FMIA: UFC 256 – Figueiredo vs. Moreno in the Fight of the Year, Charles Oliveira Dominates Tony Ferguson and Kevin Holland Produces KO of the Year
What a night for the UFC and the final pay-per-view event of the year. A flyweight war, a cult hero vanquished by an exciting up-and-comer, a bloody women’s match where the woman who broke her nose came out on top and perhaps the knockout of the year. Oh, and a future hall-of-fame heavyweight defeated by an elbow of questionable legality by a highly-touted prospect.
Let’s start first with the buildup to UFC 256, an event that turned out to be the year 2020 in a microcosm – sheer craziness and uncertainty which worked out ultimately in the end. The fights affected on this card either by injury or COVID-19:
- The original main event: Amanda Nunes (featherweight championship) vs. Megan Anderson, was pulled for personal reasons and injury.
- The co-main event moved up to the main event: Petr Yan (bantamweight championship) vs. Aljamain Sterling, pulled for COVID-related travel and visa issues.
- Carla Esparza vs. Amanda Ribas was scratched from the card for reasons undisclosed
- Omari Akhmedov vs. Marvin Vettori were scheduled to fight at UFC 256, Akhmedov pulled out due to undisclosed reasons and was replaced by former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Vettori was pulled and moved up a week to fight Jack Hermansson at last weekend’s UFC on ESPN 19. Kevin Holland, whom Vettori replaced due to a COVID-19 positive test, was rescheduled to face Souza at this event.
- Andrea “KGB” Lee vs. Gillian Robertson pulled due to injury and Robertson was rescheduled on another card.
- Tecia Torres vs. Angela Hill, Hill pulled due to a positive COVID-19 test and Torres took on Sam Hughes in her stead.
- Karl Roberson vs. Dalcha Lungiambula, Dwight Grant vs. Li Jianliang and Jared Vanderaa vs. Sergey Spivak all pulled for reasons COVID-19 related (some reports cite injury).
To save the day, Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno stepped up to fight for the flyweight title, both just 21 days out from their first-round finishes. Boy what a show they put on. Both men fought on the main card at UFC 255 and both won in spectacular fashion. With a new record for time between title defenses – just 21 days – they put on a Fight of the Year candidate that is rivaled only by the war between Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk back in March at UFC 248. The majority draw decision felt fair given the pace, significant strikes landed and a point deduction from Figueiredo for repeated fouls.
We will break down the fight card later in this column, but first, a word about the weekend. A busy week of fights which included events by Bellator, ONE Championship, Cage Warriors and championship boxing. Two fights of note at Bellator 254: Juliana Velasquez is now 11-0 after beating previously undefeated Ilima-Lei Macfarlane by unanimous decision to become the Bellator flyweight champion. Magomed Magomedov moves to 17-1 overall after beating Matheus Mattos also by unanimous decision. The impressive Magomedov’s only loss came back in April of 2017 after being defeated by current UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan at ACB 57. A match against current champ Juan Archuleta would be must-see MMA.
In boxing news, Anthony Joshua defeated Kubrat Pulev via KO in the 9th round to retain his IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles. The Englishman is now 24-1 in his career with 22 KOs. Our fingers our crossed for a fight with Tyson Fury in 2021.
Take a bow, Kevin Holland and Charles Oliveira. First on Holland, taking out a world champion grappler in the form of the exceedingly tough Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza on the ground is impressive enough, but with elbows and a flush right hand from flat off the back? Unheard of. For the fighter Dana White once rejected and turned down because of his “Big Mouth,” the former Contenders’ Series fighter has established himself this year in the UFC as the Breakthrough Fighter of the Year. While Khamzat Chimaev and his fans may take issue with the statement, his knockout of the night put him at 5-0 in the UFC. That’s five wins in seven months for Holland – and if Chimaev takes him up on his offer to fight at next weekend’s already-stacked UFC Fight Night 183 card, it could definitively determine that title.
Now for Charles Oliveira – a star turn 10 years in the making. The 31-year old Brazilian dominated Tony Ferguson in every dimension of their lightweight-title contender fight. His standup game was on point, his thunderous slam takedowns were powerful and indefensible, scramble and grappling maneuvers were unanswerable and the way he finished round one, with a tight, full-on armbar that clearly did serious damage to the cult hero known as “El Cucuy,” was exceptional. Anyone in the world, literally anyone, would have tapped out when in that position, but not Ferguson. With a practically useless left arm, Ferguson survived an onslaught from “Do Bronx” for the better parts of round two and three, with an illegal upkick his only real offensive offering.
