Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Alex Perez this November 21, 2020 at ‘UFC 255 - ‘FIGUEIREDO VS PEREZ’ from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States.
One sentence summary
David: Flyweight Never Die
Phil: A new generation of powerful, dynamic, physical and discarded flyweights
Record: Deiveson Figueiredo 19-1 Alex Perez 24-5
Odds: Deiveson Figueiredo -300 Alex Perez +250
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: Flyweight isn’t the most stable division, which is what makes Deiveson being the champ so fitting. He’s a pretty volatile dude. Between losing the big contender fight against Jussier Formiga before getting a shot at the title, and then missing weight to make the title fight against Jospeh Benavidez the first go-around irrelevant, we’ve got a long way to go before flyweight officially finds its legs. But Deiveson’s last fight was like aeons of repressed flyweight angst getting unleashed on Benavidez like a plague of locusts. You won’t see a more encyclopedic beatdown of another man. So now the question is, what have we learned? Is it a sign of things to come, or just a sign of what Deiveson can do when the stars are aligned? Perez is not a household name, but he’s got the ability to make flyweight his house.
Phil: He’s a bull-fighting hairdresser and chef who melts people with punches and/or chokes them dead. That being said I don’t think Figueiredo is the cure to the promotional malaise that has affected flyweight, but as champ he certainly represents a shift of gears from DJ. The flaws are more obvious but the strengths are more pronounced, and his style is going to ask different questions. Primarily around violence, machismo and physicality.
David: Coming out of the Contender series, I didn’t think too much of Perez. Not because he was bad but because he came across as a well-rounded do-gooder. Slick submissions, solid transition fighting, and boxing chops are pretty standard skills for flyweight. That’s what I think makes flyweight so great for MMA nerds, but frustrating for the UFC’s bottom line. The parity is so much higher, once you get into the upper echelon of fighters, the interactions are less about the dominant skillset one fighter can impose on the other, and more about the accumulation of advantages as the tide favors one fighter over the other. It starts to resemble boxing more than MMA, where rhythm and flow is the predominant tone rather than the traditional abruptness that defines MMA. Can Perez capitalize on this? Absolutely. Despite getting blitzed by Benavidez, I think Perez is a much more dangerous opponent in an abstract sense. But we’ll get to that.
Phil: Perez has been one of flyweights recent developmental success stories. Like Brandon Moreno, who also makes his way on this card, there was a time where he looked somewhat developmentally adrift: unsure of how to cohere a power wrestling and volume striking attack, and trying to wrap his head around a lack of defence. His fight against Formiga gave us the best look at the man he was trying to become: a cautious range striker with vicious power in close and the wrestling to either protect or juice that approach up, as necessary.
What’s at stake?
David: For all the discussion surrounding flyweight, and its marketability I think you keep it around not only because the UFC should, but because what could be more exciting than an entire community of people hanging in the balance for arbitrary reasons? Cough. Cough. Elections. Cough.
Phil: I mentioned this on Heavy Hands, but I do think this fight has a chance to be flyweights Lawler-Hendricks I. Capturing that tone shift and physical moment in the transition.
Where do they want it?
David: I used this word in the sideboard piece I wrote, and I want to expand on it: looseness. Deiveson employs a rugged looseness to his attack that really defines his approach. He’s not intentionally foregoing raw technique, but his body moves forward in a way that suggests raw technique doesn’t matter. He’s a Whatever’s Available style of fighter, which I think is unique in any division. It’s not always a good thing. Formiga exploited it with his trademark tactical focus. Jarred Brooks’ basic attack became an uphill battle because of it. Even Alexandre Pantoja found himself gaining ground because of Deiveson’s unhinged pressure. Nonetheless, it’s all come together for him, in part because flyweight isn’t used to anything other than a rigid adherence to technical transitions and speedy exchanges. This makes Deiveson’s talents sound crude. Like flyweight’s Otzi man. That’s because it is. But within that crude cooker of right hand beats and slap chokes is a gauged brawler. He swung for the fences against Pantoja because that’s what Pantoja gave him. He timed the Big One against Benavidez because that’s left Benavidez left open. By fighting with tone over tactics, I think opponents get lost in the oddball fight groove he establishes. Obviously, he’s still plenty talented. He has power, and that somehow resonates with his grappling too through what you might charitably call submission brawling, but in the end, it’s a fight. Not a game. And Deiveson brings the fight like few others.
Phil: Figueiredo has increasingly been fighting out of a long, bladed stance and it’s sort of remarkable how little the approach he has built from there fits into the traditional flyweight metagame. Where most have built for footspeed and volume, Fig runs a few step back counters and uppercuts, and a long lancing jab and some corralling hooks on the front foot. Presence does a lot of work for him: he doesn’t actively pressure much, preferring to draw the opponent onto shots and riding out the differentials in power and chin, but when he does get people moving backwards he has a remarkable sense for how to intercept movement, as evidenced by the way he dropped both Pantoja and Benavidez as they skirted the cage. He’s not an active wrestler but has shown filthy ground and pound and an evil opportunistic sub game.
