7 Fights We Need to See After UFC 256
UFC 256, the UFC's final pay-per-view event of this most turbulent year, will enter the history books as one of its greatest. The card was thrilling from beginning to end.
In the main event, we saw flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo hang on to his title with his fingernails against fiery challenger Brandon Moreno to a majority draw in one of the fights of the year. In the co-main event, surging lightweight contender Charles Oliveira picked up a career-altering decision victory at the expense of Tony Ferguson. Elsewhere on the card, we witnessed epic finishes from the likes of Kevin Holland, Ciryl Gane, Cub Swanson, Rafael Fiziev and Chase Hooper.
It was the kind of card that had a little bit of everything—the kind of card we would all be talking about at the water cooler Monday morning if we weren't working from home.
But what comes next? Where do the stars go when their bruises have healed and their broken bones have been reset?
We will do our best to answer that question in the slides to come. Without further ado, here are the fights we want to see now that an unforgettable UFC 256 is in the rearview mirror.
Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno 2
Have you ever had a meal so good that you returned to the same restaurant the next night? That's how most fans feel about the UFC 256 main event, which saw UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo narrowly defend his title with a riveting majority draw against Brandon Moreno.
Had Figueiredo won decisively, as the oddsmakers believed he would, we would likely be talking about him fighting Cody Garbrandt or even Henry Cejudo right now. Yet the fight was anything but decisive. It was as close as title defenses get, and given that reality, there's only one suitable way forward: a rematch.
Figueiredo will return to Brazil with the UFC flyweight title in his luggage, but he has not proved he is Moreno's better. And given that the pair's fight was also one of the best of the year—maybe even of all time—few people would object to seeing them run it back in pursuit of a more decisive outcome.
The other perk of an immediate rematch between the two flyweight stars is that it gives former bantamweight champion Garbrandt, the perceived No. 1 contender at flyweight, an opportunity to pick up a win in the division, something he has yet to do.
It makes all the sense in the world, and UFC President Dana White knows it.
Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje
UFC lightweight great Tony Ferguson started 2020 on a ridiculous, twelve-fight win-streak. He's ended it on a two-fight skid. That's thanks to a TKO loss to Justin Gaethje in May and, more recently, a decision loss to Charles Oliveira in the UFC 256 co-main event.
Oliveira was the picture of dominance against Ferguson—a man once pegged as the unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov's kryptonite. For three rounds, he dragged his rival through a grappling hell few other people are likely to have survived. It was as impressive as victories come.
In the wake of this career-changing performance, Oliveira has many compelling options in terms of his next opponent. With Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier fighting in January, however, the best option is a fight with Gaethje.
The UFC's No. 1-ranked lightweight contender has not fought since he was submitted by Nurmagomedov in a title fight in October and is undoubtedly starting to hunger for the opportunity to get back on track. Match him up with Oliveira to see which of Ferguson's two 2020 foils is superior. It has Fight of the Year written all over it, and it would elevate the winner to almost irrefutable No. 1 contender status.
Mackenzie Dern vs. Tecia Torres
In the second bout of the UFC 256 undercard, strawweight veteran Tecia Torres picked up a lopsided stoppage win over short-notice replacement Sam Hughes. In the middle bout of the UFC 256 main card, rising strawweight star Mackenzie Dern picked up a decision win in a thrilling slugfest with Virna Jandiroba.
If the UFC matchmakers have any sense at all, they will pit these two strawweight winners against each other.
Torres entered the cage at UFC 256 with the No. 10 spot in the division's rankings, while Dern was positioned at No. 11, so the fight makes sense from a rankings standpoint. It also seems like it would be fun for viewers, as Torres showed renewed aggression in her win over Hughes, and Dern flaunted some massively improved striking in her victory against Jandiroba.
Both women seem to be levelling up at the same time. Pit them against each other and see who belongs in the strawweight top 10. Rest assured, it would probably be a fun fight.
Kevin Holland vs. Derek Brunson
Generally speaking, you do not want to find yourself underneath Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in an MMA fight—not if you don't like being choked unconscious or having your arm ripped off at the shoulder.
Unless you are Kevin Holland.
Midway through the first round of his main card middleweight fight with Jacare, Holland blasted his foe with a series of sizzling right hands from bottom position and miraculously removed the Brazilian's batteries in the process.
With this first-round knockout win over the legend, Holland moved to 5-0 in 2020 alone—a streak that makes him a front-runner for Fighter of the Year honors. In his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, he asked for the opportunity to make it 6-0 in 2020 by fighting Khamzat Chimaev on Saturday. While that's fun to think about, it's not going to happen.
Thankfully, there are plenty of other compelling options for Holland, who is a fresh face in the middleweight top 15. Our pick is a fight with the division's No. 7-ranked contender Derek Brunson. He recently derailed the hype train of the formerly unbeaten Edmen Shahbazyan and would probably welcome the opportunity to slow the rise of another up-and-comer. Throw this fight on a pay-per-view main card and give the winner a fight with a top-five foe.
Ciryl Gane vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
When a whale dies, it sinks. As its carcass descends into the darkness, it feeds dozens of other species, from opportunistic sharks to the tiny marine organisms that populate the crushing depths. It's a process marine biologists call whale fall.
Whale fall is what came to mind while watching former TKO heavyweight champion Cyril Gane pummel Junior dos Santos to a second-round knockout on the UFC 256 main card. Dos Santos, once a giant of the heavyweight ecosystem, is enduring a clear fall from prominence and has unfortunately become an easy meal for most of the younger fighters he steps into the Octagon with.
Gane was the picture of dominance against the aging Brazilian, softening him up with a series of chopping kicks, finishing him off with a vicious elbow to the ear and setting himself up for a huge opportunity in his next outing.
Given his newness to the sport, the Frenchman, 7-0, has yet to fight many of the UFC's top big men and therefore has plenty of interesting options in terms of his next opponent. Our pick, though, is the No. 3-ranked Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who is also riding a knockout win over Dos Santos and is one of the few elite heavyweights without a fight booked.
Cub Swanson vs. Jose Aldo 2
Cub Swanson turned back the clock in the final fight of the UFC 256 undercard, flooring the highly regarded Daniel Pineda with a rocket-fuelled punch in the second round of their featherweight fight. It was his first knockout win since 2013 and precisely the kind of result he needed to remind the world just how game he is.
While it's hard to imagine the resurgent 37-year-old earning his long-desired crack at the UFC featherweight crown, it feels like the time has come for another opportunity he's been chasing for years: a rematch with former WEC and UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo.
Aldo defeated Swanson via eight-second knockout back in 2009. Swanson has since stated on many occasions that he would like to run back the fight. After his big win at UFC 256, the time has seemingly come.
Sure, Aldo is competing in the bantamweight division. And yes, he's booked for a fight against Marlon Vera on Saturday. But who cares? Swanson has earned this opportunity. Book the rematch between these two featherweight legends before one of them decides to call it a career.
Rafael Fiziev vs. Paul Felder
Full disclosure: This matchup was not my idea. Instead, credit goes to MMA Fighting's Jose Youngs.
But what a fight it would be!
Rafael Fiziev couldn't have looked much better when he returned to the Octagon on the UFC 256 undercard, as he levelled former featherweight contender Renato Moicano with a crackling three-punch combo. It was the biggest victory of the lightweight's career and the kind of performance that transforms a fighter from a prospect to a contender.
Having established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the crowded lightweight division, Fiziev deserves a big step up in competition. Enter Paul Felder, who delayed his retirement plans after a short-notice split decision loss to Rafael dos Anjos in November.
The lightweights stand out as two of flashiest and most lethal strikers in MMA, and it seems downright impossible that their potential collision would be anything short of thrilling.