Will Valentina Shevchenko fight Amanda Nunes in 2021? Will Deiveson Figueiredo breathe new life into the flyweight division? Can Joaquin Buckley keep up the momentum he created with his viral knockout?
These are some of the questions surrounding UFC 255 in Las Vegas on Saturday, with Shevchenko defending her flyweight belt against Jennifer Maia and Figueiredo his against Alex Perez.
Shevchenko is a big favorite, and if she wins, a trilogy fight against Nunes, who won their first two meetings, is immediately discussed.
Figueiredo is making his first title defense in a weight class that appeared to be on the verge of extinction not so long ago. Will the charismatic champion confirm the division to headline a pay-per-view event?
ESPN reporters Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim break down the main storylines and identify what is real and what is not.
Real or not: Shevchenko will face Nunes in 2021.
Helwani: I know the fans are excited for this fight to happen again and I would love to see it too, but I don’t think Nunes, Shevchenko or even the UFC fans are in any particular rush to book it anytime soon. With that in mind, I’m not going to say real.
A positive by-product of Shevchenko’s extended layoff for a leg injury this year is that 125 more potential competitors have emerged. Jessica Andrade, Cynthia Calvillo and Lauren Murphy are in the mix now, and that wasn’t the case earlier this year. So I don’t foresee Shevchenko’s going up anytime soon because I think she wants to be a dominant 125 pound champion. Furthermore, if Shevchenko beats Maia this weekend, it is likely that Andrade will still be next, which is a solid fight.
As for Nunes, her recent withdrawal from UFC 256 will allow a similar move at 135, although I still don’t think 145 has a bright future in the UFC where her next fight against Megan Anderson will take place. All in all, if Nunes beats Anderson in 2021, another challenger will likely be waiting for her at 135 when she’s ready to fight again.
Make no mistake, the most competitive fight for both women is against each other. However, I don’t think this means they have fought a third time or are getting ready to fight again around this time next year.
Real or not, Deiveson Figueiredo is about to redefine the flyweight division with a long reign of action fights.
Deiveson Figueiredo punishes Joseph Benavidez and stops him on Round 1 to take the UFC flyweight title.
Okamoto: Yes and no. Allow me to change the line slightly. Deiveson Figueiredo will be part of redefining the flyweight division, which will be filled with competitive action fighting for the years to come.
At this point, I can’t predict that Figueiredo will be a dominant champion. He looks like this, especially when he’s got two back-to-back placements from Joseph Benavidez, but I’m not ready to name this guy the next Demetrious Johnson in the division. Not yet.
What I am going to say is that this division is about to open a new chapter that may not have been defined by a dominant champion as it has been before, but instead is characterized by fun fights that fans will watch out for.
I think Alex Perez is underrated and will have a fun fight this weekend. I find it interesting that Cody Garbrandt fell to 125. Brandon Moreno and Brandon Royval, these guys are a ton for fun. Figueiredo will play an important role in reconfiguring this department, but so will these other people.
Real or not, Joaquin Buckley is about to prove he’s not just a one-kick wonder.
Joaquin Buckley may have just secured the best knockout of 2020 when he kicked Impa Kasanganay down at the UFC Fight Night.
Wagenheim: What’s so bad about being a one-kick miracle? It’s a hell of a lot better than being a no-kick wannabe. Buckley’s jumping, spinning knockout against Impa Kasanganay last month highlighted the 26-year-old from St. Louis and set him apart from the crowd of anonymous champions. But let’s not forget that Buckley is only 1-1 in the UFC and even after the knock-out of the year has been delivered, he still doesn’t have a main card. However, it opened our eyes to what is an essential leap to success for a price fighter.
What’s Buckley going to do for an encore? Don’t hold your breath to await the spectacular. These impressive moments simply happen during a sporting competition, not when you are chasing them. The next step for Buckley is straightforward: he has to keep alive the most compelling swing a young fighter can have – the look of a winner. His opponent on Saturday, Jordan Wright, is unbeaten and even in the preliminary rounds this is a brilliant goal. Buckley doesn’t have to go all out Khaos Williams and try to outdo himself with lightning after lightning. Just giving Wright his first career loss – however he manages it – would move Buckley forward and keep his career on an upward trend.
Buckley has been a pro for six years so he understands the need for patience in slow build. He has also seen the fruits of trusting yourself and just striving for it. This mix of poise and confidence is what enables Buckley to blossom. The challenge for this fighter, best known for a jumping KO: Stay on the ground.
Real or not: Fabricio Werdum’s signature is the shot in the arm that the PFL needs after a dormant year 2020.
Former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum explains why he’s signed with PFL for the 2021 season.
Raimondi: It’s huge. And not a moment too soon. All the headlines about PFL lately have been about what the promotion hasn’t done – namely, holding a single event in 2020. PFL fighters get restless. Featherweight champion Lance Palmer was publicly opposed to promotion because he wants to fight. A lawyer for Palmer and Kayla Harrison threatens to bring a breach of contract lawsuit against the PFL, demanding the fighters’ release and reimbursement. Harrison will fight for Invicta FC this week. Things were messy.
Werdum doesn’t delete anything, but he’s the most high-profile newcomer in PFL history. Not only is Werdum a former UFC heavyweight champion, he’s one of the greatest heavyweight fighters in MMA history. No exaggeration. Werdum is an absolute legend and he can still walk. He has won a UFC win against Alexander Gustafsson. This is a big acquisition.
Personally, I can empathize with the PFL. There is still a global pandemic that is getting worse rather than better. PFL is based on a year-long, league-like season – not just one-off cards – that would have been difficult to pull off without first knowing what kind of havoc COVID-19 would wreak. But it’s hard to keep your list of fighters happy when they watch the UFC shows every week, Bellator nearly as many, and even Invicta, LFA, Titan FC, and CFFC hold regular events. The athletes want to fight and they want to be paid – not just a monthly grant. Like a real battle bag. An MMA fighter’s career is fleeting. Nobody wants to lose an entire year of a relatively short career as a professional athlete.
For all the negativity in a very complicated year, the Werdum signing is a much needed boost. Signing it is a signal that PFL is still here and preparing for a memorable 2021.