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Deiveson Figueiredo-Brandon Moreno classic gives UFC chance for real flyweight reset | Opinion

The division the UFC all but killed produced one of the greatest fights in company history Saturday night.

Over the course of 2018 and 2019, the UFC essentially traded away former longtime champion Demetrious Johnson to ONE Championship, cut a slew of 125 pounders from the roster, and let titleholder Henry Cejudo go up a weight class, win the bantamweight belt, and vacate the flyweight crown.

Who could have predicted at the start of the year, with the belt vacant and the division seeming to be on death’s door, the company’s pay-per-view slate would end with a pair of flyweights throwing down in what was highly likely the men’s “Fight of the Year”?

Yet that was precisely what happened Saturday night at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Brazil’s Deiveson Figueiredo and Mexico’s Brandon Moreno were put together in a shotgun marriage of a main event at UFC 256, bailing the promotion out on the year-end event after an announced bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling fell out and an expected featherweight title bout between Amanda Nunes and Megan Anderson didn’t materialize.

For 25 minutes, the duo went at one another like a pair of Tasmanian devils. Figueiredo looked openly contemptuous of the upstart in the opening round, standing right in front of him and not respecting his power. Moreno, who calls legendary boxer Julio Cesar Chavez his combat sports hero, made it clear how much the notion of becoming the UFC’s first Mexican-born champion meant to him. What he might have lacked in the champ’s technique, he made up for with heart and toughness, and by Round 2 it was clear that not only was he not going away, but the champ had a real fight on his hands.

We already knew this bout was a classic by the midpoint of the third round, and that’s when we all held our breath as Figgy drilled Moreno with a low blow of a kick. For a couple minutes it appeared the fight might careen to a halt just as it was reaching rarified air.

But Moreno wasn’t about to ask out. Referee Jason Herzog docked the champ a point for the infraction. The fight was back on and accelerated in the fourth, one of the greatest displays of nonstop action we’ve ever seen from two fighters. 

Things slowed in the fifth, as a left arm injury caught up to Moreno, and Figueiredo, who for his part was hospitalized Friday night with a stomach ailment, took the round on two cards, which enabled him to keep his belt via majority draw, even with the point deduction.

That slower-paced fifth round might spell the difference for overall “Fight of the Year,” as Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248 never had that drop-off. But the fact we’re even having this conversation after the women’s fight was long presumed a lock is a testament to the greatness of Saturday night’s fight. 

A rematch between the duo is a no-brainer, and White indicated in the post-fight news conference that one is indeed on the way. 

Both of these guys are going to take some well earned time off to heal up. 

(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

If you figure it’s going to be a good six months before these guys rest up, go through a camp, and fight again, then it’s also most likely several months more before whomever is next in the flyweight pipeline has the opportunity to step up for a title challenge.

This, essentially, gives the UFC just about all of 2021 to rebuild the 125-pound weight class. Maybe you coax Henry Cejudo, who we all know is going to return eventually, back to the cage. Maybe you give Cody Garbrandt a fight to prove he can make the weight, and line him up for the winner if he’s victorious. Maybe ONE’s house of cards finally collapses, and you give it another try with “Mighty Mouse,” who isn’t old. 

Maybe, as the $7 billion company cuts scores of veteran fighters and pretends the wave of low-paid Contender Series types is mere coincidence, they can channel some fraction of those savings back toward rebuilding a division with real promise.

“We all know nobody cared about it,” UFC president Dana White claimed about the flyweights at the UFC 256 post-fight news conference. “I sat up here at press conferences before the fight telling everybody why you need to watch that division and why there were so many great fights, but people just didn’t give a (expletive). You can’t make people care. They gotta care or they don’t.”

That’s a highly debatable spin. A promoter’s entire job is about making people care. But anyway, this is the company’s chance for a full reset.

Two exciting, charismatic fighters bailed out a show that needed a main event with a short-notice classic. Time for the promotion to give these champions the deep division they deserve. 

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