UFC flyweight champion Deiveson FIgueiredo’s nickname is Deus da Guerra, which in English sounds a good deal less romantic and considerably more like something you’d find scrawled on an Affliction shirt in Olde English font: “God of War.”
Kinda dull, I know. Yet no one dares groan.
That’s because the moniker has so far proven terrifyingly apt. 17 of Figueiredo’s 20 pro wins are finishes, a brutally balanced nine knockouts and eight subs. In the UFC, Figueiredo has scored eight knockdowns in just 10 fights, sitting adversaries down at over five times the average flyweight rate. For every three rounds you square off against Figueiredo, one of them will see the champ put you on your ass. This is a man who puts up heavyweight numbers everywhere, less the scales.
If you want more stats like this, you should check out the latest article from the brilliant Paul Gift. But let’s face it: numbers are some real nerd shit, and we’re not here to talk about nerds; we’re here to talk about perfect, shiny MUSCLE FREAKS. Some call them ‘chads.’ Others (like Gift) know them as ‘jocks.’ But in MMA’s more polite circles (both of which are very small), we simply call them ‘Athletes.’
If you’ve read my piece on Namajunas vs Andrade I, you know what that word Athlete really means: cheater. You see, Athletes get away with everything. The physical gifts falling under this capital-A-shaped umbrella—strength, explosiveness, speed, durability—grant such fighters a generous margin for error unknown to their merely human brethren.
Athletes can afford to eat more strikes, give up more takedowns, and burn more seconds off the clock—all while using inferior, idiosyncratic technique—and still win more easily than any of us Normals could ever do no matter how hard we trained. And as our brief foray into the world of stats already suggested, Deiveson Figueiredo, even by the standards of the UFC’s fastest and most scrambly division, is one bastard of a cheater.
He has a granite chin. He has life-changing power in both hands. He is incredibly fast, and incredibly strong, and frankly too damn big to be a flyweight. I don’t refer to him as the flyweight Yoel Romero because of the resemblance; the guy looks like he’s made out of iron, and judging by the frightening collisions he creates, he feels like iron too. And because of this, he gets by with some of the worst defense in championship MMA with zero discernible consequences.
This weekend, Figueiredo will be leveraging his attributes against Brandon Moreno, whose nickname, ‘The Assassin Baby,’ is both more confusing and much cooler than the champ’s own moniker.
A bona fide contender, Moreno is not without his own physical gifts. In fact, he will be the first opponent who is both taller and longer limbed than Deiveson since his very first UFC bout. Moreno is unusually tireless, even for a flyweight, which likely has more to do with hard work in the gym than god-given talent—though his outsized confidence certainly helps the Assassin Baby keep his foot steady on the gas. Perhaps that confidence is rooted in the one other trait Moreno shares with Figueiredo: the kid’s got one hell of a chin.
And that might be something to count on this Saturday, if only Figueiredo didn’t hit like three flyweights sitting on each other’s shoulders.
In every other respect, Moreno is pitiful beside the God of War. He is flyweight quick, but not Athlete quick. While he does get sharper over the course of a fight, he is never as effortlessly accurate as Figueiredo. And in terms of raw strength—let’s just say that if this title fight becomes a contest of strength, Moreno will need to win quite a few fights to get another shot.
But we’ve talked an awful lot about Deiveson Figueiredo’s superior physicality without presenting any evidence. What better proof of the gap between Athlete and Assassin Baby than a comparison via shared opponent? Enter Alexandre Pantoja, whose nickname, “The Cannibal,” is very badass indeed.
Brandon Moreno has had two fights with Pantoja, one exhibition bout on the Ultimate Fighter in 2016, and a real-deal professional rematch in 2018. Pantoja is a fellow top-five contender, and certainly more of an Athlete than Moreno. This was made clear in their fights, both of which played out along much the same lines. It goes like this: Pantoja does what he does, charging forward like a maniac, wading through fire, and slinging around the two heaviest hands in the division—after Figueiredos’. Moreno shows tremendous bravery in throwing down with the Brazilian bruiser. The kind of bravery you’d see in a kid trading punches with his dad, with the expected result.
