UFC 256 takeaways: Who’s next for the stars in Vegas?

MMA

ESPN’s panel of Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Phil Murphy breaks down the biggest stories coming out of UFC 256, including who’s next for Deiveson Figueiredo after the majority draw with Brandon Moreno, and the rise of Kevin Holland.

Okamoto: Who’s next after UFC 256?

Deiveson Figueiredo, flyweight champion

Who should be next: Cody Garbrandt

Listen, I’d love to run the Moreno fight back next. It was probably the fight of the year, but at the end of the day, Figueiredo won the bout minus the point deduction in the third round. Moreno will definitely see him again — and deserves to — but I don’t believe the UFC needs to be in a rush to book it right away.

So, in a way, we’re back where we started — as the UFC had originally booked Figueiredo vs. Garbrandt at UFC 255 in November. But at the same time, the fight is much bigger now. Yeah, two fights ago, Figueiredo was an exciting new champion with a ton of finishing power, but now? Now, he’s (presumably) the 2020 Fighter of the Year, and a stone-cold killer in the Octagon, not just a dangerous champ.

Even with this fight being a draw, Figueiredo is on fire right now, and Garbrandt is about to be the biggest name he’s ever faced. And now, Garbrandt, a former bantamweight champion, isn’t even jumping any lines for the title shot, because Figueiredo just retained over two top contenders in less than one month’s time. This matchup is even better now than it was in November.

Wild card: Brandon Moreno

This was obviously a great fight and a rematch is a great option. I prefer Garbrandt, but I’m fine with either option. The rematch will happen when the time is right.

Brandon Moreno

Who should be next: Wait

Like the champ, Moreno has fought twice in 21 days. It’s time for him to take a moment, heal up and see how the rest of the division shakes out. If an immediate rematch is in the cards, great, but let’s do it at a time when both fighters are rested, healthy and get a full camp in.

Wild card: Deiveson Figueiredo

See “Deivison Figueiredo’s wild card.”

Tony Ferguson, lightweight

Who should be next: Winner of Islam Makhachev vs. Drew Dober in March

It’s been a rough, rough year for Tony Ferguson. No other way to say it. Kudos to him for being that first headliner back at UFC 249 in May. It’s easy to forget how crazy that whole situation was. He suffers the heartbreak of losing that Khabib Nurmagomedov title fight (again!), and accepts a different opponent, a different location, a different fight date. Things were changing by the hour back in April and May, and it probably had an ill effect on that performance against Justin Gaethje.

Now, he’s fallen to 0-2 in his last two, after winning 12 in a row from 2013 to 2020. I like the idea of him potentially fighting Makhachev, though. Makhachev is Nurmagomedov’s teammate, a guy he groomed to win the lightweight championship after him. It wouldn’t be Tony vs. Khabib, but it would be a nod to that cursed matchup, maybe give us all a little closure.

Wild card: Vicente Luque

Rebuilding yourself in MMA 101. Step 1: Change weight class. Ferguson has always been a big lightweight. He’s competed at welterweight before. A change in scenery could do him some good. Luque is an emerging title contender at 170 pounds. Adding a name like Ferguson to his hit list could really increase his name value. And for Ferguson, it would be an opportunity to immediately legitimize himself at a new weight.

Charles Oliveira, lightweight

Who should be next: Rafael dos Anjos

Oliveira looks title shot ready to me. Right now. He’s ready, I’d love to see it. The problem is, it’s crowded at the top, as it usually is at lightweight. And even though it shouldn’t matter, it does matter, he’s still not the biggest name. And that will impact his chances of getting a title fight against some of the bigger names of this division. You already saw it impact his ability to get non-title fights against some of the bigger names. It’s hard to tell a guy who doesn’t have much else left to prove, to go out and prove it again, but I think this is the right fight for him. A former champion in RDA, who looked good his last time out against Paul Felder.

Wild card: Wait and see how things play out

You’ve got Conor McGregor fighting Dustin Poirier in January. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Michael Chandler book a fight against Justin Gaethje. Those are the four names you want if you’re Oliveira, right? So, you wait. And see where the dust settles by February-ish.

Kevin Holland, middleweight

Who should be next: Derek Brunson

Wow. You want to talk about a vicious knockout — that right hand Holland landed from a seated position, against Jacare Souza?? That was an absolutely unreal finish. And the way he talked to the Brazilian throughout the entire thing. This man is as comfortable in a fistfight as you can get, and he’s looking to fight every weekend. And I want to see him fight every weekend. He called out Khamzat Chimaev, which is an incredible callout, but I think the next one should be Brunson. Brunson is looking for a big fight, riding a three-fight win streak. Come Sunday, Holland should be ranked in the same ballpark as Brunson. This fight makes all the sense in the world to me.

