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2020 Year in Review: Men’s flyweight division

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

2020 was a wild year for MMA, that feels like it lasted a lifetime. With all the action that took place over the year, it’s hard to remember what took place. This series looks to help out with that, providing an overview on what happened in each weight class, and a look at what we can expect to come in 2021.

Year in Review

The Good

There’s a compelling argument to be made that 2020 was the best year ever in the history of the flyweight division. That’s tough to imagine with 125 pounds playing host to one of the greatest fighters ever for half a decade, but it certainly seems true right now. In 2020, not only did Deiveson Figueiredo assume the mantle of flyweight champion, he became the first fighter from the division to ever win Fighter of the Year honors. But perhaps the most impressive accomplishment for Figueiredo this year is he somehow made a believer out of Dana White. The man who as recently as last year was ready to put 125 on the chopping block, is now calling it one of the sport’s best divisions, which is a minor miracle.

Of course, Figueiredo wasn’t solely the reason for Dana White’s change of heart. In a year where things were constantly in flux, the flyweight consistently delivered high-octane action. Askar Askarov, Brandon Royval, and Alex Perez all rose to prominence in the division with numerous fights and excellent finishes. And, of course, there is Brandon Moreno who showed out to become the top contender in the division and then put on a Fight of the Year nominee with Figueiredo at UFC 256. All in all, it was a spectacular year for what at one time was the UFC’s least favorite division.

The Bad

2020 was a year to forget for most people, but in the flyweight division, no one would like to wipe their memory more than Joseph Benavidez. With both Demetrious Johnson and Henry Cejudo gone from the division, the longtime also-ran to Mighty Mouse appears to finally be in a position to claim the title that had eluded him for so long. Instead, he was knocked out by Figueiredo - twice. With four failed title attempts now to his name, and at 36 years old, it appears Benavidez is doomed to join the ranks of all-time great fighters who never won the belt.

The Ugly

Though the UFC now seems committed to the flyweight division for the foreseeable future, it still made some regrettable choices regarding it this year, most notably, releasing Jussier Formiga. Formiga has been a staple of the division’s top-five since its inception and even has a win over the current champion, just last year. His current three-fight losing skid has come against top-five opponents and he absolutely remains one of the best flyweights in the world, so cutting him, especially when with a win or two, they could set up a rematch between him and Figueiredo, that would be good business for building their champion’s star. It was a puzzling decision.

MVP

The MVP of a division is not just a question of “Who is the best fighter in the division?” Instead, it looks at who provided the most entertainment in the division over the course of the year, win or lose.

Unquestionably, the flyweight MVP for 2020 is Deiveson Figueiredo. Aside from being the overall 2020 Fighter of the Year, Figueiredo clearly had the most important bouts of the year and provided by far the most entertainment to fans. Figgy Smalls fought four times in 2020, turning in two submissions, one knockout, and a Fight of the Year contender. That’s on top of setting the record for fastest turnaround for a UFC champion. He also wore this outfit.

2020 was Deiveson Figueiredo’s year, we were all just along for the ride.

Honorable Mentions: Brandon Moreno, Brandon Royval, Alex Perez

Top flyweight fights of the year

Deiveson Figueiredo fight to a draw Brandon Moreno, UFC 256.

Deiveson Figueiredo submits Joseph Benavidez with a rear-naked choke, UFC Fight Island 2

Deiveson Figueiredo submits Alex Perez with a guillotine, UFC 255

Alex Perez TKO’s Jussier Formiga with leg kicks, UFC 250

Brandon Royval submits Tim Elliott with an arm-triangle choke, UFC Vegas 1

Brandon Royval submits Kai Kara-France with a guillotine choke, UFC 253

Su Mudaerji KOs Malcolm Gordon with punches, UFC Vegas 15

Jimmy Flick submits Cody Durden with a flying triangle, UFC Vegas 17

Tatsuki Saomoto KOs Yusaku Nakamura with punches, Rizin 23

Looking Ahead to 2021

As mentioned before, the flyweight division is currently in the best spot it has ever been in. It has a great, marketable champion, the UFC is finally showing it some love, and most important, it has the start of a strong rivalry to build on. Figueiredo and Moreno are almost sure to rematch early in 2021, and given how great their first fight was, the rematch will draw a lot of attention to the division. After that, there are no shortage of young, exciting contenders making their way up the ranks. Given Figueiredo’s willingness to fight often, we could be in store for multiple flyweight title fights next year, and if Figueiredo can keep his belt through all of that, he’ll be well on his way to achieving a level of stardom Demetrious Johnson never did. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats and right now, the water seems to be coming in on the flyweight division.