Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno are two of the four pillars that hold the UFC flyweight division together. Figueiredo and Moreno will make history at UFC 283, but making history is nothing new for these tenacious 125-pound fighters.
Traditionally ignored by promoters and fans, the four flyweight kings are among the most accomplished athletes in MMA history. First champion Demetrius Johnson holds the record for most consecutive and successful UFC title defenses and is considered one of the greatest fighters of all time. Henry Cejudo is the only Olympian to become a UFC champion and one of only four UFC fighters to win two divisions at the same time. Figueiredo and Moreno will meet on Saturday for the fourth time in what will go down in history as the first four-fight streak in the UFC, as well as the fact that each fight will be played for the title.
Figueiredo and Moreno have given the flyweight division a lifeline in times of great uncertainty: this is the first truly serious rivalry.
“From the very first fight, he was talking nonsense about me,” Moreno told CBS Sports before UFC 283. “Then I beat him in the second fight, and this guy hugged me and lifted me. This time, after the Kai Cara-France fight, he came into the octagon, trying to find some problems, but then he looked calm.
“Then the next week — even less than a week — he started talking nonsense again! God, this is too much. I think that’s reason enough not to like this guy… If you want to be an asshole, be an asshole. every time to me. But don’t come around, hug me and say nice things to me, and then go to the media and start talking nonsense. I’m not with these guys.”
“When I entered the cage after Moreno’s win, I wanted to respect him and respect his moment,” Figueiredo told CBS Sports through a translator. “I didn’t want to give it up. Now everything is back to normal. I’m not friends with Moreno. Make no mistake. I’m not friends with him and I’m ready to fight.”
Figueiredo and Moreno spent a lot of time together: for more than an hour they fought each other in the octagon together. Their dislike for each other is a nuisance on a personal level and a boon on a professional level, but their unprecedented rivalry almost never came to fruition.
division at the exit
Between 2017 and 2019, the UFC’s attitude towards flyweight changed from dismissive to devastating. Johnson was traded from the UFC to ONE Championship in 2018 after he lost to Cejudo in a controversial decision. This was followed by a flyweight exodus that caused panic among many fans. Moreno himself fell victim to this unloading. Moreno, a high-profile fighter at the time, parted ways with the UFC at the end of 2018 after consecutive losses to high-level fighters Sergio Pettis and Alexander Pantoia. Moreno was released along with fellow flyweights Hector Sandoval and Matheus Nicolaou. Many well-known lightweights left the company between 2017 and 2019 despite wins or no more than one loss in a row.
“It’s crazy how the history of this division is like a rollercoaster ride,” Moreno told CBS Sports. “… There is a lot of history: good and bad history. I understand it. But now I think that the flyweights are more than alive. I am so happy to be a part of the history of this sport.”
Even Figueiredo, an exciting finisher who fought regularly during this period, was poised to move up to bantamweight.
“I would feel comfortable going up,” Figueiredo said. “But I prefer to be where I am because it’s much easier for me to dominate.”
Johnson suggested that the UFC was willing to use its fellow flyweights as collateral damage during negotiations with the company.
“I think they used it as a tactic to get me to do something so they didn’t have to pay me. I have no idea,” Johnson told CBS Sports ahead of his ONE World Flyweight Championship trilogy against Adriano Moraes on May 5. in Colorado. “There’s a lot of great talent out there and I think that might have been a tactic because obviously when I left you had Henry Cejudo who was ready to move up to bantamweight.”
But Cejudo insists the UFC was serious about boarding up the flyweight shop. Cejudo said the “Triple C” gimmick he used was a direct response to the promotion’s distrust of the division. An attempt to bring mainstream flavor to the division while new stars are being formed.
“I will never forget this because I was on the first episode of the Contender Series and I was with Dana White,” Cejudo said. “I remember he invited me to dine with him. I jumped into his red Ferrari and as we drove to the UFC Performance Institute he said to me, “Henry, I just want you to know we’re going to get rid of the division.”