“Do Bronx” answered all the questions fans and skeptics had for him prior to this fight – can he hand the pressure of a big fight, will he be comfortable against an all-time great fighter, does he have enough on the feet and on the ground to actually challenge the best. Those are all shut down and he now stands at the precipice of a title fight against the winner of Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier, slated to lock horns in January. Oliveira stands with a 30-8 overall record, is on a 9-1 run as a 155-er with 8 straight wins. Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler are on the outside looking in at this point, although either could become viable candidates should something fall through with Plan A.
1. Welcome back Chase Hooper. For a 21-year-old learning on the fly, he has a phenomenal ground game and after injuring his leg earlier in his fight against Peter Barrett, he showed tremendous toughness and heart to keep attacking “Slippery Pete’s” legs. That Imanari roll-to-heel hook is something to watch again and again. He moves to 10-1 and has a bright future in the featherweight division despite his loss to Alex Caceres in June at UFC 250. Barrett now has the unwelcome distinction of dropping to 0-2 in the UFC since he was promoted to the main roster after breaking through on Dana White’s Contender Series.
2. Tecia Torres was slated to fight the exciting Angela Hill at UFC 256 and it was readily apparent that her standup was on point for this fight. Her ring control, distance and intensity were significant factors in the first round and the slam at the end to cap it off was emphatic. Sam Hughes was tagged with Superman (Superwoman?) punches and head kicks throughout the first stanza. The bout was waived off on the stool before the second period began after Hughes confirmed to her corner that she couldn’t see due to the damage accrued to her eye. After going winless in 2018 and 2019 (0-4), the “Tiny Tornado” now has two wins in a row and should be looking for a top-10 contender early in 2021 in the women’s 115 lbs. weight class.
3. Billy Quarantillo’s 8-fight win streak spanning 4 years was snapped by Gavin Tucker in a fantastic featherweight tussle. Tucker has rattled off 3 wins in a row and sits at 13-1 after repeatedly attacking Billy Q’s body time and again with precision strikes and overall accurate striking. The “Guv Nor’s” sneaky-quick takedowns worked in all rounds and his top control wasn’t too shabby either. With a stat-line reading 106 significant strikes, 60% significant strike accuracy and 7 takedowns, a unanimous decision was well deserved against the betting favorite.
4. Wow does Rafael Fiziev have some nasty kicks… and hands. The blistering pace at which he throws his left leg is terrifying at 155. While Renato Moicano showed poise on his feet, there was ever going to be one outcome if he stood in there with a bona fide world-class standup artist. The finishing combo, a left rip to the body following by a right hand to the chin followed up by another left was perfect technique. Moicano did try to keep the fight going, however the stoppage looked justified as the Brazilian had trouble getting back up to his feet to protest. As for Fiziev, his win puts him at three in a row and the 27-year old from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, has a bright future at 155 lbs. He’s ready for a ranked opponent after a first round like that.
5. Coming off a serious ACL injury in his left leg, Cub Swanson protected it well in his bout against Daniel Pineda. Pineda did some damage early on in the first round, looked in control of the fight and showed all the gusto that a man who in August put in a savage KO against Herbert Burns at UFC 252. Swanson could not be calmer and cooler, switching up his style, putting his left foot back and in the end made Pineda respect his power with a flush right hand that ended his opponent’s night. That’s two now in a row for the 37-year old Swanson.
6. Former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos came into his main card opening bout with Ciryl Gane on the heels of three straight knockout losses. The murderer’s row he faced included Francis Ngannou, Curtis Blaydes and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Undefeated French kickboxer Gane won the first round and finished “Cigano” with a nasty elbow of questionable legality to the ear in the second period, moving himself up to 4-0 in the UFC and effectively ending the former champ’s run in the UFC. While it’s possible JDS survives the UFC’s latest round of cuts, it’s highly unlikely for the 36-year old Brazilian legend. What a run and end of an era for the sure-fire UFC Hall of Famer.
7. The bloodiest fight of the night belonged to two Brazilian strawweights. A knee from #13-ranked Virna Jandiroba busted up the nose of the vaunted #11-ranked Mackenzie Dern in the second period of their bout. A body kick timed as Dern changed levels caught her on the bridge of the nose. While Dern took the first round and Jandiroba took the second, all was to play for in the third period. Dern hurt her opponent with a powerful punch to the head while Jandiroba finished a takedown. Jandiroba didn’t engage on the ground and let Dern get to her feet where a firefight ensued. Dern was effective with her jab, landing it over and over, throwing in powerful kicks to the body which reverberated throughout the empty UFC Apex. Dern finished the fight on top, defending a submission from Jandiroba and clearly winning the third period and the fight. A top-10 opponent lies in Dern’s future while Jandiroba showed her durability and toughness in this close contest. This was the Fight of the Night until the main event edged these tough ladies out.
