Sometimes it’s the cards that look great on paper that deliver the best fights. UFC 256 was a fantastically booked event from top to bottom, and proved that on the night with some remarkable action. In the main event, Deiveson Figueiredo scraped by with his title intact after a superhuman effort from Brandon Moreno to wrest it away from him. Charles Oliveira finally fully emerged as an elite lightweight in the co-main, dominating former interim champ Tony Ferguson. And Kevin Holland did his own work to put himself firmly among the middleweight top 10.
So, we gotta get Figueiredo vs. Moreno 2, right? Is there anyone among the lightweight top 5 that’s gonna be willing to take on Oliveira? And who among the middleweight elite is ready to get smacked by the ‘Smack Man’?
To answer those questions – and a whole lot more – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights.
Was he ill on the night? Did he not have a chance to put together a real fight camp on such short notice? Or did Brandon Moreno just show that if an opponent can survive Figueiredo’s power and dynamic offense, there are gaps to be exploited? Probably some combination of all three. Notably, whenever Figueiredo has had to go the distance, his fights have felt close. He rarely puts a lot of distance between himself and opponents with volume or control, relying instead on power to prove the difference in the Octagon. It should be fascinating to see if more and better preparation the second time around gives ‘Deus da Guerra’ a bigger edge or gives Moreno a chance to really solve him. We know the rematch is coming, so now it’s just about who can make the adjustments.
An unquestionably remarkable performance from Brandon Moreno. Figueiredo hit him with shots to the head and body that likely would have put away every single other flyweight in the division. Moreno only buckled down and came back for more, and more, and more. His improved boxing game, and always outstanding scrambling ground skills have turned him into what should be a perennial threat at the top of 125, and earned him a immediate second crack at the belt off this draw. White says they’ll book a rematch of the fight for 2021. I already can’t wait. Figueiredo vs. Moreno 2 should be fireworks.
Pure dominance from Oliveira tonight. He proved his game has truly evolved into that of a dangerous title contender. With Khabib’s status unknown (or simply the UFC unwilling to actually admit he’s gone), who Oliveira should fight next is a little up in the air. This was the kind of performance that should get him a title shot. But, with McGregor vs. Poirier on the horizon it seems likely that a Conor win there would push the UFC to work overtime to deliver Khabib vs. McGregor 2. So while – at least publicly – Oliveira should keep the pressure on to have his name involved in the UFC 257 headliner, behind the scenes, he’d probably be better served to figure out who Michael Chandler’s debut is going to be against, and try to get the winner of that fight. If all that fails, there’s always Gaethje. Charles Oliveira vs. the Poirier/McGregor winner is the fight he deserves. Chandler or Gaethje are probably more realistic. (We’ll probably end up with Oliveira vs. RDA, just because it’s the least interesting option.)
Rough loss for Ferguson. Coming off that brutal Gaethje fight, there were plenty of people concerned ‘El Cucuy’ may have lost a step. But Oliveira somewhat beggared that question. With that armbar late in round 1, Ferguson’s left was pretty much dead all the rest of the way. From there it was just a matter of Oliveira turning the fight into a grappling match every chance he got. He flowed over Ferguson like we’ve never seen an opponent do before. That puts a likely stop to any of T-Ferg’s title hopes, but it shouldn’t spell the end of his time as an elite action fighter. Bouts against Paul Felder, Dan Hooker, or Drew Dober would all make good sense. It seems like there’s more interest in Hooker facing Michael Chandler at the moment. So, with Felder off his own recent loss, Paul Felder vs. Tony Ferguson is the obvious fight to book. Two top-flight lightweights still among the best in the world, but both a long way from contender status right now. Felder vs. Ferguson feels like it should happen before both men walk away from MMA.
Dern’s game still isn’t pretty standing up, but she’s got an undeniable determination to assert her fight in the cage. Non-stop aggression coupled with constant power and a ground game no one wants to test means opponents either have to have way better footwork than her, or hope they can catch her with something big wading in. Jandiroba couldn’t make either happen, so she ends up as another victim on the BJJ ace’s record. That should line Dern up for one of a couple fights, either against Marina Rodriguez or Angela Hill. Between those, I’m most interested to see the Rodriguez fight, but Rodriguez has just been slotted in to face Amanda Ribas at UFC 257. Given Ribas already has a win over Dern, it wouldn’t make much sense for Dern to take on either woman coming out of that bout. So let’s go with Mackenzie Dern vs. Angela Hill. Another chance for Hill to show she can keep a fight standing if she has to. And a much more technical striker than Jandiroba for Dern to test her striking against. Hill vs. Dern seems like a reasonable next test to see if Dern can really be a contender.
