The UFC flyweight division was on the verge of elimination as recently as 11 months ago. Now, it might have just produced the best MMA fight of 2020.
In one of the best fights of the year, Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno fought to a majority draw (48-46, 47-47, 47-47) in a UFC flyweight title fight Saturday night in the main event of UFC 256 in Las Vegas. Figueiredo, the defending flyweight champion, retained the title because of the draw. It was only the fourth draw in UFC championship history.
"We need a rematch," Moreno, the first Mexican-born fighter to compete for a UFC title, said in his postfight interview. "We need that rematch. I think so. For myself, for Figueiredo, for the fans, for everybody. For the sport, of course."
UFC president Dana White called Figueiredo-Moreno the best fight in UFC flyweight history and said he "absolutely, positively" wants a rematch to happen.
"That's another fun fight for all of us to look forward to in 2021," he said.
The bout was filled with wild, hard exchanges. Both men tagged each other with hard combinations and head kicks. When it seemed like one had momentum, the other would come roaring back with hard blows.
"If they want to put him in front of me next fight, I'm open to that," Figueiredo said.
Figueiredo said in his postfight interview that he had a stomach infection Friday night and was in the hospital until 2 a.m. Saturday morning.
In February, Figueiredo missed weight ahead of a bout with Joseph Benavidez for the vacant flyweight title. He ended up beating Benavidez by second-round TKO, leaving the belt vacant because he was ineligible to become champion after missing weight.
At that point, the future of the division was uncertain. The UFC spent late 2017 and 2018 paring down the division with whispers that it would be abolished. Fast-forward to present day and the flyweight division has now headlined back-to-back UFC pay-per-view cards to finish the year.
White credited UFC co-matchmaker Mick Maynard for rebuilding the flyweight division, which he called "one of the most exciting divisions in the UFC now."
"And tonight, we put on potential fight of the year and potential greatest fight in division history," White said.
This was the quickest turnaround for either a champion or challenger in UFC history. Figueiredo and Moreno both competed at UFC 255 on Nov. 21 -- just three weeks ago. At UFC 255, Figueiredo finished Alex Perez via guillotine choke -- the fastest submission in UFC flyweight history (1 minute, 57 seconds) -- and Moreno beat Brandon Royval via first-round TKO.
When the UFC lost its scheduled UFC 256 main event -- a bantamweight title fight between champion Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling -- the promotion tabbed Figueiredo and Moreno to fill in. And they did so with an epic encounter.
Figueiredo, known for his first-round barrages, stalked Moreno early, moving forward and landing hard shots. But Moreno, unlike many Figueiredo opponents, would not go away. In fact, Moreno had strong moments in the second, including a huge overhand right and a big combination at the end of the round.
Things got a bit weird in the third. Figueiredo landed a straight left kick below the belt, which sent Moreno to his knees. Referee Jason Herzog deducted a point from Figueiredo for the illegal, damaging blow.
"The referee did his job," Figueiredo said.
Moreno came back with a big fourth round filled with long combinations -- punches to the body and to the head and head kicks. Figueiredo, though, was able to muster a strong finish in the fifth despite being tired. In the closing seconds, he used a judo throw to toss Moreno on his head and then score via ground-and-pound.
Judges Sal D'Amato and Junichiro Kamijo both scored the bout a draw. D'Amato had Figueiredo winning the first and fifth rounds and the third 9-9 because of the point deduction. Kamijo had it 9-9 in the third, with Figueiredo winning the first and second rounds. Judge Derek Cleary had it 9-9 in the third, with Figueiredo winning the first, second and fifth rounds.
ESPN had Figueiredo ranked No. 7 in the world on its MMA pound-for-pound list going in. Figueiredo and Moreno are ranked Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, at flyweight by ESPN, behind former UFC flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson, one of the best fighters of all time.
The card took place inside the UFC Apex, a venue across the street from the promotion's Vegas corporate campus. It was the final pay-per-view of 2020 for the UFC, which was the first major sports organization back after a coronavirus-related hiatus.
Figueiredo (20-1-1) is unbeaten in six straight and 10 of 11 in the UFC overall. Nicknamed "God of War," Figueiredo stopped Benavidez via first-round TKO in July to win the vacant flyweight title. This was his second title defense. Figueiredo, 32, is tied with Johnson with the most finishes in UFC flyweight history (seven).
"My fans are used to seeing a knockout in the first round, but I fought all five rounds and I thought I put on a great performance," Figueiredo said.
Moreno (18-5-2) is unbeaten in six straight with a 7-2-2 UFC record overall. "The Assassin Baby" was cut by the UFC in 2018 after dropping two in a row. At the time, the promotion was considering dropping the division. Moreno, 26, won the Legacy Fighting Alliance title outside the promotion in 2019 and was then brought back to the UFC just three months later. He is 3-0-2 since being released.
"Leading up this week, [Moreno] was telling everybody that his hero is Julio Cesar Chavez," White said, referring to the legendary Mexican boxer. "When people remember him and his career, he wants to be remembered like a Julio Cesar Chavez. When you look at typical Mexican fighters, he is the prototype. ... He looked damn good tonight."