Wild card: Khamzat Chimaev

Like I said, this was an incredible callout and something tells me Chimaev is about that life. He’d be game. The problem is, the UFC already has, in my opinion, a pretty perfect opponent for Chimaev in Leon Edwards. I’m hoping to see that fight in a five-round main event in January. If something happens with that matchup though, yeah, pivot to Chimaev vs. Holland. One hundred percent.


The flyweights own the spotlight

Murphy: Deiveson Figueiredo retaining his belt with a majority draw against Brandon Moreno proved an instant Fight of the Year finalist. That happening three weeks after both fighters cut weight and competed on UFC 255 makes Saturday’s main event all the more impressive. Demand for a rematch is sky-high, and neither half had to show us more than we already knew. Figueiredo is a walking wrecking machine with a seemingly limitless gas tank and a fan-friendly, forward-moving style. Moreno is boxing technician with a granite chin, striking savvy and endless heart. Both men are more than adequate on the ground — top or bottom. This bout appealed to viewers across all ranges of MMA expertise.

Even the one spot of debate — the third-round point deduction — appeared properly handled. When referee Jason Herzog deemed a kick to Moreno’s groin detrimental to Moreno’s opportunity to win the round, the proper step was to take a point. Despite it proving decisive on the record, shifting a unanimous decision win for Figueiredo to a majority draw, the champ did not protest it in the postfight interview. Thankfully, a close, competitive title fight was not corrupted by widely disputed judging or questionable refereeing. Herzog had a great night all-around.

The flyweight division had its obituary saved to drafts after Demetrious Johnson lost. Now it’s on the short list of most compelling weight classes. There’s depth within the hierarchy, a former champ wants in and storylines exist among multiple contenders. And most importantly — Daniel Cormier said it best postfight — flyweight no longer needs an A-lister; it has one in Figueiredo. He seems to have resolved weight cutting issues that cost him the belt against Joseph Benavidez in February. Figueiredo made weight with half a pound to spare and conditioning held up in championship rounds. Moving up to bantamweight seems more optional than required.

For the challenger, Moreno was millimeters from winning a decision that would have vaulted him into a new stratosphere as the first Mexican-born UFC champion. At age 27 and four years removed from a 16th out of 16 ranking in The Ultimate Fighter house, Moreno’s trajectory promises his best days lie ahead. Saturday night was a massive win for a division many of us doubted would be here in 2021.

Kevin Holland breaks out in 2020

Murphy: “Fighter of the Year” debates routinely heat up in December, especially when leading candidates share a pay-per-view card. Kevin Holland entered UFC 256 as a far more sizable underdog to Deiveson Figueiredo for end-of-year honors.

At night’s onset, Holland’s record in 2020 was unblemished, but the caliber of opponent hardly compared to Figueiredo’s. Holland’s five fights in seven months wouldn’t stand up, in a vacuum, to Figueiredo winning four championship bookings.

Holland became the third UFC fighter in the modern era, alongside Roger Huerta (2007) and Neil Magny (2014), to go 5-0 in a calendar year. Holland devastated former Strikeforce champ Jacare Souza with a truly rare array of elbows from guard, followed by a finishing right hook from glutes. He then grabbed the mic and called out feared prospect Khamzat Chimaev to meet next week That turned Holland from productive workhorse into appointment viewing.

Figueiredo retaining his belt reopend the Fighter of the Year debate. Regardless, Holland put far more value on his name for the next appearance — even if it’s not Chimaev next weekend.


Mackenzie Dern has reached a new level under Jason Parillo

Raimondi: When Michael Bisping won the UFC middleweight title, he had Jason Parillo in his corner. When Cris Cyborg took home a host of accolades, including the UFC women’s featherweight title, Parillo was there by her side. Both fighters improved their boxing immensely working with Parillo at the RVCA gym in Costa Mesa, California. Parillo’s first elite-level UFC fighter was BJ Penn, who also had exceptional boxing. Mackenzie Dern is Parillo’s latest student. And in just one training camp, Dern’s hands look incredibly improved. Her boxing is what earned her a hard-fought, unanimous-decision win over former Invicta champ Virna Jandiroba at UFC 256.

Dern came into the UFC known for her grappling. She was once the best pound-for-pound women’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitor in the world. But her striking — Dern was prone to winging haymakers and bad defense — would likely not allow her to ascend the UFC rankings. That has clearly changed. It stands to reason that more camps with Parillo will sharpen Dern on the feet even further. Not only is she rounding into the star the UFC hoped she would be, but Dern, who is just 27 years old, has a chance to be fighting for a title before the end of 2021.

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