory for both fighters make for a great fight. Moreno will look to disrupt the rhythm of Figueiredo, fade away from the shots as they come, and counter effectively. If the takedown presents itself, to bank some control time and look to sap the energy from the Brazilians gas tank. What we have not seen in recent times is the champion in deep waters, with a less than optimal gas tank.
For Deiveson the route is to rinse and repeat. Land his power shots early and often, try to force Moreno into a desperation shot, or try to knock him down with one of his gargantuan shots and capitalise from the top position with strikes or with a submission.
Tony Ferguson (25-4) vs Charles Oliveria (29-8)
Sometimes, there are fights that are made in the heavens of the MMA Gods. Clouds open, a stone tablet floats angelically from the sky, posited in the ground, and reads: Tony Ferguson vs Charles Oliveria.
Tony Ferguson is a one-of-a-kind person, and a one-of-a-kind fighter. There is a litany of history on the quirks of Ferguson from his TUF run, his 10-year unbeaten run in the UFC. The Khabib saga, building his own camps in Big Bear by hand. His unorthodox training methods, his social media spelling, the list goes on.
Tony has a wild method to fighting. Its more akin to dancing than it is fighting, the angles he creates and the pressure he imposes on fighters, his penchant for opening cuts on his opponents faces is unrivalled. At the base of his game however, is a very solid grappling pedigree, which allows him to be as reckless as he wishes when it comes to striking, he can throw as many elbows as he feels necessary, overreach on shots, dive into pocket positions because he has no issue with being on his back, or with wrestling against someone. He has nasty triangle and d’arce submissions, and that is a cause for concern when trying to shoot on him.
Enter Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveria. Not just Charles Oliveria, but Oliveria 2.0. Its stunning to think that Oliveria has been in the UFC for 10 years. 25 fights with the promotion and riding a two-year, 7 fight win streak, with 7 finishes. His last time seeing the third round of a fight was 4 years ago. The last time he went to a decision was 6 years ago. You get the picture.
When Do Bronx fights, expect a finish. Hi style blends well with Fergusons because they have a similar foundational base. Good grappling and no issue with taking the fight to grappling positions.
This fight however may turn into a predominantly stand up battle. Because, it is not often that you see Tony Ferguson shoot a conventional single or double leg takedown. This means he will likely not fall foul of Oliveria’s wicked guillotine choke. Equally, Oliveria will be acutely aware of the danger of Tony’s D’arce choke so would be wise to not shoot on him conventionally also. If such is the case, then expect a bloody, gutsy, heart for heart 3 round war.
Charles is on the rise, and this is the first time we get to see the effect that Justin Gaethje’s destruction has had on Tony Fergusons esteemed chin and grit.
This will be an outstanding fight, whatever happens.
Renato Moicano (14-3-1) vs Rafael Fiziev (8-1)
This could be the coming out party for Rafael Fiziev. If you are a striking coach for Tiger Muay Thai, and you are not Thai, then something is incredibly special about you, and your abilities. Fiziev has in spurts looked just that, incredible. Looking past the flashier techniques he throws and has in his arsenal, it’s the footwork of Fiziev that is his most impressive. His fight against England’s Marc Diakese was a very high-level striking battle, that Fiziev won well.
Renato Moicano is a great test for Fiziev. Moicano in his last three fights has fought two strikers, Jose Aldo and The Korean Zombie, he lost both by way of knockout. He prefers to do his work on the outside, with one-two punch combinations, working into his takedowns and getting the fight to the mat. He is extremely proficient when getting to his opponents back.
When crowded though, and forced to fight on the back foot, he is far less proficient, and this is a hole in his game that he will need to fix if he wants to climb back into the rankings.
Fiziev will want to exploit the holes in the stand-up game of Moicano and take the biggest name of his career. For Moicano, the Fiziev name is gathering steam, and a win here would put the wind in his own sails to pursue a route back into the upper echelon of 145lbs.
Kevin Holland (20-5) vs Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (26-8)
Kevin Holland said in an interview once that he is happy to be the second coming of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. What he meant by that, was his penchant for frequent fights. Boy is he backing that up. He is onto his 6th professional combat sports outing, (amid 5 cancelled bouts) in 2020.
In MMA he is 4-0 this year, stepping in on late notice to take the fight against ex-Strikeforce champion Jacare Souza after his opponent, Marvin Vettori took a short notice step up to a main event against Jack Hermansson.
