When manager Wallid Ismail called with the news on Thursday night, UFC flyweight Deiveson Figueiredo couldn’t believe it. Double-champ Henry Cejudo had relinquished the 125-pound title, and the flyweight title was vacant. The UFC wanted Figueiredo to face Joseph Benavidez for the belt at UFC Norfolk.
“Deus da Guerra” had doubts that Cejudo would ever return to flyweight, especially after hearing rumors that the Olympic gold medalist had gained some weight while sidelined with a shoulder injury. He also watched Cejudo call out newly minted bantamweight Jose Aldo.
Figueiredo expected Benavidez would fight for an interim belt if Cejudo left the division. But when he got the call to fight for undisputed gold, he was shocked.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to cry or laugh,” Figueiredo told MMA Fighting.
The Brazilian knockout artist called his parents before shooting a text message to his teammates to share the good news. One day later, Figueiredo said he was in “war mode.”
Figueiredo doesn’t like the way Benavidez criticized him or pulling out of a planned bout earlier this year; the flyweights were booked for UFC 233 before the whole card was cancelled. The company wanted to move their fight to Jan. 19, but it was too soon for Figueiredo, who was still battling an injury and needed that extra week to make weight.
“It’s time to make this guy swallow everything he said about me,” said Figueiredo. “Benavidez is a phenom. I’ve watched this guy fight even before I got in the UFC, so it’s an honor for me to fight someone like him. I can’t underestimate him. He’s really tough.
“I have to go there to kill this guy. There’s no respect inside the Octagon. I’m going there to kill him and get what’s mine.”
Benavidez has only lost five of 32 professional bouts and has only been by now-former flyweight king Demetrious Johnson. Figueredo has finished 14 of 17 opponents and believes he can get it done in Norfolk on Feb. 29.
“I want to knock this guy out,” Figueiredo said. “I won’t do any gesture that might offend him after the fight. Our war is in there. After that, we’re cool. I’ll just celebrate my victory.”
Figueiredo is confident that the 125-pound weight class “is definitely safe” after Cejudo dismantled T.J. Dillashaw and finished Marlon Moraes this year, and he vows to be a great champion going forward.
There’s no promise to be as theatrical as Cejudo outside the cage, but just as dominant as lightweight star Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“I’m coming to dominate the belt and prove I can hold it for a long time,” said Figueiredo. “I want to go there and knock Benavidez out to get what is mine. I’m here to win the belt. I’ve said that since day one, I’m in the UFC to get the belt. And I’ve done everything I was set out to do. It’s time now.”