UFC 256 will be a fight card that will be discussed well into 2021. Was it the best event of 2020? Was it the best pay-per-view card of the year? Was Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno the top fight of 2020 or was it the best fight in UFC flyweight history — or both those things? Where do Kevin Holland and Figueiredo rank in the fighter of the year conversation? How about Charles Oliveira, is he in line for the next lightweight title shot? I offer no answers to those questions, I just want to absorb the splendor that was the entire event. Bravo, ladies and gentlemen who fought on Saturday night.
The main event, which let’s not forget the UFC booked on short notice as a replacement headliner in the aftermath of UFC 255, was fantastic. Figueiredo and Moreno delivered a 25-minute battle for the ages. The contest was one that might even help to dispel the wrong-headed thinking that 125-pound fighters can’t deliver in the top spot of a pay-per-view card.
In the co-main event, Oliveira dominated Tony Ferguson in a contest that answered any questions about how good Oliviera is at lightweight and left an even bigger question mark over Ferguson’s future as an elite 155-pound competitor.
As a whole, there was not one disappointing fight on the UFC 256 fight card. Yes, there were some fights that left some established veterans with questionable futures, but there were just as many outcomes that showed other veterans still had plenty of gas left in the tank.
While the discussion of ‘UFC 256 - ‘FIGUEIREDO VS MORENO’ rages, here are the winners and losers from the pay-per-view card, which took place at UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno: It felt as if the co-main event was the big talking point before the UFC 256 pay-per-view card took place. That was forgotten in the aftermath of Charles Oliveira’s win over Tony Ferguson. The co-headliner got pushed further back into the recesses of the mind almost as soon as the evening’s main event fighters got down to business in their flyweight title fight.
Figueiredo and Moreno spent 25 minutes doing their best to finish each other. There were some moments in the contest where the action slowed, but the tension and stress of the fight stayed at a rolling boil throughout. Both men gave their best, and both men absorbed everything their opponent offered. In the battle’s aftermath, Figueiredo left the arena on a stretcher on his way to the hospital. Moreno, his right eye swollen and his top looking like a swarm of hornets had stung it, spoke with a smile about the fight and said his shoulder might have been injured during the scrap. As those things were happening, those who watched the competition between the two 125-pound fighters wondered when the rematch would take place and prayed it would be soon.
Even if the fight between Figueiredo and Moreno had not ended in a majority draw, the way these two battled would have left many calling for a rematch. It was a great fight and even if it doesn’t end up going down in the history books as the best flyweight fight in UFC history, it will be listed as one of the most memorable 125-pound outings to take place under the UFC banner. This contest was a great showing by both men.
Charles Oliveira: Oliveira did not need a statement win on Saturday, but he got one. The 31-year-old, who has been with the UFC since 2010, dominated Tony Ferguson for the full 15 minutes of their lightweight scrap. The win, 30-26 on all three cards, was Oliveira’s eighth straight victory and with the way he performed, he should be at the top of the list when the UFC decides what is going to happen with the lightweight crown.
There were many mentions of Oliveira “big brothering” Ferguson in this bout and it’s hard to see the outcome of this contest any other way. It’s hard to fathom, but 38 fights into his career, Oliveira has never looked better.
Mackenzie Dern vs. Virna Jandiroba: What do you get when you put two black belts in BJJ inside the octagon? You get a scrappy kickboxing fight, of course. Dern and Jandiroba put on an exciting striking battle at UFC 256. Of the two, Dern looked much improved in her striking. This fight showed that Dern has become more comfortable and confident in her striking. She doesn’t try to force her ground game. I think the move to working with a new coach has paid huge dividends for Dern and I think her future will be much brighter because of that move. As for Jandiroba, she did well with her striking, but she still needs improvement in that aspect of her game. Dern won this contest, but it was an exciting fight and I don’t think Jandiroba’s stock will fall much if at all from the loss. As for Dern, this win is another step up the ladder for her.
Kevin Holland: Holland is a bad, bad man. Holland went from being passed over by UFC president Dana White because of his “big mouth” to going 5-0 in 2020 with four knockouts. On Saturday Holland fought off Ronaldo Souza from his back in the early going of their matchup with some nasty elbows to the head. A short time after that, Holland once again found himself on his back. From there, Holland created enough space that he could throw a right hook off his butt. That strike knocked out Souza and left him wobbled long after the referee waved off the fight.
Holland is on his way up in the middleweight division in a big way. He’s a fun, outspoken and most of all confident fighter, who seems to fear no one. As far as fighters to watch in 2021, Holland deserves to be near the top of that list.
Ciryl Gane: Gane’s kickboxing style seemed to frustrate his opponent, Junior dos Santos, in their heavyweight fight. Gane was calm in controlling exactly where the fight was contested. He kept dos Santos at distance with his kicks, which focused on the legs, but also went to the body and head to keep dos Santos guessing.
Gane’s laid back approach forced dos Santos to become more aggressive and that cost him. Gane ended the fight by knockout in the second round.
Gane’s style and approach don’t always make for exciting fights, but that’s because of how dangerous it is to try to close the distance against him. Gane is a dangerous striker and he should move up the rankings after Saturday night.
Cub Swanson: Swanson was 1-4 and coming off a leg injury when he stepped into the octagon as an underdog to Daniel Pineda. As expected, Pineda used leg kicks in the early going of their featherweight contest. Those leg kicks hurt Swanson, but they did not have any effect his striking. It was that striking that allowed the WEC/UFC veteran to stagger Pineda at the end of the first round.
