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UFC Norfolk: Despite missing weight, Figueiredo’s rise to title contention has been impressive

The UFC’s Flyweight division was on the verge of extinction not so long ago. Now, as a fresh new decade in the promotion is beginning to pick up some steam, the 125-pound division was all of a sudden looking for a new king to be crowned come Saturday night. A new champ may still emerge, but one of the contenders formerly in line to potentially inherit the gold, “The God of War” Deiveson Figueiredo (17-1), is no longer eligible to get the belt wrapped around his waist this weekend.

“Deus Da Guerra” in his native tongue, Figueiredo stepped onto the scales on Friday morning a little heavy. After weighing in two and a half pounds over the flyweight championship limit, he was advised by his nutritionist not to cut any further. And it’s a shame. A fight that had the makings of being a very exciting title contest is now scrapped because of a likely lapse in preparation. Now, the only way UFC Norfolk sees a new 125-pound champion emerge is if Joseph Benavidez gets his hand raised.

But nonetheless, Figueiredo’s sudden rise to be in this position has been nothing short of spectacular. And also surprising. The 32-year-old made his Octagon bow in June, 2017 — and despite being as consistent as one could be, his 6-1 overall run went relatively under the radar until very recently.

It felt like perhaps last years decision loss to Jussier Formiga would have pumped the brakes on Figueiredo’s title aspirations, but that was not the case in the slightest. The Brazilian bounced back instantly, fighting two more times that year, and looking arguably the best he has in his career.

The two other 2019 fights were an unanimous decision victory over Alexandre Pantoja and an electric submission triumph over Tim Elliott. Electric is a good way to describe Figueiredo in both of those fights as a matter of fact. That’s how he got people talking. The fight against Pantoja was a bit of a chaotic brawl but in a good sense of those words. Figueiredo never looked like the one who will come out on the wrong side of it and that’s also when his punching power at that weight class became apparent.

With that win, Figueiredo popped up on people’s radars — and the question then was how will he back that breakout performance up? Well, it was even more entertaining. A slick guillotine choke of Elliott further propelled Figueiredo as the 125-pound division’s showman, but also as a serious contender. His style in a way epitomizes what is exciting about a division that has often been labelled as not quite entertaining enough in the past.

And so, perhaps a little bit out of the blue, Figueiredo became the name on people’s lips when it came to flyweight title chatter. His enigmatic, unpredictable style brought a lot of intrigue to a potential matchup with Henry Cejudo. But we would soon learn that the self proclaimed “Triple C” would not defend his belt. Life at Bantamweight became too good to leave behind, but in the grand scheme of things, it may have been the ideal scenario for the flyweights.

Cejudo certainly played a part in the flyweight division still being here. And now, with his departure, there is life and value in that belt again. Straight away, Joseph Benavidez (28-5) vs. Figueiredo became the fight to make. The man who holds a win over Cejudo and has been the staple of the division for just under a decade against the man who was openly coming for everyone’s head. Scheduling that fight was a no brainer and with it there was some excitement around a 125-pound title fight once again, even though it was set to take place on a Fight Night.

It’s genuinely going to be interesting to see how this fight plays out and where the division goes from there. Especially now in this newly developed scenario. If Figueiredo gets the victory, the division will essentially remain champion-less. That would inevitably make the talks of scrapping it resurface. With that, there is extra incentive there to win it for Benavidez. He will not only fight for his first taste of the UFC gold — he will also be competing to keep his beloved division, and maybe even his job, in tact.

Benavidez could not boast a reputation of being a “keep you on the edge of your seat” kind of fighter for the better part of the last five years. But with that said, two of his last three wins have been stoppages. That bodes quite well in a matchup against an energetic fighter that is Figueiredo, who is always looking for a knockout.

The storyline of this fight just got a whole lot more interesting with Figueiredo’s weight cut blunder. It could end up being a blessing in disguise if Benavidez comes out victorious. But should “The God of War” pull out another impressive victory, the fate of the flyweights will once again be in jeopardy.


Sports journalist based in CA, USA. Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

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