Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight kingpin, Deiveison Figueiredo, will look to defend his title a second time opposite scrapper, Brandon Moreno, this Saturday (Dec. 12, 2020) at UFC 256 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Figueiredo is looking to make history by defending his title twice in three weeks, but make no mistake, there’s a reason fighters — and especially champions — tend to take a bit of a break. There is an art to peaking on a specific date, and it’s greatly complicated by not having enough time to physically recover. Perhaps more vitally, “Daico” has struggled to make weight before; he’s a larger man than Moreno. Cutting beneath 125 pounds so often could definitely drain him, leaving him without as much of the explosion that makes him so deadly. At the same time, it’s also a ploy for greatness, an accomplishment that would see Figueiredo rise in fame and acclaim.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
It has not taken long for Figueiredo to establish himself as likely the hardest puncher in Flyweight history. He thrives on creating impact, convincing opponents to step into accurate and sledgehammer-like counter shots.
Figueiredo does not throw anything without power. He’s not one to jab to set up a combination or throw more than few punches at a time (unless his opponent is wounded). Instead, Figueiredo spears opponents from a wide stance with a long power jab. The rest of his distance offense is made up of the occasional low kick or a shift Southpaw to set up the left kick.
More than any single technique, the skill that defines Figueiredo’s kickboxing is timing. A fair portion of his best work is done on the counter with intercepting strikes, nailing his foe with a cross, uppercut or left hook as his foe steps forward to attack.
Those may be different punches that attack from various angles, but Figueiredo’s setup is the same. He stands loaded, ready to fire. When his opponent attacks, Figueiredo stands his ground, confident that his return fire will land more cleanly. He’s often right, and even if he isn’t, Figueiredo usually lands with more power.
This all sounds bafflingly simple, and to an extent, it is. However, it’s a complete flip of the usual mixed martial arts (MMA) striking script. Almost every time a fighter advances on another in the Octagon, the defending man retreats. Often, he/she retreats way more than is necessary, which is the reason MMA tends to take place at an extra step of distance than kickboxing. This habit of quickly backing off also explains the popularity of shifting combinations, which become ultra valuable in tracking down a running opponent.
The vast majority of Flyweights will back off and circle to evade a foe’s punch, even if they intend to counter the combination. Figueiredo stands his ground absolutely, and that catches opponents off-guard (GIF).
Of course, there are reasons most fighters move their feet. Figueiredo very often gets cracked as he stands his ground. He took lots of clubbing overhands and hooks from Joseph Benavidez and Alexandre Pantoja even in victories, and his leg has been kicked quite a bit due to standing still in a wide stance. Yet, Figueiredo landed the deciding shots, because he hits absurdly hard and has thus far proven to have an iron chin. Plus, if his opponent is moving forward at the time of impact, that effectively doubles the impact.
It’s also worth-noting that Figueiredo is quite good at stepping through kicks to counter.
While actively offensive, Figuiredo’s right hand is his primary weapon, but he still attacks in a variety of ways. For example, Figueiredo was having a difficult time finding Benavidez’s chin in the first bout early, but a few stiff crosses to the mid-section slowed his feet and helped set up the overhand (GIF).
Against John Moraga, Figueiredo scored a real nice sequence that showed the versatility of his right arm. After breaking the clinch with a right elbow (a definite “Daico” specialty), he shifted Southpaw and fired the right hook, catching Moraga as he tried to back away from the exchange (GIF).
Figueiredo will start to look for the left hook more if his opponent is circling heavily (understandable) to avoid the right. In that case, Figueiredo will shift his weight to load up the left side, allowing him to explode into the left hook. To finish Moraga, Figueiredo shifted his weight then fired a left body shot.
Figueiredo’s style thrives on fighters that come at him. For example, compare his bouts with Benavidez vs. his loss to Jussier Formiga. Benavidez is unarguably the better striker, a more varied kickboxer who hits harder and puts together slicker combinations. However, he’s also more aggressive, which put him in danger of taking big shots more often.
