Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno 4 shows the continued evolution of a division once left for dead

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Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno are two of the four pillars upon which the UFC flyweight division is built. Figueiredo and Moreno will make history at UFC 283, but making history is nothing new to these stalwarts at 125 pounds.

A division that had traditionally been overlooked by promoters and fans, the four kings of flyweight are among the most accomplished athletes in MMA history. Inaugural champion Demetrious Johnson holds the record for consecutive and successful UFC title defenses and is considered one of the greatest of all time. Henry Cejudo is the only Olympic gold medalist to become a UFC champion and one of only four UFC fighters to become simultaneous two-division champions. Figueiredo and Moreno will meet for the fourth time on Saturday — making history as the first four-fight series in UFC and the added distinction of each bout being contested for a title.

Figueiredo and Moreno gifted the flyweight division a lifeline at a time of great uncertainty: its first truly great rivalry.

“Since the first fight, he’s been talking shit about me,” Moreno told CBS Sports ahead of UFC 283. “Then I beat him in the second fight and the guy hugged me and lifted me up. The next week he started talking shit about me again. This time, after the Kai Kara-France fight, he came to the Octagon trying to find some problems, but then he looked calm.

“Then the next week — even less than one week — he started talking shit again! Man, that’s too much. I think that’s enough reason to not like the guy… If you want to be an asshole, be an asshole every single time to me. But don’t come and hug me and say good things to me and then go to the media and start talking shit. I’m not with those guys.”

“When I went into the cage after Moreno won, I wanted to respect him and respect his moment,” Figueiredo told CBS Sports through a translator. “I didn’t want to take away from that. Now things are back to normal. I’m not friends with Moreno. Make no mistake. I’m not friends with him and I’m ready to do battle.”

Figueiredo and Moreno have spent a lot of time together: more than an hour of combined time fighting each other in the Octagon. Their dislike for each other is an inconvenience on a personal level and a blessing in a professional capacity, but their unprecedented rivalry almost didn’t materialize.

A division on the way out

UFC’s impression of the flyweight division went from dismissive to disruptive between 2017 and 2019. Johnson was traded from UFC to ONE Championship in 2018, after losing a debatable decision to Cejudo. What followed was a flyweight exodus that caused many fans to panic. Moreno himself was a victim of this off-loading. Moreno, a ranked fighter at the time, parted ways with the UFC in late 2018 after consecutive losses to high-level fighters Sergio Pettis and Alexandre Pantoja. Moreno was released alongside fellow ranked flyweights Hector Sandoval and Matheus Nicolau. Many notable flyweights departed the company between 2017 and 2019 despite coming off wins or no more than one consecutive loss.

“It’s crazy how the history of this division is like a roller coaster ride,” Moreno told CBS Sports. “…There is a lot of history: good and bad history. I understand that. But right now, I think the flyweights are more than alive. I’m so happy to be part of the history of this sport.”

Even Figueiredo, an exciting finisher who was regularly given fights during this period, was prepared to jump ship to bantamweight.

“I would have felt comfortable going up,” Figueiredo said. “But I prefer to be where I’m at because I can dominate a lot easier.”

Johnson theorized that UFC was willing to use his fellow flyweights as collateral damage during his negotiations with the company.

“I think they were using that as a tactic for me to do something so they didn’t have to pay me. I have no idea, ” Johnson told CBS Sports ahead of his flyweight world ONE Championship trilogy fight against Adriano Moraes on May 5 in Colorado. “There is a lot of great talent out there and I think it could have been a tactic because, obviously, once I left you had Henry Cejudo who was willing to go up to bantamweight.

But Cejudo insists the UFC was serious about boarding up the flyweight shop. Cejudo said the “Triple C” gimmick he adopted was a direct response to the promotion’s lack of faith in the division. An attempt to bring mainstream flavor to the division while new stars formed.

“I’ll never forget it because I was at the first episode of the ‘Contender Series’ and I was with Dana White,” Cejudo said. “I remember he asked me to go have lunch with him. I jumped in his red Ferrari and as we were on our way to the UFC Performance Institute, he told me, ‘Henry, I just want to let you know that we’re going to get rid of the division.”

Figueiredo vs. Moreno 1: favors and fireworks

Figueiredo and Moreno should be thanked for a goodwill gesture that recommitted UFC to the flyweights. Figueiredo had secured the flyweight title with two wins over Joseph Benavidez (the first fight he was ineligible to win the title because he missed weight). The Brazilian went on to defend his crown in November 2020 against Alex Perez. The same night, Moreno earned a massive win over Brandon Royval. But the even bigger news was that a scheduled UFC bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling had just disintegrated.

