Somehow, some way, the UFC found a championship bout for its last pay-per-view of the year.
Given the strength of Saturday’s card, its easy to forget that along the way we lost a trio of title bouts that were at some point tied to UFC 256 in the last few months. Amanda Nunes, Kamaru Usman, and Petr Yan were all in the mix to defend their titles in December, but the chaotic wheel of MMA rapidly turned to send their matchups hurtling into the unknown.
Fortunately, fans are still getting a good one as flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno are already making history by booking the fastest turnaround ever for a UFC titleholder and a challenger. Both men were victorious at the UFC APEX three weeks ago and with they now find themselves with the chance to not only end the year with gold around their waist, but also as the front-runner for standout fighter of 2020.
The co-main event between Tony Ferguson and Charles Oliveira would be worthy of headlining status on almost any other occasion. Ferguson’s amazing 12-fight win streak was recently snapped in a brutal battle with Justin Gaethje and with his 37th birthday just around the corner there is a question of just how much “El Cucuy” has left considering the scraps he’s already been involved in.
For Oliveira, it’s a chance to finally get a win over the top-5 opponent that he’s long been chasing. “Do Bronx” has maybe been too dangerous for his own good, finishing opponents at such an absurd rate that the contenders at the top of his division have thought twice about giving him his shot. It shouldn’t be surprising that it’s the fearless Ferguson who is giving Oliveira his crack at becoming a legitimate challenger for a lightweight championship.
In other main card action, rising strawweight star Mackenzie Dern meets fellow grappling specialist Virna Jandiroba, Kevin Holland looks to go 5-0 in 2020 when he takes on perennial middleweight contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and Junior dos Santos looks to hand blue-chip heavyweight prospect Ciryl Gane his first loss.
What: UFC 256
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, Dec. 12. The card begins with a lone early preliminary bout at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+, followed by a four-fight preliminary card on ESPN+ and ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET airing exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
The striking of Deiveson Figueiredo should make all the difference in this championship matchup.
This isn’t a criticism of Brandon Moreno either. There simply isn’t anyone at flyweight right now who can match Figueiredo’s standup power (I see you Manel Kape, don’t worry) and combined with his grappling acumen, there’s a reason why many are foreseeing a long title reign for “Deus da Guerra.”
Moreno has a chance, especially if he can get this fight to the ground and manufacture scrambles. The unpredictable approach of “The Assassin Baby” is feature, not a bug, and in this fight it could be a major asset. Not since Tim Elliott has Figueiredo faced an opponent that can make things ugly and completely take him out of his game. It didn’t work out for Elliott, but the speedier Moreno could have more success.
Moreno is also super tough, but how long can anyone realistically withstand a focused onslaught from Figueiredo? There’s going to be some calculated takedown attempts from Moreno once the fists start flying and if he can’t get Figueiredo down early, they’re only going to tire him out. There just isn’t enough of a gap in the grappling department to favor Moreno here, while the difference in striking is impossible to ignore.
Make it two successful title defenses in three weeks for Figueiredo, who will score a knockout before the championship rounds.
Don’t count me among those calling Tony Ferguson’s lightweight supremacy a thing of the past just yet.
I’ve seen Ferguson come back from adversity too many times to believe that a simple loss will somehow send his career on a downward spiral. He’s looked as loose as ever this week, maybe even more jovial than usual, and that kind of attitude is a good thing to see for a fighter making his 18th UFC appearance. If Ferguson is burnt out, he’s not showing it.
As refreshed as he may be, he’ll also have to deal with the raw hunger of Charles Oliveira. “Do Bronx” has been making mincemeat out of the competition at 155 pounds, with six straight wins in which none of his opponents made it past the second round. He’s become supremely confident on the feet, which in addition to his supernatural submission skills all but guarantees him a UFC title shot someday.
I just don’t think it happens at the expense of Ferguson. He’s still one of the best five lightweights in the world until proven otherwise. Oliveira has all the talent in the world to take Ferguson’s spot in the rankings, so this is no indictment of his potential, it just says how highly I think of Ferguson’s abilities and his reputation.
Ferguson by knockout.
We all want this to be a grappling fan’s delight, an ADCC matchup that just so happens to be taking place inside of a UFC cage with some additional face-punching. But the pessimist in me fears that Mackenzie Dern and Virna Jandiroba’s A+ grappling games will neutralize each other and we’ll see them resort to their B and C skills.
There’s certainly entertainment to be had in that, watching fighters have to round out their games on the fly. Should this turn into a striking battle, I give Dern the slight edge based on the glimpses of power and speed she’s shown. Even with an experience advantage, Jandiroba still doesn’t look comfortable on the feet and her strikes are usually a means to an end as opposed to an effective method of victory. I at least think Dern has a chance of landing a hard shot that hurts Jandiroba.
Hopefully we do get to see these two show off on the ground because there’s the potential for some beautiful, complex jiu-jitsu exchanges. It’s definitely more of a coin toss on the mat given their expertise and I think someone finds a submission if they’re grappling for most of the fight.
I’m expecting more of a wild, unpredictable fight (think Demian Maia vs. Ben Askren) and for Dern to have her hand raised via decision.
There are levels to this. Just how many levels is Kevin Holland ready to jump up?
Considering that Holland is also on the short list for Fighter of the Year, there’s good reason to be excited about his chances of toppling the mighty “Jacare.” He’s shown how fast, versatile, and skilled he is in his four wins this year, and while there are still questions about his consistency, the 28-year-old “Trailblazer” has the tools to be a top-10 guy for years to come.
Souza is such a step up for him though. Who are Holland’s best wins so far? Darren Stewart? Joaquin Buckley? Gerald Meerschaert? With respect to those names, Jacare probably runs through them on a bad day. On the ground, if Holland tries to play around down there, he’s toast. So maturity is one of the deciding factors in this bout.
We’ve seen Holland grow by leaps and bounds over the past seven months, enough that I see him being able to put it all together for at least one night to take Souza out. I don’t see Holland putting him away, but Souza hasn’t had much luck with decisions in recent years and Holland can win this on the scorecards.
I’m just going to write it. I don’t want to, but I have to: Junior dos Santos can’t hang with the heavy hitters of his division anymore.
Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but it still sucks to just lay it out there like that. So much of what made dos Santos a world champion and a fan favorite is still present in his game. The crisp striking, the fast hands, the in-cage intelligence. But one thing is definitely not the same and that’s his defense and durability. In his prime, dos Santos’ technical superiority allowed him to stay a step ahead of the always dangerous heavyweight division; at nearly 37 years old, that’s not enough to compensate for his diminishing physical gifts.
Especially when we’re dealing with a stud like Ciryl Gane. He’s freakishly light on his feet, looking more like a welterweight than a heavyweight at times. But he absolutely has heavyweight power. Since joining the UFC, he’s had to finish on the ground rather than with his hands, but the potential for a quick KO is always going to be there for Gane. It will just be a matter of figuring out dos Santos’ timing.
It’s not fun to count out dos Santos and it’s possible that he’s too stiff of a challenge for Gane at this point in Gane’s career. I just don’t see anything holding Gane back right now.
Prove me wrong, JDS. Please.