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UFC 256 preview: Marketability and marketing

UFC 255: Figueiredo v Perez Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

This Saturday’s UFC 256 main event between UFC Flyweight Champion Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno represents three distinct tests. The first, of course, is “Deus da Guerra’s” ability to deal with an extremely dangerous contender; “Assassin Baby” is 4-0-1 in his last five, all against strong competition, and deserved the win in that one draw against Askar Askarov.

He’s got the power, toughness, and submission skills to give even a lethal operator like Figueiredo.

The second is Figueiredo’s ability to make the Flyweight limit twice in the span of three weeks. He infamously missed weight by 2.5 pounds ahead of a February title fight with Joseph Benavidez, and though he came in at 125 pounds on the dot for that rematch and his submission over Alex Perez last month, that’s the sort of foul-up that follows you forever.

The third isn’t for him, but for the UFC’s marketing department.

Before going further, let me establish that UFC 256’s buyrate isn’t the test. The card lost two title fights last month and just shed another three bouts due to COVID; even with great main and co-main events, it’s in rough shape. The test is what they manage with the main event winner going forward.

Assuming Figueiredo wins as expected, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a star. Outside the cage, he’s basically a tiny Most Interesting Man in the World, boasting a laundry list of wild experiences. Hell, the guy used to wrestle buffaloes; you want an “interesting personality,” you’ve damn well got one.

He’s even more marketable inside the cage. The man is pure action from bell to bell and boasts the division’s heaviest hands, always chasing the finish and generally doing so in the most violent manner possible. And unlike Demetrious Johnson and other impeccable technicians, he takes enough risks and has demonstrated enough vulnerability to make his title defenses far from foregone conclusions. Plus, he’s got a ton of interesting contenders, from established threats like Brandon Royval, Cody Garbrandt, and Askar Askarov to strong up-and-comers like David Dvorak, Tagir Ulanbekov, Amir Albazi, and Su Mudaerji.

He’s plenty busy, too; come Saturday, he’ll be the only UFC champion to fight four times this year, and one of only three to compete more than once.

The only things seemingly holding him back are his inability to speak English, which we’ve seen plenty of strong talents break through in spite of, and the fact that he’s a Flyweight. That last bit is, for my money, a failure on the UFC’s part, as the “people don’t like small fighters” narrative doesn’t hold up in other combat sports.

Boxing’s hottest division right now is 135 pounds thanks to an onslaught of young talent like Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis, and Ryan Garcia. Bantamweight (118 lbs.) destroyer Naoya Inoue is a genuine star. Flyweight (112 lbs.) champ Julio Cesar Martinez is getting a heavy push alongside Canelo Alvarez, much like super flyweight (115 lbs.) legend Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez did with Gennadiy Golovkin.

If the UFC can’t sell a guy this interesting and this entertaining, that’s on them. I have my own pet theory that MMA’s naming conventions, which make their Flyweight and Bantamweight divisions the equivalent of boxing’s Featherweight and Lightweight, play a part, but that’s an argument for another time.

Some of this is moot if Moreno wins, of course, but “Assassin Baby” has plenty of PR-friendly traits of his own, being a terrific finisher from a Mexican culture that’s historically been happy to venerate smaller fighters. Either way, the UFC marketing department has a softball on their hands; all that’s left to do is swing.

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