Deiveson Figueiredo - The God of War drawing eyeballs back to the flyweight division
Brazil’s newest UFC champion returns to action this weekend, putting his 125lb strap on the line for the first time against Alex Perez, exclusively live on BT Sport.
It’s easy to forget that Saturday night’s main event may have looked vastly different had Henry Cejudo not beaten TJ Dillashaw almost two years ago.
Victory for ex-bantamweight king Dillashaw would likely have spelled doom for the flyweight division amid rumours UFC boss Dana White was considering scrapping it entirely.
In spite of – or perhaps because of – showcasing one of the most dominant champions in UFC history over the past decade in Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson, fans’ interest in flyweight proceedings had been on the slide and patience was wearing thin in anticipation of its long-awaited and much-needed revival.
Such was the company's disillusionment with the division, Mighty Mouse, who tied Jon Jones’ record for the most title defences in the company’s history (11), was swiftly traded to rival MMA promotion ONE Championship in exchange for welterweight Ben Askren almost immediately after losing the belt – an unprecedented move that would seemingly be unthinkable of any other fighter in his position.
As it happened, Cejudo’s blazing 32-second victory over Dillashaw put all fears to rest as White confirmed the flyweight division would stay.
But when the ‘King of Cringe’ returned to bantamweight shortly before retiring altogether, it left a power vacuum needing to be filled in the 125lb division.
Earlier this year, top contenders Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez answered the call, contesting the vacant championship - in one of the last cards before the coronavirus-enforced lockdown - at UFC Fight Night 169.
The Brazilian subsequently missed championship weight, tipping the scales by 2.5lb to eliminate himself from title contention.
He's slow. I see no danger in him
- Deiveson Figueiredo
He clobbered his way to a TKO victory that night, but with the belt remaining vacant, a rematch was swiftly booked for July in the hope of a more conclusive result.
This time Figueiredo conquered both the scales and Benavidez in emphatic fashion, rendering the American unconscious with a vicious choke to pocket a Performance of the Night bonus along with the undisputed flyweight crown.
Now facing his first defence, the 32-year-old could be fighting for more than just UFC gold against Alex Perez - with some even tipping him as the 2020 Fighter of the Year if he manages to keep hold of his belt.
Speaking on last week’s edition of the DC & Helwani show, two-weight king Daniel Cormier laid out the case for ‘The God of War’.
“If Deiveson Figueiredo beats Alex Perez, now you're looking at a guy who knocks out Joseph Benavidez in February but they don't give him the belt,” he said.
“[He] comes back, beats Joe B up again and gets the belt. He beats Alex Perez impressively? Now you're looking at a guy that is a champion, has fought three times, he's won the belt, defended the belt. You lean towards a guy like that.”
The former bricklayer had originally been booked to fight Cody Garbrandt in the main event at UFC 255, but after injury curtailed the former bantamweight’s involvement, No. 4 ranked contender Perez stepped up for his title shot.
While many believe Perez was a worthy recipient of the shot over Garbrandt anyway, given his longer tenure in the 125lb division, Figueiredo believes the latter may have offered him more of a test in his first defence of the belt.
“They put Alex Perez in, and I don’t see many qualities in him,” the Brazilian said.
“I’m training really hard as if I was fighting Garbrandt. You can be sure that I’ll train hard to knock him out.
“Based on what I’ve seen, Alex Perez’s style favours me. He’s slow, I see no danger in him. That’s why I’m training to knock him out in the first round.”
Perez, 28, has been stopped only once in five career defeats, a TKO loss coming in the first round against a certain Benavidez back in 2018.
That remains the only blemish in his UFC career with the Team Oyama man 6-1 in the promotion since graduating from the Contender Series in 2017.
Coming into the bout full of confidence after back-to-back finishes over Jordan Espinosa and Jussier Formiga, Perez vowed to bring the fight to his bull-strong opponent and upset the odds in Las Vegas.
“I think it’s going to be Fight of the Night,” the underdog told MMAJunkie earlier this month.
“We both like to go in there, we both come forward, we both like to throw. If people have seen my fights, I don’t take a step back [and] he doesn’t take a step back, either.
“I’m expecting a five-round war. I’ve been five rounds before, so I know the cardio can hold up and I’ve seen him go to a decision a few times, so I know his cardio can hold up. It’s going to be a standup battle.”
Whether Figueiredo can deliver on his first-round prophecy or Perez can derail the Brazilian’s emerging hype train, one thing is for sure: the flyweight division is back!
Watch UFC 255: Figueiredo vs Perez exclusively live on BT Sport 1 HD from 1am on Saturday night.