Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno this December 12, 2020 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, as the main event of the UFC 256 PPV (pay-per-view).
One sentence summary
David: Gremlins, 2 Weeks: A New Batch (…of beatings)
Phil: Cynical corporate incentives align to give us a surprisingly welcome main event
Record: Deiveson Figueiredo 20-1 Brandon Moreno 18-5-1
Odds: Deiveson Figueiredo -305 Brandon Moreno +275
History / Introduction to the fighters
Phil: Weren’t we just doing this a couple of weeks ago? We talked about how Figueiredo was an atypical flyweight with his size, power and relatively low pace, and an atypical man with the whole hairdressing / sushi chef / pet water buffalo vibe. So once again we have something atypical, with a title defense about two weeks after his last one. ESPN and the UFC have a quota of PPVs and title fights to hit, flyweights are cheap (even at the top of the division) and so we once again have a dynamic where the lighter weight classes (as with the women’s division) are called upon to be the pillar of the organization. The irony is palpable.
David: Champions always get some alone time in the hyperbolic time chamber, but not for Figueiredo. This is flyweight. That means the division can explode at any second, and in order to cut the red or blue wire Dana White sinisterly placed underneath the toilet, flyweights have to be like beer inside a sports stadium: on tap, all the time. So here we are, watching the flyweight champ defend his title two weeks after defending his title. There’s a segment of fans who will inevitably call us ‘whiners’ and ‘hypocrites’ for even criticizing the quick return. Just enjoy the fights. Why make things political? The Brazilian dude signed the contract didn’t he? You’re gonna watch the hell out of it aren’t you? Sure. The issue is not that the fight itself represents some kind of moral decay in the UFC’s front office. That moral decay started a long time ago. It’s that the moral decay has become a literal decay, where champs like DJ and Cejudo (who never discarded the idea of returning at the kind of price Dana would never pay) have just casually fallen by the wayside because the UFC feels like the brand can offset the cost of losing the world’s most elite fighters. That’s all the more reason to appreciate what Deiveson is doing: leaving himself no downtime in order to support the sport. That’s all the more reason for the UFC to appreciate Deiveson too. I know. That’s what the money’s for! True. But it doesn’t buy the well-being, inspiration, and commitment from being treated with respect. Sorry. Should have saved that for an op-ed, but whatever. We’re here now!
Phil: The Assassin Baby is a familiar story: a rushed UFC prospect who got some opportunistic finishes, and got thrown into fights that he wasn’t ready for. With some tough losses in the mirror, he’s turned a game which was mostly built from toughness and aggression into something more coherent and skillful. I guess the main surprise is that he was kept around for long enough to do it: he was charmed enough and charming enough to evade the cuts when the flyweight division was razed around him. Perhaps it was the rusty old ward of being a TUF alum holding just enough power to keep him safe.
David: I feel like I need to introduce myself to BE readers. I’ve been previewing fights for a long time. Officially we can go back to 2011, but it goes back even further when BE had sister sites like Head Kick Legend. I bring this up not to brag about how “hardcore” I am or anything like that. On the contrary, going back 10 years just emphasizes how awesome it used to be to swallow my breakfast food without a side order of back pain. I say that to say this: it’s easy to identify the potential interactions of fighter habits and mechanics, but it’s a lot harder to identify how the passage of time affects those interactions. I used to routinely make awful predictions on TUF fighters versus non-TUF fighters, and it’s because I always underestimated their growth. For awhile, Moreno was another one of those guys for me. I didn’t pick him against Smolka, Ortiz, or even Benoit (!) if I recall correctly. And now here he is, in a title fight inside one of the UFC’s better divisions. He’s absolutely earned it. And even though I think he gets wasted like a tier 2 Raid henchmen, how can you not love his absolutely beautiful attitude?
What’s at stake?
Phil: Come back in two weeks to find out…?
