Who should fight for the vacant UFC flyweight title?

On February 29, flyweight’s finishing machine Deiveson Figueiredo brutally knocked out longtime contender Joseph Benavidez in a fight that would be contested for the division’s title. Despite swiftly dispatching of his counterpart, Figueiredo was ineligible to win gold due to missing weight by 2.5lbs. This put the weight class in an even stickier predicament as there was still no official champion.

Although the Brazilian dealt with Benavidez soundly, UFC President Dana White remained adamant that an immediate rematch between the pair was on the cards. Per ESPN, White released the following statement.

“I think the headbutt had a lot to do with the knockout, too. Not taking anything away from [Figueiredo]. It was a great fight. But I think you have to do that fight again.”

“First of all, [Figueiredo] didn’t make weight. Joe still fought him. There was a headbutt. A lot of controversy in that fight. But it was a great fight. Both guys came to fight. … We’ll do it again. They both deserve it.”

In spite of Benavidez’s prolonged dominance in the division, he does not deserve a rematch against Figueiredo. Here’s why.

Brandon Moreno

At the time of writing, Joseph Benavidez occupies the No. 2 position in the UFC’s official rankings, and deservingly so. After a total of 13 victories against some of flyweight’s best, including former two-division champion Henry Cejudo, Benavidez has long proved that his three championship opportunities were worthy.

However since 2018, a new wave of athletes have swarmed divisions ranks, demonstrating immense talent and adaptability across the board. Among this batch is Mexico’s Brandon Moreno, who remains undefeated throughout his second promotional tenure.

In his most recent outing, Moreno outpointed perennial contender Jussier Formiga over the course of three back-and-forth rounds, in a fight that displayed his overall wealth of improvement. On top of defeating a savvy veteran such as Formiga, Moreno earned himself a win over the only man to defeat the uncrowded champion in Deiveson Figueiredo, further propelling himself into the title picture.

Besides it making sense rankings wise, Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo match up well stylistically. Both men prefer to keep the fight standing due to their versatile and guileful attributes; they are ample defensively and own granite chins. The 26-year-old holds a slight advantage in terms of jiu-jitsu and scrambling ability, which would undoubtedly play a major factor in their potential encounter.

I believe Moreno is one of the division’s best when it comes to striking. His wide array of skills allow him to mix shots well, which includes deft boxing and rapid kicks. Any reader should watch his December scrap with the fast-rising Kai Kara France, as Moreno flaunted these features to the fullest (including the traditional Mexican heart and grit).

In my opinion, “The Assassin Baby” is the only legitimate, clear-cut contender that deserves a crack at Deiveson Figueiredo and his illicit flyweight throne. His four-fight undefeated streak aligned with the aforementioned victory over the top-ranked Jussier Formiga seemingly places him at the front of the pack.

Alexandre Pantoja Vs. Askar Askarov Winner

When pondering the topic of elite-level flyweights, Alexandre Pantoja and Askar Askarov warrant a mention. The pair share equally impressive traits on the ground, with a combined 15 submissions between them. Both Pantoja and Askarov were scheduled to face one another on June 1, in what would’ve been the UFC’s debut show in Kazakstan. As expected the fight fell through due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and we are unaware of how long it will take until we witness the pair step foot in the Octagon again.

Starting off with Alexandre Pantoja, the seasoned 125-pounder has been a force within the division for quite some time now. His breakout performance came at UFC 236, where the Brazilian crippled former title challenger Wilson Reis in the very first round; he was no longer just a threat in the grappling element of fighting.

Pantoja has a win over the previously mentioned Brandon Moreno, as well as a ‘Fight of the Night’ loss to Figueiredo himself. Having already faced both men in highly exciting fights – proving his capability of hanging with the divisions best in the process – a set of rematches could most certainly be on the cards in the not too distant future. If rebooked against his fellow Brazilian foe for the title, the 30-year-old would still maintain a distinct advantage in the grappling facet; this plays directly into Figueiredo’s sole flaw.

As for Russia’s Askarov, he remains unbeaten under the promotion’s banner, and in only two fights has thrust himself towards the peak at 125. After a stiff debut versus Brandon Moreno last September, which ultimately ended in a split draw, the grappling sensation was matched against the ever-durable Tim Elliot in January of this year. Throughout their 15 minute battle, Askarov showcased not only his formidable work on the ground, but his constantly evolving standup; in the first round, he landed a slick 1-2-3 combination, momentarily knocking Elliot out on his feet.

His performance against Elliot was very threatening in the eyes of his peers, as he exhibited all the tools (bar cardio) needed to hang with flyweight’s upper class. Hopefully once the sporting world resumes to some normality we will see Russia’s most dangerous flyweight rebooked against Alexandre Pantoja, with the winner catapulted into a merited championship slot.

One thing’s for certain: Deiveson Figueiredo should be one of two men competing for the vacant flyweight title. No matter who against, it’s going to be a certified banger.