Kevin Holland is a tall, long, rangy Middleweight. He is the type of fighter to end fights with culmination, drowning his opponents with long drawn out combinations of confusing angled strikes. He blends in grappling well with his striking, but after 25 fights, he is still growing as a martial artist. His performance against Alexander Hernandez was different to his performance against Darren Stewart.
The weakness in the arsenal of Holland could be the gas tank. In the fight against Stewart he faded heavily near the end of the second and by the end of third was in a bad position on the bottom with Stewart teeing off. That is one place you do not want to be against Jacare.
Ronaldo Souza is at a crossroads in his career. This fight will tell us a lot about what if left in his MMA career. From 2017 he has been on a win-loss-win-loss pattern. In his fight with Chris Weidman in 2018, his striking had never looked better. Battling through a close first round to take over in round two and stop the ex-champion in round 3. He is famously known for his grappling abilities, but Jacare has been a well-rounded MMA fighter for a long time. He then took a loss against Jack Hermansson, decided to move up to Light Heavyweight and lost against Jan Blachowicz. Two cancelled bouts against Uriah Hall and then Vettori taking a different fight leaves Souza with Holland.
If Jacare loses this fight, the UFC President Dana White has spoken openly about wanting to cut a large amount of the roster and that there would be surprises. At 41, with three straight losses, would it be a surprise to see Jacare leave the promotion?
Junior dos Santos (21-8) vs Ciryl Gane (6-0)
This is odd matchmaking. Its not a misconception that the Heavyweight division at the upper echelons is a volatile place. The nature of heavyweight fighting is volatile at its core, any punch can change any fight, and any man can be beaten at any time with a single strike. However, we will speak later about transitions in MMA fighters’ careers, and the best way to build them.
Junior dos Santos is a former champion. Making his debut in 2006. In 2006, Ciryl Gane was 16 years of age. In the time since, JDS has amassed 29 professional MMA fights, a rivalry that will go down in MMA history, held the title, lost the title and fought everyone that there is to fight in 3 generations of Heavyweight. He is 1-3 in his last four, but those 3 losses come at the hands of Franics Ngannou, maybe the scariest man in the UFC. Curtis Blaydes who looks every bit a future champion, and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. In the Rozenstruik fight JDS had his moments, before being caught behind the ear, and that spiralled the fight into the ground and pound sequences that called a halt to the bout.
Ciryl Gane in comparison has fewer total fights than JDS has losses. He entered the UFC at 3-0, which is utterly unprecedented. Hailed as the next star of the division, trained by the enigmatic figure that is Fernand Lopez. He has not detracted anyone away from that opinion in his first three UFC performances, two finishes and a cruising win over 3 rounds against Tanner Boser.
Experience is everything in MMA. There is a thing as too much experience, JDS has taken 6 knockouts in his career, some of them disastrous, concussive, life changing knockouts. Gane is yet to take a loss.
The reason that this matchmaking doesn’t seem sensible is if we look at the outcomes. If JDS wins, either dominantly or over a decision, you have stunted a prospects growth and potentially lost a star. If Gane wins in similar fashion, JDS is on a 4 fight losing streak, which historically see’s a fighter cut from the roster, and Gane is now thrust into the contender picture of the Heavyweight division at 7-0. Most fighters aren’t even looking to enter the UFC until 10+ professional fights.
Both men have all the tools to get the job done, and this is heavyweight after all.
Cub Swanson (26-11) vs Daniel Pineda (27-13)
Daniel Pineda may just be the man drafted in to ruin stories in his second UFC tenure. He was drafted back into the UFC to fight Herbert Burns, brother of title challenger Gilbert Burns. Taking that chance with both hands, dominating the grappling ace and finishing him with elbows from a crucifix position.
Daniel now steps into the Octagon against a 37-year old 16-year veteran in Cub Swanson riding a 1-4 record in his last five and his first fight back after a terrible knee injury sustained in a grappling match with fellow MMA fighter Jake Shields.
Pineda is no spring chicken at 35, and both fighters have been fighting a good level of opposition, yet Cub has been coming up short, and Pineda has been winning those fights. It is poignant to note that Pineda was scheduled to compete for the PFL title against Lance Palmer but was pulled from the promotion due to a drugs test failure.
At this point Cub Swanson is a legend of the sport, with nothing more to prove. Its hard to see what he gains from this fight other than a paycheck and an understanding that his body can continue on doing what it has been doing for over a third of his life.
