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UFC 256 sober play-by-play: Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno and the art of total war

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Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno left nothing to chance in their UFC 256 classic.

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UFC 256: Figueiredo v Moreno Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

No amount of cliches can accurately capture what Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno were able to do this weekend for UFC 256. Beyond just a potential fight of the year, both men just purchased insurance for the flyweight divisions. There are plenty of other storylines woven into the bout, like Figueiredo being in the hospital on the morning of the fight, and Moreno’s arm being “broken.” But as with all sober play-by-play’s, we’re just here for the fight, and what we can learn on re-watch.

I thought Figueiredo was the clear winner on first watch. I couldn’t elaborate on why other than that he appeared to land the more punishing shots from round to round. But on second watch, I thought Figueiredo’s victory was even clearer. Even Moreno’s most effective pushes saw Figueiredo push right back. However, let’s not downplay what Moreno accomplished. Not only was he competitive from round to round, but there were moments when you could see how different adjustments might have paid higher dividends.

For now, I just want to emphasize once more that I love doing these not because I’m interesting in scoring the fight properly, or figuring out who really won, but because I want to know what I missed the first time. Plus this is one of the best fights I’ve ever seen, so that helps.

Round 1: Open range, and finding the jab

The most significant exchange in the first round was less about either man accomplished, and more about what they were trying to acomplish. Figueiredo was fully invested in cutting the cage. A spinning back kick, heavy right hands, and inside-fighting were the very first things on the menu, with Figueiredo initiating most of it. While the grappling was limited in the first, Figueiredo showed some great butterfly hooks in keeping Moreno from being able to advance with top control.

As for Moreno, he was also doing some impressive work. I’ve always appreciated the meat and potatoes approach to his striking. Every fighter can throw the jab in MMA. Some fighters can even throw it well. But not everyone believes in it. Moreno believes in his jab. Not only was he pumping it as much moving forward, but he’d pump the jab even as he stepped away and out of range. Which is really impressive. Despite a very even series of exchanges to open the round, Joe Rogan couldn’t help himself when Moreno landed a crisp left hand to Figueiredo’s body.

“Figueredo is not throwing a lot of feints. He’s making it known that he’s moving forward and Brandon Moreno is just timing that.”

You don’t have to enjoy the funny social media barbs thrown at the booth to feel insulted by what is ultimately a piss poor job at communicating what’s happening in the fight. We’re literally a minute into the fight and Rogan is trying to tell you that a story has already developed — not only is Figueiredo not feinting, but Moreno is catching him. So naturally, as soon as Rogan says that, Moreno misses on a jab and then gets countered with an overhand right.

The real narrative of the round wasn’t Figueiredo being an unrefined brawler against Moreno, who was the ‘Matador’ — which, this bull/matador analogy is exactly what I’d expect from Rogan, who looked higher than three grandmas smoking weed for the first time. No, the real narrative was Figueiredo trying to establish some inside posture with body shots, and bricking jabs. Moreno was focused on fighting behind his jab. That’s it. The key to good commentary is being able to separate small sample sizes from grand patterns. Rogan and Cormier were unable to do that at every turn, and as much as I hate having to talk about the commentary booth, it’s practically unavoidable.

The last thing worth noting is something Phil corrected me on in our preview: Moreno being the lowkey better grappler. While I still believe Deiveson is very very good, I watched out for that as much as I could, and Phil’s words were downright prophetic. When Figueiredo had Moreno on his back, I thought for sure Moreno would have to be worried about some ground and pound. Instead Moreno caught Figueiredo with a nice sickle sweep, and went about his day.

Round 2: ‘Mexican style’

My favorite thing about this fight is that the first three seconds always began with their respective battle hymns. They didn’t hide from who they were or what they were trying to do. Moreno wanted his right hand to lead the way this time, so he began by throwing his right more. In addition to using his right to go to the body and head, you also saw a little more head movement.

Perhaps having heard Rogan, Figueiredo would feint more as he’d walk Moreno down, but he was still trying to get inside. Moreno did some solid combination work, but the biggest punch came from Figueiredo who snuck in a body punch combination followed by a massive overhand right.

Figueiredo was doing a little better at range as well. While Rogan and Cormier just wanted to talk about the damage on Moreno’s left calf and his Mexican heritage, Figueiredo was able to catch Moreno at range. The story of the round was that, despite Moreno losing the exchanges, Moreno was able to mitigate a lot of damage with bodylock takeodwns.

UFC 256: Figueiredo v Moreno Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

The second round was probably Moreno’s best, IMO — even more than the fourth. Mainly because the second round was the best signal for how he could make a rematch more competitive: mixing up his body work with takedowns, throwing his power hand more, etc.

Round 3: Running with pocket scissors

I thought round three was the least interesting round. Even less than their last round. Does that mean I found it boring? Hell no. There was a ton of heat thrown each other’s way. By ‘boring’ I just mean, tactically, it wasn’t as exciting. It’s not a coincidence that the least amount of volume was exchanged in this round (I don’t count the fifth round, because their bodies had already left it all in the cage by then). And I think that’s because there was so much already exchanged in the first two. Round three was Let’s See Who Breaks round.

