Less than one month after becoming UFC champion with a first-round win over Joseph Benavidez, Figueiredo said in an interview with MMA Fighting that he remains “the same man” since acquiring the belt, but he’s noticed more attention from the media lately. The new champ also has the attention of every other fighter in his division, and he knows he can’t slow down.
“I own the belt now, so I have to keep changing my game,” Figueiredo said. “I’m the man today, and everybody will study my game. To avoid getting figured out and make sure they don’t get the belt away from me, I’ll travel more and add more weapons to my style.”
Figueiredo won 19 of his 20 professional bouts and became the UFC flyweight champion by training mostly in Soure and Belem, cities located in the Northern area of Brazil. Once the COVID-19 pandemic slows down and travel restrictions are no longer a reality, he plans to fly to Thailand to work on his muay Thai, “sharpening my elbows and knees for my next fights,” and improve his stand-up game with kung fu and kickboxing. Offensive and defensive wrestling, as well as boxing and jiu-jitsu, are on his list, too.
The UFC has yet to determine who will be Figueiredo’s first challenger, but names like Brandon Moreno, Askar Askarov, and even Cody Garbrandt pop up as strong possibilities. A long list of contenders excites the Brazilian, who believes he’s still underestimated by his peers.
“To me, they see me as a weak fighter, someone easy to be beaten, and every time I fight I show them I’m not that guy,” Figueiredo said. “I’m a strategist, a killer. I can kill their games and knock them out with ease. I can submit them. I can describe what will happen in the fight. I can see it way before it happens. They better be prepared, because I’m ready to knock out every single one of them.”
Garbrandt has teased a move to flyweight and a title fight against “Deus da Guerra” this year, and MMA Fighting learned that the UFC was interested in that idea just days after Figueiredo’s title win.
While the champ isn’t opposed to the challenge of fighting Garbrand, he’s only interested after “No Love” shows the world he can make 125 pounds and get a flyweight win inside the octagon.
“We want him to prove he can make 125 pounds and fight someone in my weight class,” Figueiredo said. “After that, if he wins, he can come fight me. But we don’t agree with him coming down and skipping the line and going straight for the belt against me. He needs to prove he can make 125 and fight someone. It would be unfair if the UFC puts him straight for the belt. I think the UFC has to respect the others that worked hard for a title shot.”
On the “others,” Figueiredo is torn between Moreno and Askarov. They met in the octagon one year ago in a fight that ended in a split draw. Moreno has since defeated Kai Kara-France and Jussier Formiga, while Askarov has scored wins over Tim Elliott and Alexandre Pantoja.
“I think Brandon Moreno would be a great fight, or even [Askarov],” Figueiredo said. “It’s up to the UFC to decide which one is next. I guarantee you I can tell you right now what would happen.”
And what exactly is that?
“I would definitely submit Moreno, brother,” Figueiredo said. “And Askarov, I would knock him out just to show him my boxing is better.”
One of the dark horses in the flyweight title picture right now is Manel Kape, a former RIZIN bantamweight champion who waits for a new date to make his octagon debut after a cancelled UFC bout with Rogerio Bontorin. Kape joined the promotion after three straight knockouts in Japan in 2019, including a championship victory over Kai Asakura.
Speaking with MMA Fighting in July, Kape said “100 percent I will smash” Figueiredo when they meet in the cage.
“What’s his name?” Figueiredo responded. “Manel Kape… Manel Kape. I don’t know him, and I would love to know him. Let him prove he deserves a title shot first, because everyone that came from [Asia] to the UFC got beat, some even in their first fight. Let him prove he belongs among the best, otherwise he’s definitely getting knocked out if he gets in front of me.”