Deiveson Figueiredo stops Joseph Benavidez as flyweight title remains vacant

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Deiveson Figueiredo is introduced prior to facing Joseph Benavidez in their flyweight championship bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Chartway Arena on Feb. 29, 2020 in Norfolk, Virginia. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

There were few winners on Saturday when Deiveson Figueiredo stopped Joseph Benavidez at 1:54 of the second round in their UFC flyweight title fight in Norfolk, Virginia.

Because he failed to make weight, Figueiredo lost even though he fought exceptionally well and stopped the always tough Benavidez with a crunching straight right seconds after a clash of heads opened a huge cut on Benavidez’s forehead.

As UFC TV analyst Michael Bisping reminded him in the cage, he would have been the flyweight champion if he’d hit the 125-pound weight limit. But Figueiredo, who had never missed weight previously, came in at 127, meaning only Benavidez could win the belt.

Henry Cejudo lost because when the bell rang to start the bout, he was officially stripped of his flyweight belt.

Benavidez, of course, was a big loser because he came up short yet again in a title fight and, despite being one of the elite fighters in the sport for the last decade, probably will never have a world title belt around his waist.

But the biggest losers?

Well, how about a vote for all of us, if the UFC decides to go ahead and dump the flyweight division. The division has been on the chopping block for the better part of the last 18 months or so.

Despite the presence of elite champions like Cejudo and Demetrious Johnson, it was never very popular and the television ratings were routinely dismal. That led to UFC president Dana White publicly considering axing the division.

Cejudo upset Johnson in 2018 to win the belt and then went on to capture the bantamweight title, as well. But as is usually the case when a fighter holds belts in two classes, one division gets the short end of the stick. In this case, not shockingly, it was the flyweights.

The way things worked out came as badly as could have been for those who value the athleticism and quick, often frenetic, pace the flyweights bring. With Figueiredo missing weight, the title is vacant and it’s a lot easier for the brass to drop the division if that’s what it chooses to do.

Had Figueiredo made weight, he’d have at least had to defend it.

It’s hard, though, not to feel for Benavidez, one of the sport’s good guys who was an elite challenger at bantamweight in the days before there was a flyweight division. He lost only two fights at bantamweight, both to Dominick Cruz, the second in a title fight.

He then lost twice to Johnson in flyweight title fights at a time when Johnson was building a reputation as perhaps the best fighter of all-time.

Since being knocked out by Johnson in the rematch, Benavidez went 9-1 leading into Saturday’s bout.

He fought all the elite opponents, pushed the pace, made the fights and was as entertaining as he is classy.

In the ring after the bout, his face was swollen and misshapen and he looked crushed.

“I feel like this isn’t real,” Benavidez said to Bisping in the cage. “It’s like some freaking nightmare, honestly. I had visions of talking to you afterward, visions of things that were going to happen. … I’m lucky to be alive, I guess. I worked my ass off for that, but it didn’t go great.”

The first round was electric, as Figueiredo nearly got Benavidez in an arm bar and then caught him in a guillotine. But mostly, the two stood throwing bombs at each other. Benavidez had a three-inch reach disadvantage and that wound up costing him.

He had to lean in to get to Figueiredo, and in the fight’s closing sequence, he did that and wound up clashing heads with the Brazilian. It opened a huge cut, but worse, Benavidez was badly stunned. Figueiredo stepped to him and blasted him with a right and dropped him hard.

He finished it with a few well-placed shots.

With those shots ended Benavidez’s last best hope of winning a title.

Let’s hope that it also didn’t end the division, because we’d all be the losers if that were the ultimate outcome.

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