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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Norfolk

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MMA: UFC Fight Night-Norfolk-Benavidez vs Figueiredo Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Joseph Benavidez has had a mixed bag of good and bad luck in being a top-five competitor consistently in the eight years since the UFC first established the flyweight division.

For almost that entire period, he would have been among the top three in the division. It’s a level of longevity at the top that not a lot of fighters can match. But the bad luck is even being in that position, he hadn’t had a title shot in more than six years.

The good luck is that there is such a division, which the UFC was in the process of eliminating. While Benavidez was a top bantamweight before the flyweights were added in the UFC, much has changed in the landscape of the smaller weight classes and things would be likely far more difficult for Benavidez when it comes to giving up size than in the old WEC days.

After six years, his story of waiting for that elusive title shot seemed to have ended Saturday. He suffered a devastating knockout loss to Deiveson Figueiredo in Norfolk, Va. But the story in the last few days looks like it may have an added chapter since the UFC still doesn’t have a flyweight champion.

Figueiredo missed weight by 2.5 pounds, a substantial amount when you are talking the 125-pound weight class, for a fight for the title that Henry Cejudo vacated after winning the bantamweight title. Figueiredo was significantly larger in the cage, to the point his not cutting all the way, a decision out of his hands, but still what happened, gave him a noticeable size edge.

Still, Benavidez looked to have won the first round, although it was competitive and exciting. The second round offered more of the same with both men connecting on strong punches until their heads collided. Benavidez had a deep cash on his forehead, and was bleeding heavily. He was then was knocked out with a punch seconds later.

Dana White has already talked about wanting to bring it back. He cited both the head-butt and Figueiredo missing weight. It’s always a problem in MMA when a fighter misses weight and then comes in larger, and in doing so, derails a contender on the way up. Or in this case, derails filling a vacant championship. Just the fact that Figueiredo is a lock for the next shot at the vacant title means that even though he lost money on the night for missing weight, he was ultimately rewarded for it.

There is no way of knowing what would happen if both fighters were on weight. And there is no way of knowing what would happen if they were on weight and their heads didn’t collide. Still, in situations like this, the losing fighter, even though he would have a legit gripe, would in most cases not get a rematch coming off such a devastating looking knockout.

The difference here is the lack of depth in the division.

Right now, there are three men at the top, Figueiredo, who just missed weight. Benavidez, who was knocked out and Jussier Forminga (23-6), who Benavidez knocked out but who is the only fighter to beat Figueiredo. Formiga’s spot in the big three is up for grabs on March 14 in Brasilia, Brazil, when he faces Brandon Moreno.

A strong win by Formiga could change the equation, while a Moreno loss would strengthen Benavidez’s position as being in the next match for the vacant title that Figueiredo clinched by the win.

In a deeper division, the devastating nature of the knockout may have taken Benavidez out of consideration for a title match, and at 35 in a speed division, it could have been for good, but Dana White revealed recently that a rematch between Benavidez and Figueiredo is likely next.

Let’s look at how Fortunes Changed for Five Stars of Saturday’s show.

JOSEPH BENAVIDEZ - If Benavidez doesn’t get the spot in the next fight for the vacant title, and it goes to Formiga, his next opponent should be Alexandre Pantoja (22-4), with the winner of that fight being a lock to be the next title contender.

FELICIA SPENCER - Spencer (8-1) finished Zarah Fairn (6-4) via strikes on the ground at 3:37 of the first round. Women’s featherweight is the most shallow division in the company. It was created for Cris Cyborg, who is gone, and who dominated Spencer when they met last year. During the Cyborg reign, it was about bringing up bantamweights who were undersized and not able to handle the champion. That was until Amanda Nunes, the top bantamweight, knocked her out.

Just due to lack of alternatives, Spencer’s win, combined with an earlier win over Megan Anderson, makes her the top contender if Nunes returns to defend her title. And if Nunes doesn’t, Spencer and Anderson (11-4) would likely have to meet again for the vacant title, simply because there is nobody else unless another bantamweight is asked to move up.

MAGOMED ANKALAEV - Ankalaev (14-1) had one of the strangest fights in recent memory. Opponent Ion Cutelaba (15-5, 1 no contest) tried to literally walk through him during the introductions which caused security, arriving late, to have to jump in between them. Then the two threw big punches and kicks, Cutelaba took a shot that clearly hurt him but he was still swinging back, and ref Kevin MacDonald stopped it just 38 seconds in. The stoppage was the worst one in a long time. That, combined with the fact that was one of the hottest fight opens there has been, means they should bring the fight back. If not, a good opponent for Ankalaev would be the debuting former Rizin light heavyweight champion Jiri Prochazka (26-3-1).

GRANT DAWSON - Dawson (15-1) missed weight by 3.5 pounds and dominated Darrick Minner (24-11). A good next test for Dawson would be Cub Swanson (26-11). But it’s another case where a fighter is seemingly rewarded with an upward career trajectory while badly missing weight.

MARCIN TYBURA - Tybura (18-6) won a decision over Serghei Spivac (10-2) in the heavyweight division. A good next fight for Tybura would be Sergei Pavlovich (14-1).