Then Pantoja grabs a hold of Moreno, horses him off his feet, and continues the assault on the ground. That’s a good summary of the two men’s 23-odd minutes together.
Moreno loses. Both fights, in case that wasn’t clear. He can boast, at least, that Pantoja failed to submit him in the rematch. And hey, Brandon Moreno’s about to fight Deiveson Figueiredo, whereas Alexandre Pantoja… oh, right.
When Figueiredo and Pantoja fought in July of 2019, the Cannibal once again did all the usual things he likes to do. He charged forward, wading through fire, and threw those heavy hands of his. They landed, too, hard and clean on Figueiredo’s wide open chin. Pantoja even horsed Figueiredo off his feet a couple times.
It was all classic Pantoja, but there was just one small—well, bantamweight sized problem. Because this time, Pantoja wasn’t fighting Brandon Moreno, whose mind is so very much stronger than his Assassin Baby body. This time, he was unfortunate enough to be fighting Deiveson Figueiredo, the actual God of War.
Pantoja has a respectable eight knockouts on his record, and a fair few club-and-subs—pretty damn good for a flyweight. But whatever; Figueiredo ate his punches like nigiri. Threw ‘em back with a shot of sake and asked for seconds. And when Pantoja obliged, Figueiredo smiled and offered him a bite.
What followed was arguably the best fight of 2019—and I say that being well aware of the stiff competition. Alexandre Pantoja is a tough man, in both body and mind. In a different universe, he might have found his own way to the belt. But this universe is ruled by indifferent, Lovecraftian gods, and Deiveson Figueiredo is their avatar on earth.
Every time Pantoja landed, Figueiredo landed twice as hard. Just when Pantoja seemed to be picking up steam, Figueiredo casually stopped him in his tracks. They traded whole batteries of power punches, and while Pantoja’s spirit began slowly to fail him, Figueiredo was grinning through it all.
Brandon Moreno can’t beat Deiveson Figueiredo on his own terms. At least, it’s very unlikely. There are two absolute rules in mixed martial arts, and one is that anything can happen in a fight. Unfortunately for Moreno, the other is that there’s no such thing as a fair fight. Everyone’s a cheater, one way or the other. Some are just better at it than others. An MMA career is a game of spades. No matter how well you play your cards, in the end you can only work with what the dealer gives you.
This Saturday, Brandon Moreno’s only real hope is a serious investment in the one weapon available to those who fall short of Athlete status: skill. It’s just that simple—and just that complicated. Where athleticism works like a suit of armor, insulating its owner against his own errors, a skillset is more like a rifle—that kicks. Sure, used right it can protect you just as well as the Athlete’s armor. But lose focus, or pull the trigger at the wrong time, and the Athlete you were aiming at is more than quick enough to catch you reloading.
In a word, for the fighter who leans on skill to beat the skilled fighter who leans on athleticism, everything has to go more or less perfectly.
It can happen. It has happened. And Brandon Moreno has already proven that he knows how to hone his skills. The Assassin Baby who courageously survived three rounds of Pantoja in 2018 was not the same Assassin Baby who coolly broke down Kai Kara-France last December. And though an unfortunate injury denied Moreno the chance to shine, it doesn’t take a particularly careful review of the footage to see that he was carving through Brandon Royval’s vaunted ground game just last month.
Maybe Moreno has it in him to solve the riddle of steel. But Deiveson Figueiredo is a true barbarian. He throws fewer strikes than just about any flyweight on the roster. He has terrible defense. He gives up takedowns, walks into punches, and throws himself completely off balance about three times a round.
But he’s an Athlete, and you know what that means. Cheaters make great champions.
Want to listen to a man crazy enough to actually pick Moreno in this dog-and-pony show? Then check out the latest episode of Heavy Hands, the podcast dedicated to the finer points of face-punching. And visit the new Heavy Hands store, where you can buy shirts, hoodies, and shower curtains (???) emblazoned with a killer logo from artist Gian Galang.