UFC real or not: Figueiredo’s quick turn is a mistake; Ferguson will get title shot


Already a breakout star in 2020, UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo is looking to make a rather extraordinary statement on Saturday.

Figueiredo will defend his title against top contender Brandon Moreno in the main event of UFC 256 in Las Vegas. That fight will go down as the fastest turnaround in history by a UFC champion. Figueiredo defeated Alex Perez in the UFC 255 main event on Nov. 21.

Throw in his two dominant performances against Joseph Benavidez, including winning the flyweight belt in July, and it’s been a dream year for Figueiredo.

But is the Brazilian being a little too ambitious in defending his crown just three weeks after his last battle?

Prior to the Figueiredo-Moreno clash, Tony Ferguson will step into the Octagon against Charles Oliveira. It’s Ferguson’s first fight since losing to Justin Gaethje in May, which snapped his 12-fight win streak.

A win over Oliveira would be an impressive one, considering he’s on a seven-fight win streak. Would that be enough to get Ferguson back into title contention in a loaded lightweight division?

ESPN MMA experts Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim discuss those topics and more, breaking down what’s real and what’s not.

Real or not: Figueiredo is making a mistake by turning around so quickly.

Helwani: No way. This is a brilliant move on his part. First of all, he didn’t get hurt in his win over Alex Perez. That’s most important. Second, he’ll make history when he fights on Saturday because that will be the quickest turnaround for a champion ever. That’s a huge feather in his cap. Third, fans and the company simply love a fighter who turns around quickly — just ask Khamzat Chimaev. A move like this only endears him in the eyes of, well, everyone, and helps expedite his growth as a star. Fourth, this will help keep his weight down. There’s no doubt he’s a big guy, but the quick turnaround will preclude him from getting too big because he agreed to this fight before he left the Apex on Nov. 21. There wasn’t any time to get out of shape.

He’s sharp and in shape and has a chance to seal his fate as the 2020 male fighter of the year by headlining his second straight pay-per-view. A no-brainer if there ever was one.

Of course, he has to win, and I think Brandon Moreno is a tougher fight than Perez, but it’s a risk worth taking, especially when you consider the luxury of just being able to stay in Las Vegas. Hindsight might prove otherwise if he ultimately loses, but I like the move a lot for a budding star.

Real or not: Ferguson will fight for the lightweight title in 2021.

Raimondi: Tentatively, let’s say real for this one. Of course, several things have to fall in place. Ferguson has to first beat Oliveira, and that’s no easy task. Oliveira has won seven straight — every single one of them by finish. He has looked as good as ever, almost like Ferguson during his incredible 12-fight winning streak.

There seems to be a sentiment among some people in MMA that Ferguson is on a steep decline. He certainly didn’t look entirely like himself in a fifth-round TKO loss to Justin Gaethje at UFC 249 back in May. But you could owe that to at least two things. For one, he was fighting Gaethje, who is brilliant and would probably beat every other lightweight in the world not named Khabib Nurmagomedov. Secondly, Ferguson cut weight inexplicably twice before that fight, once the day before the fight as usual and once about three weeks out. Ferguson is a big boy for 155 pounds. It’s easy to imagine two of those steep weight cuts sapping his vaunted energy against Gaethje.

Those two things will not be a concern against Oliveira. If Ferguson gets a win, especially a finish, he will be right back in the title mix — strongly so. He controls his own destiny in that way. However, there are a few other chips that have to fall in place. Does Nurmagomedov actually retire and give up his lightweight title? Does the winner of the UFC 257 main event between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier get the next title shot? Where does Gaethje fit? Those three names — McGregor, Poirier and Gaethje — are ahead of Ferguson in the pecking order right now. There’s a chance Ferguson would have to beat Oliveira and then another top contender to get back to a title shot.

But if Nurmagomedov truly steps away and timing is on Ferguson’s side, it’s certainly reasonable that Ferguson could fight for the title in 2021. And then there’s this: Ferguson has shown over and over the past few years that he is not someone you want to bet against.

Real or not: Casey Kenney is the perfect opponent for Dominick Cruz to return against.