It looked like everything was going wrong from the outset for Holland. He threw a naked low kick that was instantly picked off for a takedown and put him deep in the scramble with Jacare all the rest of the way. But somehow, while flat on his back, with Jacare looking to pass his guard, he landed the wildest damn right hand I’ve ever seen. Just a whipping club from a position that shouldn’t hurt anyone, but rocked the hell out of the BJJ master. That puts Holland on 5 straight victories in 2020. And after this, there’s no way he’s not getting a name opponent next time out. He called for a fight against Khamzat Chimaev next week. But that seems incredibly unlikely. Instead, the winner of Ian Heinisch vs. Kelvin Gastelum is gonna need to fight someone. Might as well be Kevin Holland. Holland vs. the Heinisch/Gastelum winner is a great chance for the ‘Smack Man’ to reassert his top 10 bonafides after his best win to date.
One of the most shocking decisive losses of Jacare’s career. Certainly his first bad loss since Robert Whittaker back in 2017. But unlike the Whittaker bout, this was a fight where absolutely everything seemed to be going Jacare’s way right to the end. At 41 time had to start catching up to him sooner or later, and today may have just been the day. Unfortunately, with all his time in the UFC, most of the fights that make sense he’s already taken. He could take on the Gastelum/Heinisch loser, or rematch Chris Weidman (whether he wins or loses against Uriah Hall). But if Luke Rockhold is still planning on making his MMA return, then a rematch of their classic Strikeforce battle seems like one of the most meaningful bouts he could get. Jacare vs. Rockhold 2, to see which former Strikeforce champ still has something left to offer.
A fantastically controlled performance from Gane, who did to JDS what JDS used to do to lesser strikers: stuck him out at range behind consistent light offense and used that to set the table for bigger harder shots. Dos Santos seemed to have no clue what to do with Gane at kicking range. And once he started getting hurt, the end was nigh. This win should rocket Gane up the heavyweight standings, and likely means he’ll have an even tougher opponent next time out. Unfortunately most of the top 15 at heavyweight is either currently booked or riding a loss. Bouts with Augusto Sakai and Blagoi Ivanov don’t seem especially notworthy options. But, there is another ferocious heavyweight striker, whose best win is also a second round KO of JDS. It feels a bit early in their careers for the two men to square off, but given how limited Jairzinho Rozenstruik’s game is, this should provide an especially meaningful test of Gane’s kickboxing bonafides. Gane vs. Rozenstruik for the battle of fast rising heavyweight strikers.
Swanson looked great against a Daniel Pineda who clearly felt he could walk through whatever Cub dished out. Instead he found himself walking onto the kinds of punches his chin just couldn’t take. A vintage performance from Swanson that proves he’s still the guy you have to get by to be considered part of the featherweight elite. That should put him right back in position to take on another streaking prospect. Fights against the likes of Dan Ige, Bryce Mitchell, Giga Chikadze, or Grant Dawson would all make a lot of sense. Just looking at that list makes me realize the fight I gotta see out of it is Swanson vs. Chikadze. The Georgian’s sniping power kickboxing style should make for a fantastic style clash with Swanson’s busy creativity. And at this point, it’s hard to deny Chikadze needs a big step up. Swanson vs. Chikadze could be another Dooho Choi-esque war.
Fiziev has only impressed more and more after an especially rough introduction to the UFC. And now he’s picked up a big KO to go along with two dominating decision wins. Moicano’s got a serious problem against power punchers and Fiziev made him pay for it. Obviously, I still want to see Fiziev vs. Riddell more than ever. But I’ve already pitched that fight a couple times and it doesn’t seem to be happening. So there are a couple other strong options to throw out there. Fights with the always elusive Leonardo Santos, or Joel Alvarez could work. The bout I’d really like, however, is against Alex Hernandez. The ‘Great’ had a fantastic return to form last time out, but coming off the rough loss to Drew Dober earlier this year, he could still use some chances to build back up to the top 15. A fight against Fiziev would be an opportunity for Hernandez to prove his game has developed. Or for Fiziev to pick up a name win that might have him ranked in a hurry. Fiziev vs. Hernandez would be a top-notch bout between fighters looking for a rankings slot.
The UFC provided Torres with something of a gimmie here, in short notice fill-in Sam Hughes. And entirely to Torres’ credit, she made sure that the skill and athleticism edge was as obvious in reality as it looked on paper. Afterward, she made it clear that she’s looking for a top 10 opponent. The UFC could always re-book her aganist Angela Hill, or make her the next test of Mackenzie Dern’s skill, but I’d rather see Torres get the kind of really tough matchmaking she seems like she wants. To that end Tecia Torres vs. Yan Xiaonan seems like a perfect fight. Xiaonan is looking to prove she’s ready to be a top contender, and Torres is once again showing fantastic form after a few rough outings. Torres vs. Xiaonan, to see which woman can position themselves for title contention in the coming year.
OTHER BOUTS: Virna Jandiroba vs. Livia Renata Souza, Junior Dos Santos vs. Alexander Gustafsson, Daniel Pineda vs. Ricardo Ramos, Renato Moicano vs. Scott Holtzman, Gavin Tucker vs. Ilia Topuria, Billy Quarantillo vs. Youssef Zalal, Sam Hughes vs. Ariane Carnelossi, Chase Hooper vs. Bill Algeo, Peter Barrett vs. TJ Brown