8. Deiveson Figueiredo has some bad habits that need broken. Repeated eye pokes and groin strikes are a bad look for a champion. While being tough and nasty and vicious all fit in with his stylish image, they are quite unbecoming when the belt is on the line. Regardless, that man can fight and fight at pace. Perhaps the biggest question about Figueredo was whether he had the stamina to last more than one round and keep his bruising power. That was answered tonight, and it must be said that once he had a point taken away for three fouls, he cleaned it up and still fought at a very high level.
9. The bout was scored as a majority draw (48-46, 47-47, 47-47). When asked about a rematch between the main eventers, Dana White said at the UFC Post-Fight Press Conference “absolutely, positively.” He also called this the greatest flyweight fight in UFC history and I am inclined to agree.
10. One last note about the main event – Dana White confirmed what “Deus de Guerra” said after his successful title defense, that he was indeed in the hospital until 2 A.M. the night before the fight with stomach issues. Just another impressive detail about these guys’ performances.
KO of the Week
Kevin Holland is a monster on the ground. Jacare immediately took the youngster down and met Holland’s elbows. Then on the second takedown, Holland made some distance with his long feet and swung right at the “Alligator’s” head and folded him over backwards. As Jacare almost fell off his stool, the commentary team (and everyone watching) couldn’t believe what they had seen the precocious youngster do to the legend.
Submission of the Week
Chase Hooper, Heel Hook – Imanari Roll against Peter Barret. Hooper was down two rounds and had it all to fight for in the third. With a clearly comprised right leg, Hooper got deep into Barrett’s hips and locked up the heel hook for a quick tap. Impressive win for the 21-year old.
Performance of the Week
Charles Oliveira dominating Tony Ferguson from start to finish. Big slams, phenomenal grappling, great work in the transitions against one of the trickiest fighters in the game. From the clip below, Ferguson tried to cage walk out of a position in which Oliveira perfectly transitioned. He had an answer for everything.
Coach of the Week
Eyes on the prize, Dern. Eyes on the prize.
Turkey of the Week
No Turkeys this week. For a wild week of canceled and pulled fights, rearranged fights and more, the main card was phenomenal. I was underwhelmed by several fighters. I expected much more out of Billy Quarantillo, Daniel Pineda had a bit too much misplaced confidence and Jacare didn’t offer much in opposition either. But I think those losses said more about the excellent Gavin Tucker, a resurgent and resourceful Cub Swanson and a very motivated and highly-talented Kevin Holland.
I. Most UFC wins all time:
Donald Cerrone: 23
Demain Maia: 22
Jim Miller: 21
Michael Bisping, GSP, Jon Jones: 20
Andrei Arlovski, Rafael dos Anjos, Diego Sanchez: 19
Frankie Edgar, Matt Hughes, Dustin Poirier, Charles Oliveira: 18
II. I did not know: 31-year old Charles Oliveira has been in UFC longer than the 36-year old Tony Ferguson (10 years vs. 9).
The clear best photo of fight week, Tony Ferguson just has a way about him that makes you pay extra attention.
It’s a family affair for the Cormier family. Daniel Cormier is a Hall of Famer, double UFC champion, Olympic wrestler and world-class family man. He’s also not too shabby of a commentator either.
The best college football play that never was. I was distraught over my alma mater , The Ohio State University, big game with arch-rival M*chigan was canceled. The Big Game has been played annually for over 100 years and the last time we missed a game was back in 1917. What a weird year.
You don’t say, Richard Dawkins.
This is why I love MMA. Two fighters, pushing each other to the absolute limit for 25 minutes straight. Then showing all love at the end. I can’t wait for Figueirido vs. Moreno II.
Tony Time… to call it quits? From George in Rhode Island (Twitter): “Is Tony Ferguson washed? Khabib was right, too much damage from Gaethje. He did nothing against Olivera.”
No way, far too early to call him washed up. He’s lost two in a row, true, and both were bad losses. But these are losses to the top, top guys, and with one arm he survived against Charles Oliveira. I think his strategy ought to improve. For example, don’t stand and bang with a guy who only stands and bangs, and don’t play a ground game against a guy who’s a stud ground guy, even if you are very good there.
