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UFC 255 predictions, preview, and analysis

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is gearing up for what could be the biggest night in the history of the flyweight division as not one, but TWO championship titles will be on the line in the UFC 255 pay-per-view (PPV) event. Headlining the ESPN+ main card, which takes place this Sat. night (Nov. 21, 2020) inside APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, Alex Perez will step in for the injured Cody Garbrandt to challenge Deiveson Figueiredo for the 125-pound strap. Before that five-round showcase gets underway, women’s flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko will attempt to thwart the uprising of surging division contender Jennifer Maia.

Before we break down the five-fight main card, which also features the light heavyweight rematch between Mauricio Rua and Paul Craig, as well as an appearance from welterweight slugger Mike Perry, remember to first have a look at what combat sports connoisseur Patrick Stumberg had to say about the UFC 255 preliminary card offerings, split between ESPN+ and ESPN2, by clicking here and here. Latest UFC 255 odds and betting lines for all of this weekend’s “Figueiredo vs. Perez” action will be deconstructed here.

Let’s get to work.

125 lbs.: Flyweight Champion Deiveson “Daico” Figueiredo (19-1) vs. Alex Perez (24-5)

Deiveson Figueiredo rose to power about two years too late, which is frustrating as a fan because I would have enjoyed watching “Daico” put his speed and explosiveness against the likes of Demetrious Johnson and Henry Cejudo. Unfortunately, the promotion despised “Mighty Mouse” and didn’t want to give “Triple C” the same kind of money afforded to other double champs like Conor McGregor and Daniel Cormier, so the division has slowly deteriorated with the loss of its two biggest talents. There was a glimmer of hope when Cody Garbrandt announced his drop to 125 pounds, but he’s still in the rebuilding phase after blasting his way out of a three-fight losing streak in which he was knocked out all three times. Not that it matters, as “No Love” is back on the injured reserves until further notice so we have Figueiredo taking on Alex Perez, which I’m sure bewildered the higher-ranked Brandon Moreno.

I don’t have a problem with the fight going to Perez. After all, the Californian has been more impressive in recent outings, winning three in a row and scoring back-to-back finishes over Jordan Espinosa and Jussier Formiga. The latter carries more weight than the others simply because the Brazilian was the only flyweight to beat Figueiredo. I also like the fact that Perez has finished four of his six wins since graduating season one of Dana White’s “Contender Series.” At the same time, we can’t ignore the technical knockout loss Perez suffered against Joseph Benavidez, because November 2018 is not exactly ancient history. Yes, “Joe Jitsu” is still one of the best flyweights in the world, but we are trying to make a case for Perez winning the flyweight title from a murderous power puncher, not debate his place in the official rankings.

I think it’s important to note that Perez can win this fight and it shouldn't be considered a fluke. He trained boxing long before transitioning to MMA, sharing the same gym as WBC and WBO light welterweight champion Jose Ramirez. He may not have the same power as Figueiredo, but he doesn’t need to if he counters with superior technique. Perez was also an All American wrestler competing for West Hills College Lemoore, which should worry Figueiredo fans when you consider that “Daico” was taken down seven times by Jarred Brooks and three times by Formiga. Somehow I don't think the threat of the takedown will be enough to ease the forward pressure of the champion, who will continue to swing for the fences as long as they remain upright. This is a 25-minute fight and Figueiredo is going to land. The question is how much of that punishment can Perez absorb and still stick to his gameplan. The only time we saw that tested was against Benavidez, a test he did not pass.

Prediction: Figueiredo def. Perez by technical knockout

125 lbs.: Flyweight Champion Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko (19-3) vs. Jennifer Maia (18-6-1)

When it comes to building a case against Valentina Shevchenko, it’s been difficult to make an argument for anyone not named Amanda Nunes and even then, based on what we saw from their last time out, it can prove to be a tricky proposition. We're basically dealing with the second-best fighter at 135 pounds moving down to flyweight where she is head and shoulders above the rest of the competition. Without downplaying any of her skills, it’s not unfair to suggest that she’s a few years ahead of her time. Shevchenko is a lifelong martial artist — with a list of accolades in both Muay Thai and kickboxing — who eats, sleeps and breathes combat sports. She also had exposure overseas that stateside gals haven’t been able to get, evidenced by stories from female pioneers like Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate who were often turned away from male-dominated MMA gyms. That’s changed over the last few years and still has room to improve, but now that women can make a living from competing inside the cage it’s not unreasonable to expect a new generation of female fighters to be as fast as a speeding “Bullet.” Until then, we have top contenders like Jennifer Maia.