David: That’s a great joke, but it sets up an awful punchline: Dana realizes the best way to keep flyweight out of the red is to just have its champ defend the title every five weeks that way the UFC can go another layer deep into this ‘cards are getting worse, but nobody notices because there’s a title fight!’.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Again, another place where we find ourselves repeating some of the last takeaways we came with. The Figureiredo-Perez fight was a bit of a puzzler in all honesty, with some rad scrambling that ended in an oddly prosaic submission. So the necessity of falling back on old reads on Figueiredo rears its head. Once again he finds himself in a matchup where he’s up against an uncommonly large flyweight (one of the few that I think outranges him) and so may find it a little trickier to usher Moreno into the right hand counter. As the counterpuncher in the matchup, Figueiredo is going to have to do some navigating around Moreno’s jab, and will have to find ways to put himself in effective range. The heavy lifting here should be done by his own jab, a stepping, dart-like strike and that cuffing hook that is mostly just a setup for the right. The dynamic here is interesting: Figgy isn’t a reliable lead puncher unless the opponent is backpeddling by the cage, but Moreno potentially isn’t a potent enough hitter to scare him off his entries anyway.
David: It’s funny. When you break down Figueiredo’s game, there’s not a real fight curve you can use to judge him by. This isn’t Adesanya, whose feints and movements will predict the progression of the fight’s offense. This isn’t like Usman, whose wrestling will track a traditional control on the ground versus on the feet or Volkanovski — who’s gonna casually slide into his pocket-and-counter chair. Figueiredo’s game isn’t about progression, or rhythm. It’s about percussion and punishment. He’s like an odd time signature in that sense. It may not be typical, but that doesn’t mean the riff doesn’t hit any less hard. I’ve always been a fan of his scramble brawling. I think he has a real intuitive understanding of when to capitalize. Yes, a lot of punching was involved, but he’s submitted some very good grapplers, so this isn’t just an action fighter with a swole-ass grip. He’s got that too, but I think the Perez fight also revealed more attention to tactical detail.
It’s fitting that Ferguson is on the same card: another fighter who really built his game from the ‘ground up.’ Like Ferguson, you can say this led to some natural ups and downs (more strategic than anything). But there’s something else. More than just improve in certain areas to become elite, I think this sense of elapse has stuck with him within fights. He has a tinkerer’s mentality, and each fight presents to him a kind of method enterprise, like he’s trying to construct a new blueprint for each victory. It’s an approach that would never work in lesser hands. But Fig imbues every move with a disdain for inertia. Not a lot of fighters understand the importance of initiating. Maybe it’s their backgrounds. They still think a fight can be turned into a boxing match, or a grappling tournament. It’s not, and Deiveson getting that basic tenet makes him what he is. Split a piece of wood, and you will find him (fighting). Lift a stone, and he is there (fighting).
Phil: The transformation in Moreno’s game has all come from that jab, really, and when it has been taken away he has tended to revert to form. The basic calculus of his approach is that he can toy with the opponent’s responses from behind it, and if they step in to close, he just attempts to bury them with combinations. Similarly, in a southpaw matchup, like many jab-centric fighters (poor Jack Hermansson) he’s profoundly uncomfortable, and his old self reasserted itself against Brandon Royval as embodied in wanging overhand rights. However, even in his losses he has been immortally, incredibly tough, absorbing incredible punishment from Pantoja and (don’t laugh) Sergio Pettis without ever getting really badly hurt. He’s also been able to protect himself from the traditional exploit against super-tough fighters, which is submissions, because he is a remarkable grappler.
David: Moreno’s a meat of potatoes amalgam of some classic techniques with a cyberpunk attitude. I like what he does with his guard. He switches his defensive posture with a classic low guard — which is good for concealing the lead hand — and a cross guard — which gives the left hook a more natural flow. And sure enough, that’s exactly where his offense takes him. His left hand takes him all the places he wants to go, and typically, he’s leading with either a jab, or a left hook. The irony here is that he’s not actually that good with these techniques. There’s a reason why his punch accuracy is below average. And I think it’s because he seems less focused on landing specific strikes, and more focused on getting into the pocket for either more exchanges, or targeted scrambles. He does all of this at a frantic pace, and it paid dividends against someone like Formiga, who just seemed lost in the storm at times. But this feels like the Ferguson vs. Oliveira fight in that it’s super exciting, but also probably one-sided as all hell. Moreno doesn’t manage distance well, and like most MMA strikers, there’s just zero sense of defense beyond a checklist of different guard stances and backwards movement. Some of this is by design. Ducking is a potent strategy against a southpaw from orthodox, which I’d expect Fig to come out to for a minute. Just watch Erik Morales piece the Pac-man up with right hand counters (well, the first time at least). But I guess MMA fighters have to worry too much about knees? I don’t know. What I do know is that Moreno has a solid toolbox, but he doesn’t use some of his best tools (like that lead left high kick he cracked Dustin Ortiz and Kara-France with), and the ones that work are just your basic collection of hammers and nails. That can be good enough.