1. I think Tony Ferguson is a madman. Charles Oliveira had him in an armbar. No tap. Olivera stops, wraps his entire arm around Tony’s arm and pulls back completely destroying everything in this elbow and shoulder. No tap. Then gets up at the bell and walks to his corner. Dude. DUDE!
2. I think Bruce Buffer is perfect for the UFC. This might not be an original thought, but did you catch his bow mid-introduction to Charles Oliveira? “Do Bronx” walked to the center of the Octagon, bowed to Ferguson, then to Buffer and walked back to his corner. Buffer didn’t miss a beat, bowed to Oliveira and continued on. Bruce Buffer is a national treasure.
3. I think the post-fight bonuses were fair – Dana White gave Moreno and Figueiredo Fight of the Night, with Dern and Jandiroba a close second. Performance of the Night went to both Kevin Holland and Rafael Fiziev.
4. I think Dan Wetzel’s interview with Dana White and breakdown of the year in MMA was the best piece of sports journalism I have read all week. In a year of unprecedented challenges, the way in which White and the UFC got back into business, putting on fights and managing COVID-19 was brilliant. My favorite line of the article: “Most pridefully he (White) notes that he retained, at full pay, all 385 UFC employees and honored the contracts of all the company’s fighters.” For a guy that takes a lot of heat, you can’t help but respect him. You can read Wetzel’s entire piece at the Yahoo! Sports website.
5. I think Tyson Fury knows how to cut a promo and has a great nose for… holiday sweaters. Anthony Joshua was tentative for his next booking, but Fury is all in and we all want to see it. Winner gets Deontay Wilder, loser has to fight Andy Ruiz Jr.
6. I think they are the only potential saviors of boxing. Floyd Mayweather is stripping boxing bare, cleaning out the scraps by taking on “fights” like YouTube star Logan Paul. I get it, do what you think sells. I’m not against it, it just doesn’t help the sport or those in it. What does help is real fights with real fighters. Championship-level fighters.
7. I think Bellator has an opportunity to make some big fights. Gegard Mousasi and Rafael Lovato Jr. at middleweight, Vadim Nemkov and Phil Davis at light heavyweight and Ryan Bader, Cheick Kongo and Vitaly Minakov at heavyweight are all legit, well-known fighters. Corey Anderson and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson have already signed and Yoel Romero may be on the way. These guys could all make interesting matchups along weight lines, and the UFC is about to purge its ranks with cuts up to 60 more fighters. This could mean seeing some more interesting matchups along the way.
8. I think speaking of upcoming fights, next week’s final card of the year – UFC Fight Night 183: Stephen Thompson vs. Geoff Neal – has some real bangers on it. Jose Aldo vs. Chito Vera, Michel Pereira and Khaos Williams, Greg Hardy and Marlon Moraes on the card, Taila Santos vs. Gillian Robertson and Anthony Pettis vs. Alex Morono, among others.
9. I think Junior dos Santos is a warrior and an excellent ambassador for the sport of MMA. His first fight in the UFC was back in 2008 against Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90. For over 12 years, he has fought the very best of the best in the heavyweight division and even captured the UFC heavyweight title. His current 4-fight skid has included vicious knockouts to fighters in the top of the division. He’s a had a great run and whatever the future holds for “Cigano,” we wish him the best.
10. I think my favorite JDS fight was on the UFC on Fox 1 event back in November of 2011 against then-champion Cain Velazquez. With almost 12,000 people in attendance, the first-ever UFC event on Fox drew an average TV audience of 5.7 million viewers, peaked at 8.8 million views and was at the time the most-watched live hour ever for MMA in the United States. The whole event felt like a turning point for MMA, with legends like Benson Henderson fighting Clay Guida, Dustin Poirier, Cub Swanson and more on the card. Anyhow, after about a minute, JDS clips Velazquez with a massive overhand right and finishes him off on the ground. JDS takes the heavyweight crown in front of the world. This set up the trilogy and marked a new era for MMA in the USA.
Brandon Moreno wasn’t just impressive in his performance against Deiveson Figueiredo, his suit game has stepped up considerably. This three-piece was accentuated by a matching facemask which, nowadays, counts as a four-piece? Just look at that focus.
I. JacksonWink Dance-Off aka girls dig heavyweights
“I just kept thinking about my kids. I’m their superhero, you know?” – Cub Swanson
FMIA: UFC 256 – Figueiredo vs. Moreno