Wagenheim: This booking is unreal. It leaves me bewildered. I mean, what exactly is the UFC envisioning for Cruz, a two-time former champion coming off a title fight loss, by sticking him in the cage with an unranked up-and-comer?

A matchup like this would have been reasonable back in September 2014, when Cruz was returning from a three-year absence to heal from surgeries to his knee (twice) and groin. He had been out for so long that he had to vacate his bantamweight belt. For his comeback, it seemed wise to many at the time for Cruz to take a tuneup fight, but of course the UFC does not book such things. Instead, Cruz faced highly ranked Takeya Mizugaki and showed he in fact was fully in tune, knocking out the Japanese fighter in barely a minute.

Booking an opponent similar to Kenney also would have seemed like a good idea in January 2016, when Cruz returned from another knee surgery and a 16-month absence. But Cruz was thrown right in with the champion, and wouldn’t you know it, Cruz ended up dethroning TJ Dillashaw to regain his old belt.

Facing someone of Kenney’s status would have made sense even as recently as May, when Cruz was resuming his career following still another extended pause, this one needed to heal arm and shoulder injuries and lasting nearly three and a half years. Instead, Cruz challenged Henry Cejudo for the title and was knocked out in the second round.

So, after ending three extended periods of inactivity by jumping right into two title bouts and a No. 1 contender fight, Cruz now is set to step back into the Octagon just 10 months after his last fight, and is booked against an unranked, little-known opponent? What a puzzling run of matchmaking.

This is not to discredit Kenney. He has won nine of his past 10 fights, including two victories just 21 days apart in October. He is a 29-year-old on the rise and will be no pushover. This is a great opportunity for him to add a big name to his résumé and make a name for himself.

But why the surreal change of matchmaking philosophy? In the UFC’s eyes, has Cruz devolved from The Dominator to The Gate Keepinator?

Real or not: Yoel Romero will fight for Bellator.

Helwani: A year or so ago this would have been an easy one to answer. A no-brainer. A year or so ago, Romero would already be signed to Bellator.

However, if you’ve noticed as of late, the promotion has been hesitant to sign fighters, big-name or not, who are deemed UFC castoffs. It is also clear that it is making a concerted effort to sign younger fighters these days.

None of this bodes well for the 43-year-old Romero, who was recently released by the UFC.

I’m told Bellator was offered an opportunity to sign Romero last week and respectfully declined. Just as it did with Anderson Silva recently and as it did with Paige VanZant over the summer, too. Does that mean Romero to Bellator is dead? No. But there aren’t any talks going on right now between the two sides, sources say.

This one is a surprise, considering you could make a case that Romero actually beat middleweight champion Israel Adesanya back in March. And yeah, he has lost three of four, but it doesn’t feel like he’s truly over the hill — I mean, his last fight was for a UFC title — and you can’t tell me a Romero vs. Gegard Mousasi middleweight title fight wouldn’t be the most interesting 185-pound title fight Bellator could put on right now. But alas, it’s sticking to its youth movement and don’t seem interested.

If not Bellator, PFL would seem like a natural, right? After all, it did just sign fellow 43-year-old Fabricio Werdum, who hasn’t been as relevant as Romero as of late. All I know for sure is I hope Romero doesn’t sign with Bare Knuckle or a promotion like that. One of the greatest wrestlers in MMA history — not to mention one of the best to never win a UFC title — needs to end his career in MMA, and I hope he gets to do so on his terms.

Real or not: Conor McGregor vs. Jake Paul is a fight I want to see.



Jake Paul tells Marc Raimondi that his future plans involve fighting UFC fighters in the boxing ring, and names Conor McGregor as his primary target.

Okamoto: No, this is not a fight I want to see. McGregor fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2017 was one thing. It didn’t make sense and it was a farcical money grab, but we could all understand it and even enjoy it. I have no words for what this would be. A travesty? A monumental waste of McGregor’s talent?

I’m not hating on Jake Paul, here. Do your thing, Jake. I’m behind you all the way. Keep boxing and selling pay-per-views, but not against one of the top talents in mixed martial arts. McGregor seems to be hungry and ready to actually compete again, in a sport in which he has the ability to be a real champion. That’s what I would like to see … not him fighting a YouTube personality.

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