Figueiredo did a lot more stance switching in this round, which I found interesting. He seemed more intent in doing body work from his southpaw position, while Moreno settled into more combos in the pocket, having conceded the space Figueiredo (?) was taking away.

There was a lot of fury, but not a lot of sound from Figueiredo. But that doesn’t mean he was lacking in tactics. Figueiredo was just trying to get inside. Which is unusual for MMA, but also super exciting. Even in boxing, inside fighting is not always seen as a necessary skill. You can probably count on one hand how many boxers in the modern era did what Ike Ibeabuchi and David Tua did — trading from what I like to call ‘The Raid’ position. Inside-fighting is often considered a ‘forced position.’ Nobody actively wants to be inside. And certainly not in MMA.

Why anyone would want to inside fight to begin with? Shouldn’t inside fighting be left to the lunatics like Roberto Duran? The first advantage to fighting on the inside is it creates a 50/50 scenario, where any physical advantages your opponent might have — whether reach, speed, power, or defense — are mostly nullified. Second, it gives you an effective way to control their arms. Watch the sequence at the 3:00-minute mark of the first round, for example. Figueiredo leads with a left hook to the body and then pushes Moreno’s arms away.

In addition, inside fighting is a chaotic neutral. Whether an opponent favors offensive or defense, getting stuck in the pocket will be frustrating. It’s also just good to get comfortable with positions you’d rather avoid, in the same way a striker who isn’t good on the ground should get used to training submission escapes.

Round 4: The surge

UFC 256: Figueiredo v Moreno Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Re-watching the fight, I imagine this round was the ‘I’ve lost every round, and I need to just straight up win this thing or else’ moment for Moreno. Figueiredo began with one of those classic Aldo double knees, and showed some strong jab work. But even before the Big Combination, Moreno was doing some fantastic boxing, switching up his body and head work, and doing much better at leading with his strikes.

The other thing I really liked about Moreno’s tactics in this round is that we saw more slick work from Moreno’s grappling. There’s a moment where Figueiredo goes for a single leg over a minute into the round. Not only does Moreno defend the hands well, but he twists out and immediately reverses position for a double leg takedown of his own.

Figueiredo is still doing a lot of pocket work in this round. He lands the single best punch in the round too — a gorgeous uppercut. And then Moreno’s big push. There’s nothing special that precedes it. It starts when Figueiredo ducks a right hand. As soon as he pops his head back up, Moreno’s got a left hook in the chamber. It immediately cracks Figueiredo on top of the head. Figueiredo moves his head like he’s expecting a right, except Moreno follows that left hook with a jab, then a right cross. It’s great sequencing, but Figueiredo actually lands a nice shovel hook in the middle of the storm. It’s impossible to notice when Rogan and Cormier are screaming about Figueiredo being rocked, bleeding out, and fighting without limbs or whatever, but he does immediately reply. That wide left hook Moreno lands would have felled most men but Figueiredo is not most men.

What’s also noticeable is that Figueiredo immediately goes about his business. He transitions into several punishing jabs, even slipping Moreno’s punches to do so.

Round 5: Preparing for the sequel

The commentary went completely off the rails in this round. Jon Anik was trying to talk about the Mexican boxers of yore, like Juan Manual Marquez, and Marco Antonio Barrera. However cliched, it was much more interesting than Rogan talking about Moreno putting his arm bones back in place, with Cormier arguing over which bone it was.

As mentioned, while not the most exciting, I still found this round interesting for what both guys tried to do. They went from phone booth fighting to figuring out the right entries at range, with Figueiredo switching southpaw and going hard to the body with his kicks (an effective way to exploit Moreno’s sometime cross guard), and Moreno trying to find opportunities for combinations by probing with the jab.

Even though Figueiredo clearly won, this fight is a good illustration of how scoring round by round does little to illustrate competitiveness within rounds. That’s not to say the ten-point must system is bad and needs to be discarded. Especially in a fight that didn’t have any knockdowns or near submissions. But it is to say that arguing scorecards isn’t really analysis.

Figueiredo was the better fighter. But re-watching the fight, it wasn’t Figueiredo’s physicality or strength that Moreno couldn’t handle. It was his tempo. Moreno seemed stuck fighting on Figueiredo’s wavelength. It’s telling that even at range, Figueiredo, who has struggled there in the past, was stabbing with the jab, and getting the best of the punch entries. Having been forced to fight so much on the inside, I think Moreno lost his rhythm at range by the time he needed to mount a real offensive in the fifth.

One thing I’ll say about Moreno is that the variety of his attacks bode well for him in the rematch. Not only did his bodylock takedowns get him away from Figueiredo’s sustained pressure, but I think there’s more than correlation to the fact that his most successful round was the round he also threw the most.