The Real Winners and Losers from UFC 256
It's the most wonderful time of the year.
Particularly if you're a big combat sports fan.
On the same day of a heavyweight boxing title match in London and a week before Canelo Alvarez makes his square-ring return in Texas, the UFC's final pay-per-view show of 2020 promised fireworks with a hard-hitting champion in the main event and a former interim titleholder in the co-headliner.
And by the time fight night ended early Sunday morning, it had delivered.
We won't divulge any specific results here, but suffice to say a few superlatives that had already been decided—namely KO of the Year and Fight of the Year—might be open to a little bit more debate.
The star-studded crew of Daniel Cormier, Joe Rogan and Jon Anik had the call on the ESPN broadcast and were joined by Trevor Wittman for technical analysis and Megan Olivi for backstage features and interviews.
"It was fantastic," Rogan said. "I feel very lucky to be sitting here calling these fights."
Meanwhile, the B/R combat sports team was in its standard weekend spot to take a look at the results and determine the real winners and losers of the 10-bout card that covered nearly six hours.
Take a look at what we came up with and drop a verbal strike or two of your own in the comments.
Winner: Flyweight Street Cred
If Dana White says it, it's got to be true.
The UFC boss said in the aftermath of Saturday's flyweight main event that it was the greatest bout in the history of the 125-pound division.
It had blood. It had guts. It had violence. It had intrigue.
As it turned out, it had everything but a winner.
Champion Deiveson Figueiredo was pushed to the five-round limit for the first time in his career, but he proved resolute enough to meet the challenge, rallying in the final five minutes to salvage a majority draw with rugged Mexican challenger Brandon Moreno.
The Brazilian champion, who'd never gone past three rounds, earned a 47-46 verdict on one official scorecard and was deadlocked 47-47 on the other two, meaning his win in the fifth round kept him from dropping the title by a majority decision.
The B/R card had him up, 48-46.
"I can't argue with the decision because it was so damn close," Rogan said. "I was watching the ebbs and flows of the fight, and I don't know if you can do any better as a challenger against a guy who's been so dominant as a champion."
Moreno left the cage with a hideous swelling around his right eye and an injury to his left arm that he said originated when he felt his shoulder pop after throwing a jab. Meanwhile, Figueiredo said after the fight that he'd been in a local hospital at 2 a.m. with a stomach infection.
Both men had fought and won at UFC 255 just 21 days ago before turning around and again making the 125-pound limit for their contest. It was the quickest championship turnaround in UFC history.
"I felt like a champion every single round," Figueiredo said. "I came in here. I felt I did a good job. I fought all five rounds, and I think it was a good performance. If they want to put him in front of me for the next fight, I'm open for that. Maybe with a full training camp I'll be able to neutralize his game."
The champion started strong and strafed Moreno with stinging shots to the body and head in the first two rounds, but Moreno showed off his durability in the third and began landing shots of his own in addition to taking the champion to the mat.
Figueiredo was penalized a point by referee Jason Herzog following a low kick in the third, a deduction that cost him a unanimous-decision victory.
The champion, though, had no complaints.
"[Herzog] did his job," he said. "It's not my place to say anything."
Moreno continued to rally through the fourth round, but Figueiredo had the better of it in the fifth, landing 16 significant strikes to Moreno's eight and scoring the round's lone takedown.
Overall, he had 137 significant strikes to Moreno's 132. Both men were successful on 50 percent of their takedown attempts—two of four for Figueiredo and four of eight for Moreno.
"I knew the fight was very close," Moreno said. "I know I wanted the belt, but I feel so happy. We need a rematch. For me. For Figueiredo. For the fans. For everybody."
Winner: Leveling Up
This just in: Charles Oliveira is for real.
A longtime resident of the UFC's competitive fringes, the brash Brazilian scored the most significant win of his 12-year career, controlling nearly every second of all three rounds on the way to a clear decision over former interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson.
All three judges gave Oliveira a 30-26 margin, as did the Bleacher Report scorecard.
The win was the eighth in a row for the veteran submission master, who has more finishes via tapout than anyone on the promotional roster. He nearly got a first-round surrender from Ferguson, whose left arm was extended into a cringe-inducing position at the buzzer.
"He's a champion. I knew he wasn't going to tap out," Oliveira said. "You tell me: Who's dominated him like that?"
The control continued across the final 10 minutes, with Oliveira frequently getting Ferguson to the ground and into dangerous positions. The 31-year-old also had the better of the action standing up, where he was faster and sharper than the Californian, who was making his first appearance since a brutal TKO loss to Justin Gaethje in May.
Prior to that bout, he'd gone eight years without a defeat.