The Brazilian has six losses across her lengthy MMA career and if we want to play fair and expect Maia to have evolved as both a fighter and athlete, then we can go ahead and overlook at least half of those defeats, including those from her Invicta days. But that doesn’t excuse her decision loss to Katlyn Chookagian, which is only a year old, particularly when Shevchenko turned “Blonde Fighter” red through a series of crushing elbows. After that fight Jon Anik called “Bullet” the best in the world “by a mile” and that wasn’t hyperbole. Two of the best strikers in any weight class, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Holly Holm, were out-struck by Shevchenko while Julianna Pena, a punishing wrestler with an exhaustive pace, got submitted with ease. There is simply no place in the cage where Shevchenko is not the superior fighter and we haven’t even mentioned her never-ending cardio.

The only knock on the champion at this point is that she often fights to the skill — and sometimes the pace — of her opponent, like that stinker against Liz Carmouche. If she just wants to hang out in the pocket and coast to another decision victory then we're in for a long night. At the same time, is it reasonable to expect Maia to be the aggressor against a sharpshooting counterpuncher? The Brazilian is skilled, no question, but if you’re hoping for a submission against Shevchenko, remember that prior to tapping Joanne Calderwood at UFC Fight Night 173, Maia went to eight straight decisions. I don’t see how Shevchenko loses this fight and honestly, the direction of this contest this boils down to how badly “Bullet” wants the finish.

Prediction: Shevchenko def. Maia by technical knockout

170 lbs.: Mike “Platinum” Perry (14-6) vs. Tim “The Dirty Bird” Means (30-12-1, 1 NC)

I’ll admit that when I first heard Tim Means was taking over for the injured Robbie Lawler, my initial reaction was that it was a step down for “Platinum.” Then I quickly realized no, this is where he belongs and the “Ruthless” bout was a step up and perhaps a way to get the former champion to engage, something he’s failed to do in a string of (mostly) uneventful losses. Perry and Means are both 5-5 over their last 10 fights though it’s probably more forgivable for “The Dirty Bird” because his combat sports career is nearly a decade longer than his opponent’s and this latest appearance will mark his 45th professional MMA fight. Simply put, there's a lot of miles on those tires but a lot of experience, too, which could be the difference against a fairly one-dimensional slugger like “Platinum.” That’s not to suggest the ground game is foreign to Perry, but he’s given up as many takedowns as he’s landed and prefers to keep the fight standing.

That’s not going to be a problem for Means, who has only been stopped by strikes once in his career and handed out 19 knockouts of his own. He does have a high rate of submission losses but that has more to do with carelessness and dumb decisions (which is how you succumb to three guillotine chokes) than his actual defense. I would argue that Means has been fighting the same level of competition as Perry and while each fighter is coming off a big win, no one is high-fiving or butt-slapping for notching victories over Laureano Staropoli and Mickey Gall. That’s not meant to be disrespectful to either “El Matador” or Gall but if you have 40-plus pro fights like Means, or the headline-grabbing hype of Perry, then these are the kinds of opponents you need to be walking through.

I know the running joke centers on Perry and his rent-a-corner and I’m sure having a cheerleader onsite to keep him motivated is beneficial. What it won’t do is tell “Platinum” what adjustments need to be made or what bad habits need to be corrected when the fight isn’t going his way. Means is the more well-rounded fighter and has a much deeper toolbox, assuming he doesn’t let Perry drag him into a bar fight. I would expect “The Dirty Bird” and his camp to set a trap for his opponent so that Perry gets frustrated, starts chasing and trying to land the big punch. That’s when patience, skill, and fight I.Q. come into play. I know that’s asking a lot from a fighter who I just criticized for making dumb decisions, but something about “Platinum” has a way of bringing out the best in fighters (see Cerrone, Donald).