Swanson showed composure and patience in the second round. He knew he had Pineda hurt and he took his time to find an opening for his strikes. That patience paid off as Swanson closed things out at the 1:52 mark of the second round. The finish was Swanson’s first since he knocked out Dennis Siver in 2013.
Rafael Fiziev: Fiziev fought twice in 2020 and he looked magnificent in both outings. In July he scored an impressive unanimous decision win over Marc Diakiese. On Saturday night he followed that with a first-round dismantling of Renato Moicano.
Fiziev’s speed and striking combinations are going to be a problem for the competitors in the lightweight division. His finishing combo in this contest was something to behold. Fiziev landed a left to the body, a right to the chin and a left hook to close. What was most impressive is that Fiziev used the right to push Moicano back just far enough to land the closing hook to the chin. Fiziev has spectacular defense to go with nasty offense. An impressive performance.
Gavin Tucker: Tucker looked amazing in his featherweight fight against Billy Quarantillo. For the first five minutes of the bout, the UFC commentary team had high praise for the pace of Quarantillo. That praise should have transferred to Tucker for the final 10 minutes of the contest. He moved forward, delivered crisp, short strikes and racked up a significant number of takedowns.
Tucker delivered a complete performance and his unanimous decision win should elevate his standing in the featherweight division. An excellent all-around 15-minute effort by the Canadian.
Tecia Torres: Torres had an enormous advantage in, well, every part of her fight against Sam Hughes. She used those advantages early, charging in and using her striking to take control of the contest. Torres lived up to her nickname, “The Tiny Tornado.”
Torres is not far removed from a four-fight losing skid and this win, a stoppage at the end of the first round, should do a lot to restore her confidence heading into her next outing.
Tony Ferguson: MMA is an unforgiving sport. One day a fighter is on a record 12-fight winning streak, 18 months later that fighter is left to wonder what his future holds. That’s the spot Tony Ferguson found himself in after his one-sided loss to Charles Oliveira at UFC 256.
Ferguson won 12-fights in a row between October 2013 and June 2019. Now at 36, Ferguson is on a two-fight losing skid. It’s hard to tell where Ferguson goes next after losses to Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira, but it’s going to be interesting to see who the UFC matches him up against in his next bout. That fight, if it’s against a lower ranked opponent, could be the most telling of Ferguson’s career.
Ronaldo Souza: Souza’s struggles continued on Saturday night. Souza was 5-5 and on a two-fight losing streak when he stepped in to a middleweight bout against Kevin Holland. The jiu-jitsu ace struggled on the ground thanks to the aggressive striking of Holland. It was that aggressive ground striking that finished the fight inside the first round. Souza has now lost three straight and he is 1-4 in his last five outings. At 41, we might have seen the last of Souza inside the octagon.
Junior dos Santos: The former UFC heavyweight champion might have competed in his final UFC bout at UFC 256. Ciryl Gane knocked out dos Santos in the second round. The loss was the fourth consecutive knockout setback for dos Santos. With the UFC looking to shrink the roster, the 36-year-old might be on the outside of the promotion soon.
Daniel Pineda: Pineda was coming off a TKO win over Herbert Burns when he faced Cub Swanson at UFC 256. Pineda looked confident in the early going of the featherweight contest. He used low kicks to slow Swanson, but he could not recover after Swanson hurt him with strikes at the end of Round 1. Swanson finished the fight in the second round and with that, whatever momentum Pineda gained from his win over Burns went out the window.
Renato Moicano: Moicano did not last five minutes in his second UFC lightweight contest. Moicano moved to 155 pounds following TKO losses to Cash Sung Jung and Jose Aldo at featherweight. He submitted Damir Hadzovic in his lightweight debit. On Saturday, Rafael Fiziev blasted Moicano with a nasty combination to end the fight at the 4:05 mark of the first round. The loss could have Moicano finding a pink slip in his Christmas stocking.
Billy Quarantillo: Quarantillo had a decent first round against Gavin Tucker, but the final 10 minutes did not go as well. Quarantillo’s style of pushing the pace and throwing heavy strikes allowed Tucker to turn the contest into a showcase for himself. When Quarantillo missed with his strikes, it opened up the opportunity for a counter from his opponent. Had Quarantillo been a little crisper with his striking and avoided putting himself out of position after failing to make contact, his cardio might have lasted a bit longer. The loss ended Quarantillo’s eight-fight winning streak.
Sam Hughes: Hughes found herself in deep water early against Tecia Torres and she could never recover. Hughes was a late replacement and that limited her preparation for Torres to making weight. The fight was not a fair booking, but that’s how things sometimes work in the UFC.
Peter Barrett: Barrett fell to 0-2 in the UFC. He did a nice job of controlling where the fight took place against Chase Hooper, but he could not compete with Hooper on the ground and that cost him as Hooper submitted him in the third round. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hooper’s name on the growing UFC releases. The one thing that could earn him a third fight is what I expect to be low pay.
Chase Hooper: Let’s be blunt, Hooper is not a UFC caliber fighter. He has a very good ground game, but his striking is basic at best. He needs time to develop at least a serviceable striking game to become anything other than a preliminary card fighter. Hooper got a nice submission win over Peter Barrett, but he showed nothing on his feet. If Hooper wants to move up, he and the UFC should agree to let him develop outside of the UFC.