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Win for Figueiredo Only Adds More Confusion to Murky UFC Flyweight Division

Tom TaylorContributor IMarch 1, 2020

NORFOLK, VA - FEBRUARY 29:  Deiveson Figueiredo is interviewed after defeating Joseph Benavidez in their flyweight championship bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Chartway Arena on February 29, 2020 in Norfolk, Virginia. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Getty Images

Deiveson Figueiredo picked up the biggest win of his career in the main event of Saturday's UFC Fight Night 169 card in Norfolk, Virginia, nuking the highly regarded Joseph Benavidez with a second-round right hand to the jaw.

The moment Benavidez hit the deck, any hope of order in the UFC flyweight division disintegrated.

Figueiredo and Benavidez were supposed to fight for the division's title, which was vacated by the former champion Henry Cejudo in December. Unfortunately, things hit a snag at the Friday-morning weigh-ins for the card. While Benavidez weighed in half a pound below the 125-pound limit for flyweight title fights, Figueiredo missed his mark, tipping the scales at 127.5 pounds. This meant that he would not be eligible to win the vacant title even if he destroyed Benavidez—which is precisely what he ended up doing.

It was a jaw-dropping performance, but it solved nothing.

The flyweight division is still without a champion, and to make matters worse, there's no clear path to crowning one.

Figueiredo, for what it's worth, seems to think it's as simple as jumping into another title matchup—and making weight this time. 

"The belt is coming," he said through his translator and manager Wallid Ismail when cage-side commentator Michael Bisping asked him about his blunder on the scale. "I'm relaxed about this. I'm going to be the next UFC flyweight champion. There's no doubt about it: the next time I'm going to make the weight." 

Despite Figueiredo's optimism, however, it probably won't be that simple.  

The UFC's decision-makers have proved themselves to be quite vindictive and will probably be unwilling to let Figueiredo anywhere near a title fight after his scale fail. Even if they surprise us with their mercifulness and book him for another title fight, it's difficult to say who he could be matched up with.

Let's not beat around the bush: Joseph Benavidez was the A-side of this would-be flyweight title fight in Norfolk. His was the eye-catching name on the ticket and his was the story that was generating interest in the bout.

He's no Conor McGregor, but he's been around the UFC forever, assembling a fantastic 15-3 Octagon record during his time with the promotion. He's also fought twice for flyweight gold before, losing on both occasions to MMA legend Demetrious Johnson. Fans know him, and they wanted to see if the third time would be the charm in his quest for a UFC championship. No other fighter in the flyweight division is going to generate interest in a fight for the vacant title the way he did.  

But Figueiredo blew him out of the water, which means that the UFC will have to look elsewhere for Figueiredo's next opponent—and man, it's slim pickings.

Over the last year or so, the promotion has gutted its flyweight roster. It let Kyoji Horiguchi takes his talents to Japan's RIZIN Fighting Federation. It cut Ben Nguyen and Ulka Sasaki. It let Sergio Pettis move up to the bantamweight division, then all the way over to Bellator. And of course, it traded Demetrious Johnson away to ONE Championship in exchange for Ben Askren.

At the end of this purge—which was so severe that it caused widespread suspicions that the UFC was cutting the division altogether—the flyweight roster is a frankly pathetic 17 fighters deep. 

Seventeen fighters!

That means that all but two flyweights on the roster are ranked in the division's top-15 by default. For further context, consider this: the talent-starved UFC heavyweight and women's bantamweight rosters are home to 45 and 34 fighters, respectively.

To make matters worse, the UFC as signed just one new flyweight of late: Kazakhstan's Zhalgas Zhumagulov, who was undoubtedly picked up to bolster the promotion's planned June debut in the Central Asian country. The 125-pound roster is certainly not being expanded with any kind of urgency.

The UFC flyweight division is, of course, home to some legitimately impressive talent, such as Figueiredo, Brandon Moreno, Alexandre Pantoja and Kai Kara-France. Unfortunately, none of these men have thus far proved themselves to be particularly marketable. None have asserted themselves as much-watch TV. In other words, none of them are going to make compelling opponents for Figueiredo, or whoever else the UFC deems worthy of fighting for the vacant throne, which is probably starting to collect dust by now.  

Suffice it to say that the outlook for the flyweight division is grim. 

The division has no king. In Figueiredo, it effectively has a No. 1 contender who has created concerns about his own ability to safely make the division's weight limit. It has no truly marketable contenders beyond him. It's a bad spot for a weight class that is widely regarded as the UFC's least popular, and it could have all been avoided had Figueiredo tipped the scales just two-and-a-half pounds lighter and done everything else exactly the same.

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