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UFC 256 predictions, preview, and analysis

UFC 255: Figueiredo v Perez Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

The final Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) pay-per-view (PPV) event of 2020 has taken some licks, but it limps across the finish line at Las Vegas’ APEX this Saturday night (Dec. 12, 2020) with some quality tussles still intact. The main event sees UFC Flyweight Champion Deiveson Figueiredo make the fastest turnaround in UFC championship history as he faces Brandon Moreno just 21 days after they shared a card.

The ESPN+ main card will also feature a pair of dynamite Lightweight showdowns. In one, Tony Ferguson attempts to end Charles Oliveira’s seven-fight unbeaten streak, while striking ace Rafael Fiziev takes a massive step up in competition against Renato Moicano in the other.

Our usual main card guy was mauled by a wined-up soccer mom during a particularly gruesome Black Friday sale, so I’m back on duty. As always, you can find UFC 256 “Prelims” predictions here and here, as well as our odds breakdown here.

125 lbs.: Deiveson “Deus da Guerra” Figueiredo (20-1) vs. Brandon “The Assassin Baby” Moreno (18-5-1)

Neither of these men entered the Octagon with an obvious road to greatness. They faced some some adversity, fought their way through it, and advanced their games without sacrificing the boundless aggression that made them so fascinating to begin with. It’s a shame one of them has to lose here.

On the bright side, Moreno’s only 27, so there’s plenty of time to bounce back once again.

Though he consistently exceeds my expectations, this just looks like a rough night for “The Assassin Baby.” Figueiredo’s takedown defense and scrambling skills have held up extremely well against dangerous grapplers, nullifying the threat of Moreno’s ground game, and Moreno’s willingness to engage in firefights plays right into the champion’s hands. Moreno’s striking is more effective than it looks and he’s a deceptively hard puncher, but he doesn’t have enough, if any, of a technical edge to make up for the far more lethal punches coming his way.

Moreno’s best hope lies in Figueiredo willingly engaging him on the ground, which isn’t as outlandish as it sounds. Figueiredo was confident enough in his guillotine to try it against dangerous top control specialists in Tim Elliott and Alex Perez, and though it worked for him in those situations, Moreno’s impeccable submission defense makes that a risky move.

Unfortunately, Moreno would still have to either tap Figueiredo or at least hold him down for a while, neither of which are easy to do. He’ll find it extremely difficult to generate enough ground offense to offset the crushing blows Figueiredo offers on the feet.

Figueiredo just wrestles and scrambles too well for Moreno to bring his submissions to bear, and he hits too damn hard for Moreno to survive a protracted slugfest. “Deus da Guerra” piles up enough damage to force a stoppage in the championship rounds.

Prediction: Figueiredo def. Moreno by fourth-round technical knockout

155 lbs.: Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson (25-4) vs. Charles “do Bronx” Oliveira (29-8)

More than anything else, even his scary pressure striking, Oliveira’s mental improvement throughout his current hot streak has impressed me. We’ve seen “do Bronx” melt in the face of adversity more than once, most notably against Paul Felder back in 2017, but that hot-and-cold frontrunner bears little resemblance to the unstoppable monster of the past three years. While most of his wins were quick and dominant, he powered through rough starts against Christos Giagos and David Teymur before executing perfectly for just over two rounds against a very game Kevin Lee, ultimately choking all three men out in impressive fashion.

10 years after his Octagon debut, we’re finally seeing Oliveira live up to his potential. In a bizarre twist, he’s the reliable one in this matchup, as Ferguson’s mindset is a massive question mark.

“El Cucuy’s” loss to Justin Gaethje was the sort that can permanently derail a fighter, and not just because of the damage Gaethje inflicted; Ferguson regularly walks through fire to make his attacks work, after all. What made that defeat so potentially devastating was his complete inability to get his game going outside of one good uppercut. Ferguson’s relentless advance demands supreme confidence in his offense that he may no longer possess, a possibility made even more worrying by his apparently lack of a Plan B.

Everything seems to be lined up for an Oliveira upset, but what saves this for Ferguson is that he won’t need to go looking for the Brazilian. Gaethje took him apart with patient, counter-heavy outfighting, while Oliveira is almost certainly going to hit Ferguson straight on. Even with all of his improvements, I don’t see that going well for “do Bronx,” especially since his historical weakness to front chokes could limit his ability to bring it to the mat.

This is, of course, assuming that Gaethje didn’t just beat Ferguson’s prime out of him; Oliveira can capitalize on any striking or grappling lapses in an instant. If that isn’t the case, Ferguson overpowers him in a close-quarters slugfest for a late finish.