Prediction: Means def. Perry by submission

125 lbs.: Cynthia Calvillo (9-1-1) vs. Katlyn “Blonde Fighter” Chookagian (14-4)

There were some questions as to how Cynthia Calvillo would perform after bumping up from strawweight, which is not unreasonable when you consider the LFA import stands just 5’4”, which is shorter than many of her 115-pound cohorts. Against Katlyn Chookagian, she’ll give up five inches in height and four inches in reach. That said, Calvillo proved her flyweight mettle by shutting down the venerable Jessica Eye across five rounds of warfare. People for whatever reason roll their eyes at the “Evil” veteran but she was ranked No. 1 in the world — while holding a victory over Chookagian — and Calvillo shut her down from start to finish. That’s a pretty impressive feat for any fighter regardless of gender or weight class. That doesn’t make her battle against “Blonde Fighter” any easier but the friendlier cut to 125 pounds leaves Calvillo with enough gas in her tank to rely on wresting as much as she needs.

I would expect that to be a problem for Chookagian, who has given up 16 takedowns in her UFC career, including two against Jessica Andrade in last month’s knockout loss to “Bate Estaca,” and the Brazilian is even shorter than Calvillo. I also want to make sure we play fair with “Blonde Fighter” because her four losses have come against one current and one former champion and two former No. 1-ranked title contenders. Is anyone going to shake their head at a loss to Valentina Shevchenko? She eats nails like french fries and could probably melt most men in the 125-pound division, so there’s no shame in losing to the champion. On the flip side, she’s also taken victories over the likes of Jennifer Maia and Joanna Calderwood, making this a very stiff test for Calvillo.

This fight is going to the floor at some point and how long it stays there all depends on how much (or how little) Chookagian has been training to fight off her back, or at least scramble enough to gain position. She only has one submission in 14 wins so I don’t think Calvillo will be in any danger working from guard, but will she have the ability to maintain control? That’s really what this boils down to. If Chookagian fights long and uses her jab like she did to stifle Maia and Calderwood, she could very easily whack-a-mole her way to victory. Then again, Calvillo only needs a couple of perfectly-timed takedowns — followed by a short coffee break in guard — to sway the judges. Three-round contests always favor the grappler in a close fight and this is likely to be no different.

Prediction: Calvillo def. Chookagian by unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (27-11-1) vs. Paul “Bearjew” Craig (13-4-1)

Mauricio Rua and Paul Craig fought to a three-round split-draw at UFC Fight Night 167 roughly one year back and despite both fighters moving on to win their next bouts at UFC on ESPN 14, the promotion was unable to find them anything better than a rematch. Not that I’m opposed to a part two, but their second go-round has no impact on the light heavyweight rankings and doesn’t get either combatant closer to a title shot. Perhaps that’s an indication of where matchmakers believe Rua and Craig fit into the 205-pound pecking order so as fans all we can do is hope for something memorable, which is not uncommon in a “Shogun” fight. He’s finished 22 of 27 and got finished in eight of 11, so we can’t really complain about what he brings to the cage.

I guess from an analytical perspective, it’s tough to figure out what version of Rua we’re going to get. I had him written off after the Ovince Saint Preux loss back in late 2014, but then “Shogun” went on to win five of his next seven, knocking out Gian Villante and Tyson Pedro along the way. The Brazilian turns 39 later this month and still has power, as well as a punishing Muay Thai attack and sneaky submissions. As with so many fighters, the bad has remained with the good and Rua hasn’t done much to close the gaps in his porous defense. I mentioned his last seven fights and now is a good time to point out that “Shogun” has been out-struck in significant strikes in five of those contests, including the one against Craig. In fact, “Bearjew” out-landed him 2-to-1 in both significant strikes and total strikes (they were tied on takedowns at one apiece).

What should we expect to be different in their rematch? Not much, though Craig was more impressive in his rebound fight and Rua is yet another year older. The Scottish submission specialist isn’t known for his power, which is why he only has one knockout in 18 professional fights, so even with “Shogun” taking punishment I would expect them to go the distance. The detonation of a Brazilian bomb is not out of the question and “Bearjew” has been stopped in recent fights, I just have a hard time relying on Rua’s gas tank at this stage of the game, which was never that great to begin with. Either he ends this fight early, or the judges will end it for him, likely in Craig’s favor.

Prediction: Craig def. Rua by unanimous decision

There you have it.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 255 fight card on Sat. night, starting with the ESPN+/ESPN2 “Prelims” matches scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 255: “Figueiredo vs Perez” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.