David: Perez offers a unique challenge. Not in terms of any one skill, but in terms of his hard-edged focus. This is how I would have described Formiga a few years ago. Yes, Perez lacks the smooth, graceful talent that Formiga had in his prime. But since coming off the show I’ve seen nothing but things I like. His boxing combinations overstay their welcome a bit (which could be especially dangerous for him against someone like Deiveson), but he sways into each pocket flurry with enough movement and setups to avoid getting punished at range, or once inside. It’s a fun bit of Stand Your Ground pugilism that we don’t see often enough - at least at the upper levels. I used to think that his fundamentals looked off at times. In the pocket, his looping combinations seem ripe for counters, but he’s quick and shelled up enough to keep from being too telegraphed. Then I realized it’s because of my MMA tunnel vision. I don’t think we’re used to seeing fighters translate raw techniques into the cage wholesale. His boxing sometimes looks like straight boxing. Few fighters can create that much offense in such a confined space. But that’s because Perez is doing what boxers do in the pocket: ignoring the legs, and using the hips to generate power in close across the central axis. Still, I don’t know if our sample size is big enough to tell where Perez is at. The Formiga win was big, but blowing out a dude’s leg with calf kicks just a few minutes into the fight is not the kind of thing to hang your insight hat on. Regardless, the more weapons he can bring to this fight the better off he’ll be.
Phil: Perez also feels like a weird fighter when contextualized within the dynamics of what we thought of as the traditional dynamics of flyweight. Like Fig, he fights BIG. Power and range are even more heavily emphasized over speed, and whereas Figueiredo ushers opponents into that empty space created by his size and stance in order to crush them, Perez has been building a range game behind a generous dose of feints, jabs and low kicks while staying over his feet. Like Figueiredo, he was able to dismantle an old Guard staple who was more used to blitzing and movement exchanges. Perez probably has a few more physical flaws to cover than Fig: while neither is defensively great, Figueiredo simply appears to have the better chin, and Perez’ developmental struggles have also arguable been down to the aforementioned lack of speed. Still, he figures to ask some fascinating questions: can jabs and low kicks draw Fig out? Can he make a physical wrestling game work?
Insight from past fights
David: This is one of those rare instances where multiple matchups against common opponents still doesn’t tell us anything. For one, can we agree that their respective Benavidez fights tell us absolutely nothing? I still don’t know what to make of the Perez bout. A scramble begins, Yves Lavigne forgot to do his job, and the concussion goblins reached out and grabbed Perez like an Army of Darkness gag? I found the fight weird. Perez didn’t seem hurt until Benavidez possibly hit him in the back of the head? On the other end, Deiveson performed the equivalent of killing someone, and then reanimating their corpse for a second kill. It’s another fight I don’t think really taught us anything. While I consider the Formiga against Deveison broadly instructive, Perez doesn’t have the movement and speed to draw out offense the way Formiga did. As good as I think Deiveson is, it’s possible we get something like the Pantoja fight, but in reverse, with Perez cleanly winning exchanges, rinsing, and repeating.
Phil: The weirdest fight on Figueiredo’s run is still Jarred Brooks. For someone who makes his way on size and physicality, it was bizarre to see Fig get broadly outwrestled by someone so tiny. Yes he has improved immensely and handled the grappling of (also pretty small!) Joe B very well, but that Formiga fight wasn’t too long ago either.
David: Perez wants to be in the pocket, and Deiveson collides into pockets. Headbutts could be a problem.
Phil: When have either of these men fought anyone with size parity? Will we get a moment of the two of them metaphorically pointing at one another in two Spidermen dot jpeg recognition? AH, YOU ARE ALSO A BIG PERSON, RELATIVELY SPEAKING.
David: I’ve seen comparisons to Yoel Romero, and I have to co-sign there when it comes to Figueiredo. It’s not that they have anything in common technique, or style-wise but that both men don’t always balance the scale of physical gifts against tactical ones. While Perez is no Robert Whittaker, I can see the technical pocket pressure take the place of Whittaker’s assertive creativity to achieve something similar. Of course, the big difference there is that Deiveson actively selects different modes of attack whereas Romero is closer to some strange nomad, still searching for the right weapon even after using it. I’m completely baffled but I’m gonna err on the side of technique even though I prefer chaos. If Perez were simply some boxer/puncher with a well-rounded skillset, I’d favor Figueiredo. But Perez boxes with a solid degree of finesse. His ability to calibrate the two is where I think the advantages build and build until Deiveson simply loses in the eyes of the judges. Alex Perez by Decision.
Phil: I do see a lot of ways for Perez to make hay in this fight: he can pick up a volume and initiation edge at range, he may be able to force wrestling exchanges with more physicality than anyone prior. However, I think the Joe B fight does show those two dangerous factors: speed and durability. Can he catch Figueiredo with pure footspeed to make that range game work? Can he survive when he does? I have to see it. Deveison Figueiredo by TKO, round 2