Figueiredo vs Moreno 1: services and fireworks
Figueiredo and Moreno should be grateful for the goodwill gesture that brought the UFC back to flyweight. Figueiredo captured the flyweight title with two wins over Joseph Benavidez (in 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 Pérez. On the same night, Moreno scored a big win against Brandon Royal. But even more important news was that a scheduled UFC bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling had just fallen through.
The pair agreed to fight 21 days later, with the UFC flyweight title on the line. In the blink of an eye, the seemingly graveyard division headlined back-to-back pay-per-views with Tony Ferguson, Charles Oliveira and UFC Women’s Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko fighting underneath.
Everyone expected Figueiredo to break up Moreno. Figueiredo’s formidable strength, capable of rivaling the God of War character he draws inspiration from, was unlike anything the UFC’s flyweight division had seen. Figueiredo entered the fight with seven finishes in nine UFC fights and four straight stoppages. Moreno pulled off an impressive win over Royval, but Royval was helped by a shoulder injury in the middle of the fight.
“I remember before the first fight with Daveson, everyone was like, ‘Dude, this guy is incredible, this guy is a monster, this guy has a lot of power, he is very important for the division,’” Moreno said.
Moreno either muffled this murmuring or mocked him because he was fearless. From the start of the fight, Moreno embraced the archetype of the Mexican fighting spirit. Moreno repeatedly jabbed Figueiredo to the face, tripped the champion, and absorbed big punches well. Moreno probably lost the first round, but it turned out to be a big deal. The two fought tooth and nail until the end of the fight. The judges unanimously agreed in rounds 1 and 3 for Figueiredo and in round 4 for Moreno, but the deduction of points in round 3 for a low blow led to an indecisive conclusion. One judge scored the fight Figueiredo 48-46, while the other two judged it 47-47 with a draw majority. Figueiredo retained his flyweight title, but not definitively.
Upset in rematch
The inconclusive outcome called for an immediate rematch withsecond place. Figueiredo and Moreno have been offered enough time to make adjustments for their second fight, which will take place at UFC 263 on June 12, 2021 – six months before the day of their first encounter.
“I felt his strength, I felt his punches,” Moreno said. “My mind started talking to me and said, ‘Of course this guy is really good and he certainly has power, but that’s not unusual.’ So my motivation increased a lot before 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 resilience and commitment to offense diminished the bookies’ infatuation with Figueiredo. The champion went down from around -300 to -200 favorites against the challenger. Fans waiting for another competitive fight didn’t see what was about to happen.
Moreno beat Figueiredo on his feet and dropped him in the last minutes of the first round, overtaking him 28-7. Figueiredo wisely changed his approach in the second round and defeated Moreno, but Moreno’s hard-fought proved more powerful. Mexico’s great hope was realised, and it was unstoppable. Moreno fired a takedown with a bodylock in the third round and grabbed Figueireda by the back in the grapple. In the middle of the round, Figueiredo gasped for air and tapped, demanding an excuse. A rear naked choke secured Moreno the UFC Flyweight Championship. The first UFC champion of Mexican origin was appointed.
Balancing the Scales in the Trilogy
Figueiredo and Moreno started 2022 with a trilogy under Francis Ngannou and Cyril Gein at UFC 270, the UFC’s lightest men’s division and the heaviest division in the spotlight. Figueiredo was one of the original adopters of coach Henry Cejudo, who has now retired from active competition. Other world champions Jon Jones, Jiri Prochaska and Zhang Weili have since joined Cejudo’s team. Cejudo once mentored Moreno before a rift occurred between the two, adding fuel to the rubber match.
“In the third fight, I was very pleased to work with Cejudo,” said Figueiredo. “The second fight, a lot of things happened in my life. A lot of different things. All this time I wanted to get a green card. I want my family to be with me. on…