Insight from past fights
David: I mean, even Fig at his worst has never been damaged by anything in Moreno’s arsenal. Right? The other thing is that Figueiredo is gonna be a threat from orthodox, where Moreno’s face is a magnet to straight rights, or from southpaw, where Figueiredo can crack him either to the liver, or to the head with his rear leg. Figueiredo is also the superior, and more creative grappler. As I mentioned, Moreno is at his most dangerous when he’s doing more than just I Love Boxing. If he can throw the kitchen sank at Figueiredo, along with all the utensils and cleaning items, maybe he catches Fig with a left high kick, but man, this just feels like a brutal matchup. Perez was a little more tactically crisp, which is the only reason I thought he had a chance. Moreno is not a fighter I’d ever describe as ‘crisp’.
Phil: I’m less sure about the grappling advantage – I think Figueiredo is the more powerful threat from top position, but their common bouts against Formiga were illustrative in that Figueiredo got locked down for long positions, while Moreno was able to break off and neutralize Formiga’s ground game by the third. That being said, Moreno is not exactly a wrestler, so it’s hard to see how he gets the fight there. I think the more illustrative fights are Figueiredo-Pantoja-Moreno. These were pure machismo, tests of who could take it out and give it, and it’s notable that Pantoja’s counterpunching kept Moreno on the back foot, whereas Figueredo simply walked through Pantoja’s shots until he could punch him as hard as he possibly could.
David: I mean. Remember: Moreno’s Mexican! He loves to fight! It’s reasonable to ask: are there degrees to being Mexican, in which case, does it mean that the more Mexican he is, the MORE he loves to fight? Are there European stereotypes you think fall into this weird ratio scale? Given your Scottish surname, are you connected to enough Scottish history to feel obligated to enjoy a deep fried Mars bar? I’m sorry BE readers. I should take this seriously.
Phil: I still haven’t had a deep fried Mars bar. It’s one of the great regrets in my life, and something that my Scottish ancestors are likely weeping about even now 🙁
Phil: I do think this is a bit closer. I’m not sure if I trust Figueiredo to win a consistent range volume game with his weird “heavyweight flyweight” approach, and there’s a chance that Moreno rains in enough volume to get ahead and force Figueiredo to go on the lead, where he’s far less comfortable, in an odd redux of Yoel and BKnux. However, Moreno’s responses up close give me heavy concern. If he’s relying on scaring Figueiredo off with combinations up close… I don’t think that’s going to work? And while Moreno is incredibly durable, I don’t think I’ve ever really seen the champ hurt in a fight either, and the power differential is heavily on his side. Should be a banger. Deveison Figueiredo by TKO, round 3.
David: Your point about the grappling advantage is a point well-taken. I’d even add that I think you understate his wrestling: while not powerful, or overtly technical, he has an excellent sense of timing, and with a variety of high-low options, whether executing a straight double, or the bodylock. However, I semi-stand by Fig as being the superior grappler in the abstract: I think Moreno taps out to a guillotine if Fig catches him, whereas Moreno has had a lot of submission finishes, but not a lot have come in the UFC. I do think that’s a part of the fight not enough people are talking about so I’m glad you honed in on it. As tough as Moreno is, I can’t imagine a universe where that yellow life bar doesn’t have a red alert after taking one too many strikes. His defense isn’t strong enough to avoid getting clipped. I agree that Figueiredo might have more difficulty dealing with Moreno’s range than we assume. It’s easy to get lost in the violence gremlin worship. But Moreno isn’t accurate enough weaving strikes into the pocket for me to feel like he can accrue enough advantages to make Figueiredo feel pressured into initiating more than what’s comfortable with. Deiveison Figueiredo by TKO, round 4.
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