The pair agreed to fight 21 days later with the UFC flyweight title at stake. In the blink of an eye, a division seemingly graveyard-bound was headlining consecutive pay-per-views with Tony Ferguson, Charles Oliveira and UFC women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko fighting underneath them.

The general expectation was that Figueiredo would disintegrate Moreno. Figueiredo’s immense power — one that rivals the “God of War” character he takes inspiration from — was unlike anything the UFC flyweight division had seen. Figueiredo entered the fight with seven finishes in nine UFC fights and four consecutive stoppages. Moreno was coming off an impressive win over Royval, but one aided by a shoulder injury Royval suffered mid-fight.

“I remember going into the first fight against Deiveson, everybody was saying, ‘Man, this guy is incredible, this guy is a monster, this guy has a lot of power, he’s huge for the division,'” Moreno said.

Moreno either muted those murmurs or scoffed at them because he was fearless. From the moment the fight started, Moreno embraced the archetype of the Mexican fighting spirit. Moreno repeatedly stuck a jab in Figueiredo’s face, tripped up the champion and absorbed big blows well. Moreno likely lost Round 1 but proved to be no pushover. The two fought tooth and nail for the remainder of the fight. The judges agreed unanimously on Rounds 1 and 3 for Figueiredo and Round 4 for Moreno, but a point deduction in Round 3 for a low blow catalyzed an indecisive conclusion. One judge scored the fight 48-46 for Figueiredo while the other two deemed it 47-47 for a majority draw. Figueiredo had retained his flyweight title but not definitively.

The upset in the rematch

The inconclusive outcome necessitated an immediate rematch to CBS Sports’ 2020 Fight of the Year runner-up. Figueiredo and Moreno were offered ample time to make adjustments with the second fight taking place at UFC 263 on June 12, 2021 — six months to the day of their first clash.

“I felt his power, I felt his punches,” Moreno said. “My mind started to talk with me and said, ‘For sure the guy is really good and for sure the guy has power, but it’s nothing out of this world.’ So my motivation grew a lot going into the second fight.”

“I was confident,” Figueiredo said. “If you leave it in the hands of the judges, you never know what will happen.”

Moreno’s durability and commitment to offense shrunk oddsmakers’ infatuations with Figueiredo. The champ slid from approximately a -300 to a -200 favorite against the challenger. Fans expecting another competitive fight did not see what was to come.

Moreno pieced up Figueiredo on the feet and dropped him in the closing minutes of Round 1, outlanding him 28 to 7. Figueiredo wisely changed his approach in Round 2 and took Moreno down, but Moreno’s dogged grappling proved more potent. Mexico’s great hope was dialed in and unstoppable. Moreno shot for a body lock takedown in Round 3 and snatched Figueiredo’s back in a scramble. Halfway through the round, Figueiredo was gasping for air and tapping for acquittal. A rear-naked choke had secured Moreno the UFC flyweight title. The first Mexican-born UFC champion had been anointed.

Balancing the scales in the trilogy

Figueiredo and Moreno kicked off 2022 with a trilogy fight nestled underneath Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane at UFC 270 — the UFC’s lightest male division and heaviest sharing center stage. Figueiredo was an early adoption of coach Henry Cejudo, now retired from active competition. Fellow world champions Jon Jones, Jiri Prochazka and Zhang Weili have since aligned with Cejudo’s team. Cejudo once mentored Moreno before a rift between them, adding further fuel to the rubber match.

“The third fight, I felt really good about going and working with Cejudo,” Figueiredo said. “The second fight, I just had a lot of things going on in my life. A lot of different things. The whole time, I wanted to get a green card. I want to have my family with me. I’m still working on it.”

Moreno vs. Figueiredo 3 played out more like the first fight than the second. Figueiredo was zeroed in and remained a constant threat over five rounds. Moreno actually outstruck Figueiredo in most frames, but Figueiredo’s power was even more potent than in their first meeting. Figueiredo knocked down Moreno twice in Round 3 and once in Round 5, ultimately winning 48-47 on all three judges’ scorecards.

“Deiveson, I think he made a few changes in his training camp going with Cejudo in Arizona and having a better training camp and gameplan for the third fight against me,” Moreno said. “That was a huge part of the fight.

“Deiveson did some really good things in the middle of the fight and maybe I could have done better things in that fight. That’s it. It was a close fight. Even then, I think I won the fight but that happens when a close fight goes to the judges.”

