Joseph Benavidez, one of the most beloved fighters in mixed martial arts, didn’t get the storybook finish he had so desperately hoped to get. But the UFC may have found itself yet another dominant champion.
Brazilian Deiveson Figueiredo, fighting against mind-boggling handicaps, physically overwhelmed Benavidez. Figueiredo knocked Benavidez down three times with thudding right hands and then choked him out with 12 seconds left in the first round Saturday on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi to claim the vacant UFC flyweight championship.
They’d fought in February for the vacant belt and Figueiredo, who was won 19 of 20 as a pro and finished 10 of them in the first round, won by knockout. But he’d missed weight and then the fighters clashed heads. Shortly after the head butt, Figueiredo knocked Benavidez out and controversy ensued.
Benavidez had won the first round of that fight on all three judges’ cards, and said the head butt had been the difference in the finish. But on Saturday, there was no head butt and nothing but the raw, awesome power in Figueiredo’s fists.
Benavidez, who had come close to a title at 125 and 135 on multiple occasions, was never in this one and was simply overwhelmed. After the first knockdown, he did excellent work hand-fighting to break free of the rear naked choke that Figueiredo had locked in.
But it was clear early on that this would be an uphill struggle for Benavidez. He didn’t have anything to keep Figueiredo off of him and paid the price.
“I’m a guy from the north of Brazil, in the Amazon region, and I grew up with all those wild animals,” Figueiredo said. “Maybe that’s where I get it from. I’m a ferocious guy.”
That he was on Saturday. The win was his sixth finish in the UFC’s flyweight division, which ties him with Benavidez for second-most in UFC history behind only the legendary former champion, Demetrious Johnson.
It was almost the first time Benavidez had been submitted in his long career, and it was a goal of the new champion’s.
“This is what I worked for and I was saying all week that I was going to finish this fight in the first round,” Figueiredo said. “I also wanted to put that first submission loss on his record, and that’s exactly what happened.”
As easy as it looked in the cage, it was a lot more difficult to make it there. Figueiredo had COVID-19 in the spring and when he tested positive again in Sao Paolo, Brazil, he had to spend six days there in quarantine and pass numerous tests to be allowed to get onto a plane.
He got on the plane finally, flew to Abu Dhabi and was then quarantined for another 48 hours, not released until the morning of the weigh-in. But he took it in stride and performed magnificently.
“I feel really good,” Figueiredo said. “I worked really hard and I knew my time would come. This is my time. I’m going to continue to defend this belt and be an active champion.”
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