Formiga, meanwhile, is a pretty meat-and-potatoes kickboxer with a one-two combination and decent low kicking game. However, he was perfectly willing to hang back and stay patient, forcing Figueiredo to come at him. As a result, Figueiredo looked far less quick and precise, and Formiga won without taking many significant strikes.
Figueiredo is an overwhelming physical force, and that goes a long way in wrestling exchanges.
One of Figueiredo’s most common reactions when his opponent is being evasive is to wrestle. That was not a viable strategy against Formiga due to his jiu-jitsu expertise, but even in fights with solid grapplers like Alexandre Pantoja and Joseph Morales, Figueiredo was plenty willing to pursue top position.
The body lock is perhaps Figueiredo’s most common takedown. After firing his right hand, Figueiredo often has good access to the waist. It’s the classic Fedor Emelianenko strategy, and Figueiredo’s physicality makes it quite effective.
In addition, Figueiredo will look for the reactive takedown in similar circumstances to how he lands powerful intercepting blows. As his foe advances, Figueiredo stands his ground but takes his head off the centerline. Suddenly, the Brazilian is locked around the waist or butt, allowing for a body lock or double leg takedown respectively.
Defensively, Figueiredo is constantly exposing his hips. On offense, he swings power shots with reckless abandon, and his style of intercepting counter striking often has him standing still, which makes shooting on the Brazilian far more simple. Were it not for his strength and athleticism, Figueiredo would get put on his back constantly due to his kickboxing style.
Fortunately for “Daico,” his strength often allows him to shoot his hips back and deny even well-timed double legs. Figueiredo’s strength really forces his opponents to focus on cutting the angle on the shot, which is less common in MMA than simply looking to blast foes straight off their feet.
A jiu-jitsu black belt, Figueiredo has finished eight of his foes via submission. His knockouts may garner more attention, but the Brazilian is proving himself very deadly on the mat.
The go-to move of the Brazilian is the guillotine choke, which he used to submit Tim Elliott (GIF), Alex Perez, and also attempted opposite Jarred Brooks many times. There’s no overly complicated technique here, as Figueiredo looks to counter the double leg by jumping full guard and squeezing tight. Still, the move accounts for five of his submission wins, so clearly the Brazilian understands his squeeze quite well.
The submission setup against Alex Perez was interesting, in part because it probably should not have worked! Figueiredo used a scissor sweep to attempt to deny a single leg takedown, but Perez defended smartly and took the turtle as a result. As Perez circled behind him, Figueiredo reached his arm back and looped the neck, sitting into a guillotine. Often, this is a recipe to get arm triangled — reaching back like that is generally a terrible idea! However, it seemed to surprise Perez, who did not react quickly enough to avoid the full guard (GIF).
Figueiredo used the arm-in guillotine to submit his challenger. Typically, that choke is less powerful, but since it locks up one of the arms, the position does limit an opponent’s defensive options. Figueiredo’s combination of long arms and considerable strength has proven deadly, so for the Brazilian, that would-be downside is minimized.
In his pair of fights with Benavidez, Figueiredo demonstrated some quality jiu-jitsu. His second finish was technically a submission via rear naked choke, but really, Benavidez was barely conscious from punches. More impressive than the choke itself was Figueiredo’s ability to flow through dominant positions as his foe scrambled, which allowed him to keep dropping bombs and chasing the finish.
In the first bout, Figueiredo briefly attacked an armbar to counter a single leg scramble. It was slick work, as Figueiredo clamped onto the figure-four grip initially, transitioning to the armbar as Benavidez shook him off. It didn’t result in a finish, but it did send the message that Figueiredo would not easily be controlled on the mat.
Figueiredo is taking a risk here, and he’s doing so against a pretty dangerous and talented challenger, a man unlikely to go away quickly in Brandon Moreno. If “Daico” can make good on his attempt, it will certainly go a long way in pushing himself up the pound-for-pound list and establishing his legend. In fact, another victory also makes him a likely choice for “Fighter of the Year.”
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Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.