The UFC flyweight championship had once again changed hands. The swings in momentum in the professional careers of the two were mirrored in their personal lives. Figueiredo had cited a split focus while dealing with his family’s green cards before the second fight. Moreno detailed how the newfound pressures of being Mexico’s first world champion burdened him.

“The pressure, the attention from the media, all my new responsibilities were hard,” Moreno said. “That part was hard, I can’t lie to you. Maybe it put more noise in my head and put extra pressure on me. I saw that fight so many times and I fought really well.

“Something very similar happened to me when I fought in 2017. I remember it was my first main event for the company and I fought in Mexico City in front of all my people. I remember the responsibilities going into that fight grew a lot and everything changed for me. This time was the same, but I had experience from the past. That gave me more confidence to manage all the pressure and new attention and new responsibilities.”

Immortality at stake in quadrilogy

Moreno received a reprieve from Figueiredo six months after failing in his first title defense. UFC booked an interim flyweight championship match between Moreno and heavy-handed Aussie Kai Kara-France, a teammate of Israel Adesanya, at UFC 277 on July 30, 2022. Moreno found the experience quite therapeutic despite his initial protests.

“At first, I wanted the fourth fight against Deiveson,” Moreno said. “I just wanted to finish the business and be done with that guy.

“New face, new gameplan, new whatever. That helped a lot. But at that moment, I wanted to just do what they wanted to finish business against Deiveson. But I can’t lie to you, the fight against Kai Kara-France helped with the mental part. Just to rest and not see Deiveson’s face again. Right now I’m still not done with the guy, but I’m more excited.”

Figueiredo wasn’t afforded the same change of scenery. UFC 283 will mark the fourth consecutive time — once a year since 2020 — that Figueiredo will fight Moreno.

“I get a little upset having to fight him over and over and over again, but I enjoy it and I believe the UFC keeps doing it because they’re making money off of it,” Figueiredo said. “It’s good for the UFC and it’s good for me.”

Figueiredo and Moreno have a contentious, exhausting relationship, but they have the clarity to see how important their shared legacy is. Eternal rivals, perfect foils to test their mettle. It is a partnership that has produced a one-of-one achievement.

“I feel this has done a lot for my legacy. It’s been great for me and it’s been great for Brandon Moreno,” Figueiredo said. “Being the first time it’s a quadrilogy, it’s good for the UFC too. The whole legacy has been good for the UFC.”

Moreno has emerged as a national hero in Mexico, a role that renews his motivation to be the very best.

“That is one of my principle motivations going into this fourth fight,” Moreno said. “I remember when I won the title for the first time in 2021 in Arizona, everything changed in my country. A lot of media that never gave attention to martial arts. They asked me for interviews and I had a media tour in Mexico City.

“I know I’m in a huge position right now where I can build my legacy and grow the history of the sport in my country.”

Figueiredo will have the opportunity to close the book on this legendary tale in front of his countrymen.

“It’s really good for me to be able to do this camp in Brazil. I’m very happy to do it in my house,” Figueiredo said. “I enjoy the fact that I’m fighting with other great Brazilian fighters.”

And while Moreno sets his sights on greater accomplishments, chances are his existing body of work necessitates immortality.

“I think after this fight, whatever happens, I’ll be in the UFC Hall of Fame,” Moreno said.

Flyweight’s new lease on life is a gift to everyone involved in the division, past and present. For Cejudo and Johnson, the first two pillars of the division, it sparks joy to see their old home stand sturdy.

“Even as a champ at bantamweight, to me flyweight still seemed like the tougher weight. The speed difference, the technique. There is just so much talent,” Cejudo said. “I’m just proud to be part of that history. To watch it, to even be able to have Deiveson Figueiredo beat a guy like Brandon, where we were once friends to being rivals in corners and I was able to help someone else. It’s just cool. It all falls back to storylines. And that’s what this quadrilogy is. It’s a storyline that has Demetrious Johnson with the longest win streak to the “Triple C” — the greatest act of all time — and then you obviously have these guys doing the fourth fight for the first time.”

“I’m just happy for the other athletes who are 125 who are able to make good money,” Johnson said. “I had my time with the UFC and I’ve moved on to bigger and better things for ONE Championship, getting ready for the trilogy with Adriano Moraes. You have Figgy and Moreno going for their quadrilogy. At the end of the day, I want everyone to make good money and have a good time.”

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Source by [Livezstream.com]

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