As the UFC trades one desert for another, they’ve remained consistent with putting on compelling match-ups left and right. With their third event in a week, we’ll get a title fight in the main event as well as a middleweight scrap to remain at the top of the pack.
So yeah, UFC Fight Night: Figueiredo vs. Benavidez 2 should be pretty great. There’s very little waste on the prelims, and the main card should be a nice and neat little card from start to finish. Much like I’ve said regarding the prelims, it’s a lot of substance with very little flash, as this card isn’t buoyed by star power. Much like the recent midweek event, it’s mostly about sorting out the pecking order. Adjust expectations accordingly.
And that’s fine. This is about action and quality battles over anything else. That’s exactly what we should expect overall.
Deiveson Figueiredo vs Joseph Benavidez
Yes, Figueiredo (18-1) is literally the uncrowned king here. Missing weight made his win over Benavidez a non-title affair. This second bout should be even more crucial for various reasons. For starters, Deiveson has been legit and cannot be considered the underdog for this one. We also learned just how badly Joe (28-6) can still be cracked, and it might just happen again. Also, there’s the matter of the accidental headbutt. I’d imagine we’re likely to see something like what we saw in Rose/Joanna 2, or Aldo vs Mendes 2, where the rematch is more competitive and more of a chess match. Failing that, it could be chaos. Two of the world’s greatest flyweights — one attempting to finally reach the mountaintop after years of toiling and falling short, the other a sushi chef and hairdresser that made an improbable Cinderella run to vie for a vacant title.
Figueiredo has everything, nasty counterwrestling and a devastating submission game. Fight-ending power in both hands, good footwork, blitzing handspeed, lovely scrambles and great composure to finish fights. Benavidez has a lot of those things, too. Problem is he’s lost a bit off his fastball and can be countered by someone fast enough. We saw that happen in the first fight, and it didn’t end well for him.
Will he get knocked out again? Possible, but maybe not likely. He’s got some experience from being in there with Figueiredo already, and has the time and opportunity to sharpen up and prevent that from happening again. Seems like we might get a more extended grappling battle with a lot of submission attempts, and it it shouldn’t disappoint either way.
Jack Hermansson vs Kelvin Gastelum
Despite his barnburner against champ Israel Adesanya, Kelvin Gastelum’s (16-5) following effort against Darren Till had many wondering if he had hit his peak and was spent. Losing to a spectacular champion and a very dynamic striker back to back doesn’t mean anyone’s done. I suspect a loss here doesn’t mean that either, it’s very possible that the biggest takeaway here is whether or not Kelvin gets locked into gatekeeper status outside of the elite.
Kelvin’s wrestling is great, and it’s been adjusted well for MMA. Hermansson (20-5) has better use of range and a much craftier and opportunistic submission approach. His submissions over dangerous sub specialists David Branch and Gerald Meerschaert opened a lot of eyes, and he’s done well with defensive wrestling in the past. Sure, none of his previous opponents are of the same caliber as Gastelum, but with Jack’s size, reflexes and savvy, it’ll be a tough night at the office.
Mark Diakiese vs Rafael Fiziev
Diakiese (14-3) came into the UFC with a good amount of hype, and it was totally warranted. Three fights in, he was 3-0 in the UFC but went on a three-fight skid against Drakkar Klose, Dan Hooker and Nasrat Haqparast. In retrospect, those are not bad losses. He’s moved on to earn back to back wins against Joe Duffy and Lando Vannata, adjusting to pace himself and not get in his own head to outwork opponents with pace and continuing to apply pressure at all times.
Fiziev (7-1) is another Tiger Muay Thai fighter that’s been talked about for a while by cautious observers, and can do a lot of damage in short order. His recent win against Alex White showed he can defend against wrestlers and doesn’t get flustered against a fighter that pressures with forward movement. How well he’ll do against a more dynamic striker that has made improvement in his movement and timing will be the biggest factor here.
Ariane Lipski vs Luana Carolina
Some Brazilian fighters are harder to get a read on than others, and Luana Carolina (6-1) is one of them. She’s got some good things going for her but has had a very, very weak schedule of opposition. Her striking is nice, but her cardio doesn’t hold up as well. She’s also still trying to improve on the ground.
Lipski is used to pressure and being under the bright lights. A former KSW champion under the guidance of Rafael Cordeiro, she did have some odd losses early on with some fine wins afterwards. Mostly her wins over Juliana Werner and a very tough Silvana Gomez stand out, but her wins over Mariana Morais, Diana Belbita and an undersized and underpowered Sheila Gaff were less impressive. While her UFC run started off poorly against Joanne Calderwood and Molly McCann, she acquitted herself well against Isabel de Padua last November and has had the opportunity to sort some things out. What Luana lacks in the grappling department should be the part to exploit, but Luana’s also got some very good physical strength and a lanky, hard to read style and deceptive use of range. That goes double for her leg and body kicks, which could add up over time.
Alexandre Pantoja vs Askar Askarov
Pantoja (22-4) is much like Figueiredo in that he’s one of the few flyweights that consistently finishes dudes. His BJJ is slick, but has some gaps as we saw in his fight against Figueiredo. It’s well-adapted for MMA, but lacks a bit of urgency and doesn’t complement it with wrestling as well. That’s part of how he fell short against Dustin Ortiz and Hiromasa Ogikubo, and perhaps Askarov (11-0, 1 draw) might pursue that avenue to his advantage. He’s a quiet threat in the division, having already finished Kirill Medvedovski, Jose Maria Tome and Rasul Albaskhanov prior to his UFC arrival and earning a win over the very sneaky Tim Elliott.
Pantoja should have a striking advantage with better mixups, a speed advantage and higher output. Askarov has to work his way in from range and will eventually need to work from the clinch to get some major traction.
UFC Fight Night: Figueiredo vs Benavidez 2 starts this Saturday night at 5:00pm EST, streaming exclusively on ESPN+.