Last week’s fight card from Auckland produced an epic main event in which New Zealander Dan Hooker edged Paul Felder in a split decision that just as easily could have gone to Felder. Hooker damaged Felder early before Felder rallied. Had this fight been anywhere other than Auckland, the result easily could have been different. I’ll be keeping a keen eye on Hooker’s next fights because I regard him as a total fade opportunity. Still, Hooker’s victory took Insight the Octagon results to 4-0 +5.06u this year.
Let’s look at this week’s slate of fights from Norfolk, Va., where the main event is a flyweight championship bout. The other 11 bouts feature talent more on the fringe of the UFC than in contending status.
This card has the unfortunate distinction of being sandwiched between last week’s lineup and next week’s UFC 248 from Las Vegas. That card features Israel Adesanya defending his middleweight championship against Cuban star Yoel Romero, along with other high-impact confrontations.
Joseph Benavidez -150 vs. Deiveson Figueiredo %plussign0, flyweight championship (125 pounds)
When longtime UFC flyweight champion Demetrius Johnson left the organization, the loss created a lack of name recognition and talent in the 125-pound division. Lighter-weighted UFC divisions sometimes struggle to hold viewership and interest.
Henri Cejudo added a little zing to the flyweight division in 2018 when he defeated Johnson for the title, then battered TJ Dillashaw and Marlon Moraes in defending it. Cejudo is now defending the bantamweight (135-pound) title, which via elimination leaves us this championship matchup between the two most capable and deserving combatants in the weight class.
Benavidez is 28-5 as he approaches his 14th year in professional MMA. His wealth of experience, dynamic wrestling base and deep drive to become a UFC champion motivate him.
Through his career, he has seen it all in style and fighter. He has lost to Dom Cruz and Demetrius Johnson twice each and had a telling loss to Sergio Pettis in June 2018. His wins over elite talent in the division are too numerous to mention, so suffice it to say that he won’t be fooled Saturday night.
Figueiredo is 32 yet is more than three years younger than his opponent. Figueiredo is the taller, larger man and will have a 3-inch reach advantage with his arms and a couple-of-inch advantage with his legs — and Figueiredo is primarily an aggressive, forward-pressing power striker who is decorated in Muay Thai, Capoeira, BJJ, boxing and to an extent wrestling.
In this fight, Benavidez must negate distance between the two. Fighting against the cage or on the mat are certainly his target areas. He’s aware he’ll have to usurp some of Figueiredo’s strength early to force, drag and maul the larger fighter to the floor later in the fight. Benavidez must unrelentingly press Figueiredo, forcing him to expend energy escaping his pressure as opposed to delivering any offense.
This approach has been a recipe for success for Benavidez, but at 35 the biggest handicap to betting on him is his age — can he go a frantic 25 minutes without getting flushed?
Figueiredo, on the other hand, must employ constant movement early to maintain the distance he needs to deliver arm and leg strikes. Benavidez’s takedown accuracy is only 31%, and against a stronger fighter like Figueiredo, who successfully defends 60% of takedown attempts, I look for this aspect to be a major factor.
Figueiredo and camp are also aware that the plan of continuous movement with quick, precision counterstriking proved worthy in their upset of Benavidez in 2018, so they’ll try to execute a similar plan of movement laced with plenty of the damaging raw power that Figueiredo can deliver with each shot.
Benavidez opened -145 vs. Figueiredo %plussign5. While Benavidez has the experience, guile and drive, I believe the capable Brazilian has speed, youth, explosion and enough experience to earn a championship.
As always, remain patient, as this line may continue to grow approaching the end of the week.