If you only knew Deiveson Figueiredo by watching his rematch with Joseph Benavidez, you would think Deiveson was the king of kings. And to be fair, your wide-eyed enthusiasm would be warranted. Have we ever seen a contender so thoroughly dumpstered the way Benavidez was that night? Not only did Benavidez look like he didn’t belong in the cage, it looked he had never been in one. Deiveson’s utter destruction of Joseph was a special kind of beatdown, and it’s hard to imagine anyone losing like that for a long while.
And just like nobody expected a professional fighter of Benavidez’ caliber to lose so thoroughly, I don’t know that anyone expected Deiveson himself to be the figurehead to lead the way. Keep in mind, none of this is to crown him the next flyweight GOAT. Shaheen Al-Shatti and Greg Rosenstein put together a fun list of champions on a vulnerability scale, based on their potential to lose. Deiveson seemed to fall on the ‘probably won’t lose anytime soon’ side of their scale, which I more or less agree with.
But it’s interesting how much one fight can change perception. Like a movie with an amazing hook, Deiveson’s presence in the division started out hot and heavy. He delivered the violence first. Once he continued delivering violence, he was tasked with being able to bring the violence against top contenders. That task came early. John Moraga had fought for the title, and in only Deiveson’s fourth UFC fight, he passed the test with the proverbial flying color(s).
But then came the Jussier Formiga fight. Losing to Formiga is nothing to be ashamed of. But it all’s about perception. If Deiveson had fought some late-notice replacement, or any other layup before losing to Formiga, the narrative would have been ‘maybe it was just too much too soon.’ Instead, because he destroyed a contender and then lost handily to another contender, and so the narrative became ‘maybe just not good enough.’
That was always more than a little unfair. Unfairness has been flyweight’s defining feature. Demetrious Johnson established the division as must-see TV. Then he proved the age-old maxim ‘you either live long enough to see the UFC pretend like your legacy never existed, or die a flyweight champion.’ Henry Cejudo followed, and he took all the consummate professionalism Johnson helped symbolize flyweight, and then threw that out just in time for the 18-wheeler to run over.
‘Dude. We’re just here for the fighting. Not socio-political commentary. Who cares how dumb Cejudo acts on social media? We all do!’
That’s a fairer point than I’d like to admit. But Cejudo wasn’t just unprofessional. He was unhinged. Even if you consider Cejudo’s mask an act, apparently he didn’t always take it off if his aloof reaction in the middle of an apocalypse is any indication. My point here is not to re-litigate anything. It’s that flyweight has always been missing the border between a marketable champion, and a dedicated one.
If you’re a flyweight fan, you certainly hope Deiveson can be that man. He’s more marketable than Johnson. But is he more dedicated than Cejudo?
Deiveson could have answered that question at UFC Norfolk. Instead he did the most unprofessional thing you can do before a fight. Well, stuff like this notwithstanding. In the flyweight division, no less. After all, nobody really wants the flyweight division. Nobody watches the flyweight division. And the powers that be have every reason to feel like the division itself is simply not worth it.
Deiveson has not even defended his title yet, and already he’s looking like someone who just may be ‘more of the same’. By that I certainly don’t mean his talent. And I don’t even mean his fight professionalism. For all I know, his stomach cramp excuse was 100% legit. Statistically, missing weight for a championship fight isn’t probable. By ‘more of the same’ I mean more of the same general instability that has defined flyweight. Whether it’s because Alex Perez turns out to be the better fighter, or because MMA is dumb, there’s just always something.
The good news is that we only need to wait a few days to find out. That doesn’t mean one successful title defense will magically turn into A New Hope. But it’s a start. Perez is no joke. Moreover, he has the style give Deiveson issues. So far, Deiveson is doing everything he can to make flyweight marketable with his janky brawling, and opportunistically violent submissions. Except for missing weight that one time, he’s clearly dedicated. If he can bridge that gap, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about flyweight for a change?
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