Best bets for UFC 256: Figueiredo-Moreno

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UFC 256 from Las Vegas on Saturday is the last pay-per-view event of the year. Originally scheduled for 12 bouts, the production now has 10 competitive fights on tap. Throughout the challenges of 2020, the UFC has been tenacious about presenting the sport to the masses in a safe environment.

Last week’s fight slate was hugely affected by cancellations, and it’s unfortunate that the fight I released with John Allan + 190 actually went off. Allan fought as well as he could but got decisioned by a better fighter, which happens. We turn the page now to UFC 256.

Deiveson Figueiredo -290 vs. Brandon Moreno +  250 

Flyweight (125 pounds) Championship

Champion Figueiredo has a chance to be the most dominant flyweight champ since Demetrious Johnson. He is unusually large for the division and cuts weight aggressively to make the 125-pound limit. Figueiredo possesses profuse striking power with arms, elbows and leg kicks, and he buttresses those bludgeoning wallops with unrelenting pressure and bad intention.

Most Figueiredo opponents either force themselves into a mistake as Alex Perez did three weeks ago or they wilt under his aggression and pressure as Joe Benavidez did two fights back.

Figueiredo’s size, power striking and submission skill make him a dynamic challenge for any flyweight. That said, Figueiredo has a recent loss. Tips from that fight, coupled with the realization that he has never fought past the third round as a pro may provide a blueprint by which to attack this monster.

Jussier Foirmiga employed forward pressure transitioning to wrestling to take Figueiredo into a three-round decision loss. In that fight, Figueiredo slowed substantially in the third round. If any flyweight is to whip Figueiredo, it will take a fighter who can force him into expending effort from the opening bell and have the fortitude and stamina to manage the fight into the championship rounds.

Moreno is the No. 1-ranked flyweight, and many believe he should have received the shot at Figueiredo’s title a few weeks ago in place of Perez. Moreno is the only real threat to Figueiredo in this weight class.

Moreno is taller by two inches, six years younger and has a two-inch reach advantage. Figueiredo has fought 10 times since 2017 and in all but one of those bouts, he has been the taller, longer, larger fighter. Moreno’s physical attributes and fighting style put him in position to test Figueiredo and take him deep into this bout.

Moreno, a Mexican fighter, is an accumulation striker who damages opponents over time with high pace and striking volume. He does not have Figueiredo’s power, but he is athletic, well-rounded and he has been in the octagon with the world’s top flyweight fighters.

Moreno would be the first Mexican UFC champion, and the young man wants it badly. He’s fearless, tough as nails and talented enough to take this champion deep. Couple that with his deep desire to do right by a country steeped in fighting pride and you have a dangerous opponent with a path to victory.

The abundantly confident Figueiredo’s plan will be to take this fight to Moreno from the opening bell and pressure him into a slugfest, then force a mistake in order to put out the challenger’s lights. If this plan is ineffective, however, I wonder how Figueiredo will react.

Moreno’s plan must involve movement, evasion and at the same time pressure and unpredictability. He must endure a dangerous onslaught in the early rounds and do everything in his power to tax the champion and force him to fight into the third round and later.

If Moreno succeeds in extending the fight, Figueiredo will become slower and more deliberate, which will enable Moreno’s confidence to soar and his accumulation to mount.

Moreno has fought main events and has a five-round fight on his record, while Figueiredo has never been past the third.

It’s unusual to make two aggressive weight cuts like these men are doing in three weeks, so the weigh-in process for this fight is key, especially for Figueiredo.

Of note: The UFC presented Figueiredo with $50,000 cash for his performance in his last bout, though, I believe it was more to entice him to agree to this fight on such short notice. Nevertheless, he remained in Las Vegas after his last bout to train and be under the care of the UFC, which offered to help him manage his diet and conditioning for this bout.

I suspect Figueiredo’s biggest challenge may be success itself. Figueiredo in Vegas for three weeks with that kind of cash in his pocket concerns me with regard to his focus and his ability to fight effectively for five full rounds.

This bout opened Figueiredo -250, which was high in my judgment. At current pricing or better, the Moreno side is an official release as well the Over 2.5 rounds, but I’ll choose to remain patient as both of these fighters competed just three weeks ago. Cutting weight is sure to affect Figueiredo, if not both men. Plus, we may see more favorite money push the price on Moreno up past the + 300 mark.

Fight total: 2.5 Under -115.

Tony Ferguson -165 vs. Charles Oliviera + 145 

Lightweight (155 pounds) Co-main Event

Ferguson, at 36, must fight his way back into elite position within the UFC lightweight division after enduring a beating for the ages in his last fight against Justin Gaethje in May. Ferguson is dangerously well-versed in all aspects of MMA and he supplements those skills with tremendous toughness and finishing ability. Before Gaethje beat him, Ferguson had been on a torrid winning streak, but the manner in which he won some of those fights may have taken a toll on him.

Ferguson has long been regarded as a cardio machine. His trademark is the comprehensive, strenuous training he engages in every day before every fight. That effort to train as only he does, coupled with his age, not to mention the thorough beating he absorbed some months ago and in bouts previous to that one, force me to consider that Ferguson’s skills have waned, not his commitment or desire.

When it goes in the fight game … it goes quickly. Ferguson will have to prove he is not washed. And he’ll have to do it against a killer absolutely everyone in the division has been ducking.

Oliviera is a former featherweight fighter who strained to make the 145-pound weight. Now competing as a lightweight, Oliviera looks fresh, strong, quick, more explosive, and the boxing component of his striking has improved dramatically. Ranked seventh in the division, Oliviera is dangerous anywhere, he has tremendous confidence, and he’s finally getting a fight in which he can display his talents. Oliviera, who couldn’t find a fight in the division, now has a main event-type platform to display his skills to the mixed martial arts world.

To his credit, Ferguson did not balk at such a dangerous fight, which further displays his warrior mentality. Oliviera, on the other hand, desires what Ferguson has, and a pelt like Ferguson’s on Oliviera’s mantle will solidify him as the next one to compete for the lightweight title.

This fight is going to be absolute bedlam.

Oliviera + 150

Fight total: 2.5 Under -150.

Daniel Pineda -150 vs. Cub Swanson + 130

Featherweight (145 pounds)

Pineda, 35, beat Herbert Burns in August, which seems to be the fuel for his being favored in this bout. A closer look into the Burns fight, though, and we see that Burns effectively did not train for the bout and came in overindulged and overconfident against a formidable fighter in the UFC. Pineda is in fact a formidable fighter in the UFC.

Swanson, 37, finds himself an underdog. He fought against and lost to four of the absolute elite in the division before an injury in 2019 sidelined him until now. Swanson is durable, experienced and in a great position as an underdog to win this fight. In fact, it’s my judgment that this fight should be closer to a pick-’em.

Lean Swanson + 130

Fight total: 2.5 Over -125.

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