Oliveira entered the fight ranked seventh at 155 pounds to Ferguson's third, and he immediately made a belt-wrapping gesture following the official announcement. He said afterward that Dana White suggested the winner of Saturday's bout would fight for the title in 2021.
Khabib Nurmagomedov defended against Gaethje in October and claimed he was retiring, but he hasn't officially relinquished the belt.
No. 2 contender Dustin Poirier and No. 4 Conor McGregor will fight at UFC 257 in January, and Oliveira said he'll be on hand ready to challenge the winner, or go straight to Nurmagomedov if he stays on.
"I'm coming in 2021. I'm coming," Oliveira declared.
Winner: Doing It Differently
And all of a sudden, the KO of the Year race is reopened.
Frenetic middleweight Kevin Holland made his fifth appearance of the year his most memorable, finishing veteran Jacare Souza from the unlikeliest of positions in just 105 seconds.
The talkative Californian was flat on his back with a kneeling Souza in control of his legs when he sat up, torqued his body and cracked Souza across the forehead with a right hand.
The Brazilian reeled backward onto his heels as Holland sprang up and followed with four more vicious shots before referee Mark Smith jumped in at 1:45.
"We've watched a lot of fights between the three of us," Rogan said, "and we've never seen anything like that. To stagger him that badly with a right hook off his back. Incredible. We've seen Jacare in there with some of the biggest names in the world, and no one's ever done that."
It gave Holland the second-longest active middleweight win streak at five fights, trailing only champion Israel Adesanya, who's won nine in a row. And it may have opened up the aforementioned KO of the Year race, which had been ceded to Joaquin Buckley's spinning back-kick finish of Impa Kasanganay.
Holland, incidentally, KO'd Buckley in August.
Following the Souza erasure, he called for a sixth fight in 2020 and challenged streaking welterweight/middleweight Khamzat Chimaev to face him on next weekend's Fight Night show.
"I just love to fight," Holland said. "I'm gonna bang that boy up. I'm gonna bang him up. I'm driving to Cali tonight. But I'll drive back here tomorrow if I have to."
Loser: Reveling in Success
Ciryl Gane looked like the future of the heavyweight division.
But upon further review, he wasn't sure it would last.
The mammoth Frenchman took the measure of a former UFC heavyweight champion in Saturday's pay-per-view opener, landing a combination of kicks, punches and elbows that stopped Junior Dos Santos in Round 2 of their scheduled three-rounder.
The decisive sequence came early in the second, when a right-hand jab from Gane's southpaw stance drove the Brazilian veteran backward to the fence. Gane landed a clean elbow in a subsequent tie-up and followed with another as Dos Santos turned away, dropping the ex-champ to his knees.
Two more left-hand strikes prompted a halt by referee Jerin Valel, but the result was instantly challenged by Dos Santos on the grounds that the final blow had landed on the back of the head.
Replays showed the shot to be borderline, though each member of the ESPN crew called it legal because Gane's forearm made contact with Dos Santos' left ear as the elbow landed.
"It's a legal shot," Wittman said. "Anything touches the ear is a legal shot."
Gane, though, cringed as he watched a replay.
"[On the back of the head], a little bit, maybe," he said.
Assuming the result stands, it'll go down as the seventh straight win overall and fourth in a row in the Octagon for Gane, equaling the division's longest active win streak.
"He has everything you look for. He's undefeated. He's young. He's a specialist," Cormier said. "Beautiful fluid movement and technical ability. He showed a very high level of technical skill.
"It's sad to see him even questioning what he did."
Winner: Valuing Family
Cub Swanson is one scary-looking dude, particularly after he turns an opponent's lights out with a vicious combination.
But a few minutes after that, the 37-year-old appeared downright docile.
"I just kept thinking about my kids," said a teary-eyed Swanson, who is a father of three, moments after his second-round KO of Daniel Pineda in their scheduled three-rounder at featherweight. "I just want to be a hero to them."
The rugged Californian resembled a superhero throughout the six-plus minutes of combat, frequently rattling his bigger opponent with jolting right hands. Pineda barely survived an onslaught late in the first round, then was dumped to the floor with a right uppercut followed by a crunching right hook.
Pineda was rendered horizontal by that follow-up shot, which prompted Swanson to throw his hands into the air. But Mark Smith didn't immediately intervene, which allowed the "Killer" to land one more clean ground strike before it was halted at 1:52 of Round 2.
His seven finishes at 145 pounds are third in the division's history, while his 17 wins are second.
"I knew that he wanted to strike a little bit and see what he was made of," Swanson said. "I was super chill and I just kept telling myself, 'Be the faster man.' When I relaxed and started letting my hands go, things worked out."
