5 Questions That Need to Be Answered Heading into UFC 255
UFC 255, the promotion's penultimate pay-per-view of 2020, is right around the corner.
The card, which goes down this Saturday inside the UFC APEX facility in Las Vegas, is decidedly lacking in the big-name department, particularly after the recent UFC 254 and 253 events, which were helmed by Khabib Nurmagomedov and Israel Adesanya respectively.
Nonetheless, UFC 255 is jam-packed with elite talent of all descriptions.
In the main event, UFC men's flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo will look to further cement his status as one of the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighters when he takes on unheralded challenger Alex Perez.
And in the co-main event, UFC women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko will make the fourth title defense of her reign opposite Jennifer Maia.
Elsewhere on the card, we'll see appearances from ranked contenders, aging legends and rising prospects, which should give us answers to a number of fistic questions.
Without further ado, here's what he we hope to have learned by the time the action has subsided in Sin City this weekend.
Can Deiveson Figueiredo Become a Star at Flyweight?
The men's flyweight division has always been popular among hardcore fans, but it's simultaneously struggled to gain traction among casual fans whose viewership is crucial to the success of every major MMA promotion.
That's due, at least in part, to the division never having a champion who really resonated with the masses.
Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson was one of the best fighters in the history of the sport but shockingly never caught on with casual fans. Henry Cejudo looked like he might become the division's poster boy, but he took flight after winning the title and fought out the remainder of his career at bantamweight.
Could Figueiredo be the man to finally draw some eyes to the flyweight division? It's possible.
While the Brazilian may have a hard time connecting with North American fans because he doesn't speak English, his fan-friendly fighting style—which has carried him to 16 finishes in 19 wins—seems to be generating some buzz.
If he's able to pick up another flashy win over Perez, he's likely to score even more points with the fans and could becoming the headline-grabbing champion the flyweight division has always needed.
Can Valentina Shevchenko Be Beaten at Flyweight?
There have been a handful of fighters throughout UFC history who have achieved such dominance that it's impossible to fathom them losing.
Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre had that kind of unbeatable aura, while Jon Jones, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Amanda Nunes are more recent examples.
UFC women's flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko, who is slated to defend her title against Jennifer Maia in the UFC 255 co-main event, is another.
Heading into Saturday, a victory for the titleholder feels as sure as Jon Jones and Israel Adesanya swapping asinine trash talk on Twitter. That's not a knock on Maia, it's merely an acknowledgement of the champion's skill.
Shevchenko is easily one of the best strikers in MMA at present—regardless of gender—which is really not surprising given her extensive muay thai background. She's also an incredible grappler, as she's proved in many fights, most notably her 2017 submission of Julianna Pena.
She's so good at everything that it's hard to imagine any 125-pound woman—no matter their specialty—giving her much trouble. She's not immune to defeat, but it doesn't seem like it'll happen any time soon.
We should have an even better sense of how untouchable she is after UFC 255.
How Much More Does 'Shogun' Have to Give?
There are only a handful of veterans of the defunct Japanese promotion Pride still competing in mixed martial arts today. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua is one of them.
Fifteen years after he won the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix in 2005, and 10 years after capturing the UFC light heavyweight title, the Brazilian legend is still slogging away on the sport's biggest stage. That trend will continue on Saturday when he takes on Scotland's Paul Craig.
Shogun and Craig have fought once before, in a 2019 fight that was ruled a draw after three competitive rounds. While fans are curious who will come out on top in this unlikely rivalry, a more pertinent question is how much gas Shogun has left in the tank.
The Brazilian legend has proved that, even at 38, he's still capable of thumping low-level and even mid-level light heavyweights. However, he's struggled regularly against the cream of the crop and is also considering retirement.
How much longer before he finally hangs up the gloves? We should have a clearer sense of that by the time his UFC 255 match with Craig concludes, particularly if he comes up short.
Who Is the No. 1 Contender at Flyweight?
Before Deiveson Figueiredo and Alex Perez battle for the flyweight title on Saturday, we'll be treated to a dynamite flyweight scrap between Brandon Moreno and Brandon Royval on the undercard.
Under ordinary circumstances, this fight between the two streaking flyweight stars would produce the division's No. 1 contender. However, these are not ordinary circumstances.
Before Figueiredo was booked to defend his title against Perez in the UFC 255 main event, he was scheduled to do so against former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt. It was only when the American was forced out of the match with an injury that Perez got the call to step in.
While Garbrandt has yet to compete in the UFC flyweight division, he's a bigger name than any other fighter in the weight class and is extremely accomplished at bantamweight. As such, he's widely expected to get the next crack at the Figueiredo-Perez winner.
However, if either Moreno or Royval can pull off something spectacular on the UFC 255 undercard, it might just be enough to leapfrog Garbrandt and swipe the next flyweight title shot.
Can Joaquin Buckley Keep His Momentum Going?
It was the knockout heard around the world.
During the preliminary segment of a UFC Fight Night card in October, Joaquin Buckley turned the lights off on the highly regarded Impa Kasanganay with a ridiculous spinning back kick to the chin.
It was hailed by many fans as the best knockout of the year, while some of the more excitable members of the MMA community called it the best knockout ever.
While that highlight-reel win made Buckley a viral star, it didn't change the fact that he was knocked out in his previous fight or that that he'd been soundly beaten in two fights further back in his career.
As good as he looked against Kasanganay, he's got some work to do if he wants to evolve from viral sensation to legitimate middleweight contender. He'll look to do just that when he takes on Jordan Wright on the UFC 255 undercard.
Can he succeed? Time will tell.