Prediction: Ferguson def. Oliveira by third-round technical knockout

155 lbs.: Renato Moicano (14-3-1) vs. Rafael “Ataman” Fiziev (8-1)

Props to Fiziev for bravery. As good as he looked against Alex White and Marc Diakiese, going up against a submission specialist of Moicano’s caliber with untested wrestling is a profoundly ballsy move. Winning this would be sufficient to erase the memory of Magomed Mustafaev kicking him in the face, leaving “Ataman” on the brink of contender status.

This is essentially a two-true-outcome battle. If it stays on the feet, Fiziev wins; Moicano’s ability to keep shorter fighters at bay isn’t terribly consistent, as seen in the bombs he ate against Jose Aldo, Chan Sung Jung, and even Cub Swanson to a lesser extent. Fiziev’s sharp enough to out-kick him at range and powerful enough to violently punish any attempts at an infight. If it hits the ground, Moicano has it in the bag, as Fiziev hasn’t faced a grappler of even similar potency.

Call it a hunch, but I like Fiziev in this one. His grappling looked reasonably stout against a decent wrestler in Diakiese, he’s capable in the clinch, and he fights out of the same camp that turned Petr Yan into one of the best anti-wrestlers in the game. While Moicano could very easily just put him on his back and choke him out before he can get any offense going, I see Fiziev clipping him in an early exchange for a breakout victory.

Prediction: Fiziev def. Moicano via first-round technical knockout

185 lbs.: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (26-8) vs. Kevin “Trail Blazer” Holland (20-5)

It’s rare to see two fighters so perfectly equipped to exploit one another’s weaknesses. Souza has the ground game to decisively punish Holland’s wrestling lapses, but Holland has the range to avoid the Brazilian’s haymakers and steadily sap his gas tank. The winner will be the one who best imposes their preferred style of fight.

For my money, that’s Souza.

Holland boasts an insane nine-inch reach advantage, but a similar dimensional deficit didn’t stop Darren Stewart from finding his way inside and thrice dumping Holland to the mat. That wasn’t an isolated incident, either; lesser wrestlers than Souza have consistently managed to get inside those ultra-long arms and get their takedowns going, forcing Holland to rely on his scrambling skills. That’s, well, less than advisable against one of the greatest jiu-jitsu artists to ever put on a gi.

Souza’s cardio issues don’t guarantee a Holland victory if “Trail Blazer” escapes the first round, either, as a gassed-to-death Gerald Meerschaert proved able to rack up top control time well into the third round. Holland’s wrestling issues and occasional Fight IQ lapses undercut his incredible physical gifts, and even an aged “Jacare” is too sharp to let those sorts of opportunities pass him by.

Holland could very well just take Souza apart at long range, but his inability to keep determined opponents from closing the distance looks to be his undoing. While this may be nostalgia talking, expect Souza to exploit Holland’s ever-leaky takedown defense and wrap up his first sub since 2017.

Prediction: Souza def. Holland via first-round submission

265 lbs.: Junior “Cigano” dos Santos (21-8) vs. Ciryl “Bon Gamin” Gane (6-0)

For 99% of his August fight with Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Junior dos Santos finally looked like himself again. He moved well, showed sharper punches than he had in years, and handily defused an ultra-dangerous kickboxer. Then he took one clean shot and all of that was moot.

As a “Cigano” fan since he graced the first PPV I ever saw, that loss was particularly heartbreaking. Even in his previous struggles, there was an argument to be made that he was just a few adjustments away from regaining his elite status. Against Rozenstruik, he did everything right, but his body just couldn’t carry him that far anymore.

Luckily for him, Gane is nowhere near that level of one-shot knockout artist. Unfortunately, he also presents a level of footwork that has befuddled the generally linear dos Santos in the past.

Each of dos Santos’ last seven opponents have been come-forward attackers. Before that was Alistair Overeem, who used an evasive style to frustrate and ultimately lay out the Brazilian. Gane is an even better mover than Overeem and boasts an enormous reach advantage, making it highly unlikely that dos Santos can keep him in range long enough to land one of his kill shots. Between Gane’s gas tank and the fact that it’s a three-rounder, he’s also not in a position to simply outlast “Bon Gamin” until he becomes a stationary target.

I’d mention dos Santos’ underrated offensive wrestling as a potential X-factor, but he’s been loathe to use it these past four years, and trying to take Gane down runs into the same issue as trying to knock his face off: actually getting close enough to do it. If Gane wants a kickboxing match, they’re going to kickbox.

Gane is a man I’m willing to call the future of the Heavyweight division. dos Santos, whose presence in this sport I will always be thankful for, is the past. dos Santos’ sheer power makes him a live dog, as always, but expect Gane to cruise past him with long-range volleys.

Prediction: Gane def. dos Santos by unanimous decision

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 256 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN 2/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 256: “Figueiredo vs. Moreno” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the complete UFC 256 fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.

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