Mackenzie Dern (9-1) vs Virna Jandiroba (16-1)
If you are a Jiu Jitsu fan, this is the fight for you.
Multiple time BJJ world Champion Mackenzie Dern made her transition to MMA back in 2016. Fighting under the LFA, and Invicta banners before stepping up to a developmental contract with the UFC. It is not a shock to say that the strength she has on the ground is yet to bne matched by her striking. She is now working with boxing coach Jason Parillo, (boxing coach for one Cris Cyborg) so don’t expect that to be her weakness for long.
If you have not seen her grappling prowess before, go and watch her most recent performance against Randa Markos, or against Hannah Cifers. What you are watching is a high level blackbelt.
Virna Jandiroba however is an exceptional MMA grappler in her own right. A blackbelt herself, with a 3-year head start to the Brazilian/American Dern. She has amassed 17 fights to Derns 10, and all of her finishes have come via her grappling.
Its going to be remarkably interesting to see how this fight plays out. Derns stand-up is improving every fight, and she will undoubtedly want to show that here, but Jandiroba already has a well mapped out pathway to use her striking to engage in grappling situations, get the takedown into dominant pin positions and working toward submissions. Her two-minute destruction of Felice Herrig showed that.
We should all bow our heads and pray that at some point this fight does hit the mat, because to watch the war that would ensue between two high level grapplers will be fascinating.
Billy Quarantillo (15-2) vs Gavin Tucker (12-1)
This is a sleeper fight. Both gentlemen may not carry the name that some of the other fighters on this card do, but when the Octagon door closes on Saturday evening, we as fans should be in for a fun fight. Both guys are fun, action fighters. Billy Quarantillo is a fast starter, whereas Gavin Tucker is a fighter than snowballs as the fights go on, the momentum follows him the further the fight goes on.
Both men have looked great in their last outings. Tucker securing the rear naked choke over a beaten Justin Jaynes in the third round of their contest. Quarantillo put on a similarly impressive performance against Kyle Nelson before stopping his fight in the third with a straight right.
The tale of this fight is how the momentum swings in the early goings, if Quarantillo can place enough damage to quell the rising inferno that is Tucker in the later rounds, or whether Tucker can drag Billy to the later rounds in a compromised state. Either way, don’t skip this fight to get a beverage or a snack, this is one you have to watch.
Sergey Spivak (11-2) vs Jared Vanderaa (11-4)
Heavyweights Sergey Spivak and Jared Vanderaa face off in a battle of the big men. Spivak has been up and down of late. The biggest win of his career over Tai Tuivasa was sandwiched between a tough loss against Walt Harris, and a decision loss to Marcin Tybura. He rebounded from Tybura with a decision win over Brazils Carlos Felipe in an uneventful fight.
Jared Vanderaa is just at the beginning of his UFC journey, winning a contract for himself with a finish win in the Contender Series. A heavy hitter in not uncommon for heavyweight, and Vanderaa will be looking to land hard and early against Spivak to set himself nicely into the heavyweight division.
Spivak is the more well rounded fighter, with a solid arsenal of takedowns and a nice array of chokes in his repertoire.
Chase Hooper (9-1-1) vs Peter Barrett (11-4)
Every fight in a career is important. Some more important than others. Every fighter has transitionary moments. Going from a raw prospect, into a stable fighter, a contender, and potentially a champion. The two prior phases are generally done on a regional promotion, away from the big lights and the media fanfare, where pressure isn’t at soul crushing levels.
Chase Hooper entered the UFC after 8 fights, and after a win over Daniel Teymur the promotions promotional arm started churning, the Ben Askren comparisons rolled in and Hoopers stock rose faster than his development did.
Alex Caceres is a litmus test for any fighter, and Chase came up a dark orange. His performance in that fight showed he is still very green outside of his areas of dominance. That area is if he can get the fight to the mat, with him in the top position. His top game, frankly, is immense. Teymur can attest to that. The glaring holes in his striking and his transitions to his areas of dominance need work if he is to reach his potential.
Peter Barrett comes into the UFC looking to capitalise on Hoopers last fight, keep the fight standing, and test the holes in the game of Hooper. A solid fighter himself, with an 11-4 record. His recent loss against Youssef Zalal will undoubtedly age well, as that young man is a rising star himself.
Does Barret right the wrong of his first performance under the famous banner, or does Hooper manage to tip the hype train back on the tracks of stardom?