Loser: Beating the Clock
From the instant the bout between Renato Moicano and Rafael Fiziev began, it was imperative for the Brazilian to get the fight to floor and negate Fiziev's crippling lightweight power.
But Moicano couldn't make it happen, so when the fight did go horizontal, it was by Fiziev's design. And it was over.
The stocky Kyrgyzstan export rendered his foe senseless with a textbook three-punch combo, dumping him to the mat and earning an abrupt KO victory at 4:05 of the first round.
"His striking ability is next level," Cormier said. "That combination was absolutely beautiful. It was just perfect. What a combination. What a performance."
Fiziev began the sequence with a subtle dip to his left as he lashed Moicano with a left hook to the body. He followed with an overhand right that landed square on the chin and finished the combination with a sweeping left hook that left his man flat on his back.
Fiziev quickly pounced with a clean right-hand chop to the face of his stricken foe, which prompted a quick intervention from referee Chris Tognoni. Moicano initially protested the stoppage but reeled backward upon reaching his feet, showing the true impact the punches had made.
"When it comes to striking," Rogan said, "this guy is legit world-class."
Indeed, it was Fiziev's sixth KO in nine career wins and third win in four UFC bouts.
"I don't have anything to say," he said. "I say everything in the cage that I want. I want to say to everyone in my division, 'Train hard, more hard, every day.' Because I'm coming, too."
Winner: Using Your Tools
Gavin Tucker relaxed on the mat as a particularly intense featherweight match with Billy Quarantillo ended and leaned contentedly against the cage with a smile creeping across his face.
It's the look a fighter has when he knows he's pitched a competitive shutout.
The 34-year-old Canadian put on the most versatile performance of a 10-year-career, connecting on 60 percent of his significant strikes and posting a career-best in takedowns on the way to a unanimous-decision triumph.
"At the end of the fight, he sat on the edge of the Octagon because he was tired. But during the fight, you'd have never known it," Cormier said. "Strikes, elbows, body shots, kicks. Everything straight. And seven takedowns. He had a fantastic performance."
Shorter and more compact than his 6'1" opponent, Tucker was nevertheless effective at distance because of better striking technique and controlled the action in close with superior strength.
It was his fourth win in five UFC outings and ended Quarantillo's eight-fight win streak.
"I really wanted this one. Billy is a helluva fighter and that was a helluva fight," he said. "My toolbox is getting deeper. We've just been working on getting those tools out. I'm happy with the win, but I'm sure watching it back, it's going to look pretty dirty. He was pitching baseballs out there. It was pretty rough and tumble."
Winner: Dreaming Winning Dreams
Chase Hooper was five minutes away from another awful 2020 dream.
The Washington native had begun his career with nine wins and a draw before dropping a one-sided decision in June, and he seemed headed toward a second straight defeat after presumably losing the first two rounds to aggressive featherweight veteran Peter Barrett.
Until the 21-year-old showed the mettle of a much older fighter.
Hobbled by a kick to his right leg, a desperate Hooper was forced to take the fight to the floor and made it pay off, cinching Barrett's right leg and forcing a heel-hook tap out with just 118 seconds remaining.
"He dove in on the legs and made the right adjustments. It was very impressive," Rogan said. "And most impressive was that he never lost his composure."
Indeed, Hooper flicked a two-punch combination before changing levels and rolling onto Barrett's right leg. He worked his way into a better position while occupying his foe with left-handed strikes, then seized the heel and twisted it, awkwardly wrenching Barrett's knee and prompting an immediate surrender.
"I felt I was doing a really good job mentally," Hooper said. "It's a lot of learning on the fly. Being a young guy, I get a lot of guys who are physically in their prime. I'm not there yet. But I'm happy to get back on the winning side."
UFC 256 Full Card Results
Deiveson Figueiredo drew with Brandon Moreno (47-46, 47-47, 47-47)
Charles Oliveira def. Tony Ferguson by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
Mackenzie Dern def. Virna Jandiroba by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Kevin Holland def. Jacare Souza by KO (punches), 1:45, Round 1
Ciryl Gane def. Junior Dos Santos by KO (elbow), 2:34, Round 2
Cub Swanson def. Daniel Pineda by KO (punches), 1:52, Round 2
Rafael Fiziev def. Renato Moicano by KO (punches), 4:05, Round 1
Gavin Tucker def. Billy Quarantillo by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Tecia Torres def. Sam Hughes by TKO (doctor's stoppage), 5:00, Round 1
Chase Hooper def. Peter Barrett by submission (heel hook), 3:02, Round 3
Performances of the Night
Kevin Holland, Rafael Fiziev
Fight of the Night
Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno