Over the past few years, the UFC’s flyweight division has been on life support. That is especially the case after Demetrious Johnson was traded to ONE for Ben Askren. Although he cleaned out the division, Johnson made it entertaining. When he left, a number of flyweights were let go and new Flyweight Champion Henry Cejudo moved on to the bantamweight division.
Cejudo may have given the division some much-needed time after beating T.J. Dillashaw back in January. Since then, however, Cejudo won the vacant title after Dillashaw tested positive for EPO. Relinquishing the title, the flyweight division was in limbo again. That is, until Dana White was able to book two fighters that could save the division for good.
On the latest “Why Should I Care“, FIGHT SPORTS looks into the Flyweight Championship fight this weekend pitting Joseph Benavidez against Deiveson Figueiredo. The bout will take place inside the Chartway Arena in Norfolk, Virginia.
Banavidez has been ranked number one in the UFC’s flyweight rankings for a while. Figueiredo recently moved up to number three. Their journey to this bout has been one of frustration, dominance and reflection.
This is a long time coming for Benavidez (28-5), who has been waiting for a championship fight since his initial loss to Johnson in the finals for the then-vacant title at UFC 152 back in 2012. Since that defeat, the third of his career, “Joey Two Times” has won nine of his last ten fights. He is currently on a three-fight win streak, beating Jussier Formiga back in June via TKO.
Banavidez’s quest for a title goes back to 2010, when he lost to Dominick Cruz via split decision for the WEC Bantamweight Title. He lost another title opportunity for the Flyweight Title after a four-fight win streak against Johnson, putting him between a rock and a hard place. He then decided to focus on bettering himself, his family and others around him. His marriage to Megan Olivi, as well as living life, has changed his perspectives. The desire for a title is still there, but a win will mean more than just a championship to put around his waist.
“To me, the best part about winning the belt is hugging my wife after,” Benavidez went on to say to MMA Fighting. “That is a moment. You can have things but moments are everything. That’s a moment that is more important than anything. Hugging my coach and my corner men and seeing the UFC staff that I’ve seen every event backstage for years and years, the fans that have watched me for years and years, those moments are more important. I’ll be motivated to have more of those moments and those feelings and everything that goes along with it.
“That’s what got me here. Just respecting those moments every single day. It will be a bigger moment. [The belt] is just an object.”
In Banavidez’s way is Deiveson Figueiredo (17-1), who made his debut with the company in 2017. The 32-year-old is on a two-fight win streak, beating Tim Elliot back in October via submission. Figueiredo lost the only fight of his career against Jussier Formiga back in March, and managed to make two quick comebacks.
The two were originally set to face off last year, but Figueiredo was injured and couldn’t compete. He also believes he was not in the right frame of mind to fight.
“This bout was supposed to have already taken place,” Figueiredo stated to MMAJunkie. “In truth, it was a good thing we didn’t fight. I had been dealing with a bad pelvic injury and was way above weight.
“Soon thereafter, I did face Jussier Formiga. I ended up losing, as I couldn’t train properly. I took that loss as a learning experience. It only served to increase my focus.”
Given time to concentrate on himself, Figueiredo feels better than ever before. Not thinking he would even get a title opportunity for the world title, the “God of War” is ready to fulfill his destiny.
“I didn’t have a proper team before,” Figueiredo went on to say. “I’d train with the Marajo brothers (Iuri and Ildemar Alcantara). Now I put together my own team, where everyone and all training sessions are done with me in mind. I have an excellent team who’s great at studying my opponents. I’m very well-prepared. I feel like a new fighter. The world will get a new champion. I am that champion.”
The #SaveTheFlyweight campaign ruled over social media with an iron fist for so long. Now, the spotlight is on the division and two fighters worthy of a title opportunity. Hopefully, the fight will have enough support to the point the division will be built up again.
The main card of UFC Fight Night 169 has a start time of 8 p.m. ET on ESPN+. Who will walk out the Flyweight Champion?