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Saturday Night’s UFC 255 PPV features title fights in the men’s and women’s flyweight division.  In the main event, Deiveson Figueiredo takes on Dana White Contender’s Series (DWCS) alum Alex Perez.  Perez was not Figueiredo’s original opponent, but rather stepped up when it was announced that Cody Garbrandt had sustained injuries during training camp.  Fortunately, this is not a late notice fight, as Perez had a full camp to prepare for this title shot.  Figueiredo is coming off perhaps the most dominant title-earning victory in the history of the UFC, as he absolutely ran through perennial contender Joseph Benavidez this past summer on Fight Island, finishing him with a rear naked choke 4:48 into Round 1. 

On the post-fight podcast, I had argued that this was the first round I had ever seen that could warrant a 10-6 (if such rounds are even a possibility).  Figueiredo demonstrated sheer brilliance in both his standup and submission capabilities, knocking Benavidez down multiple times and out-scrambling him to secure the rear naked choke submission. 

Figueiredo, whose record stands at 19-1, is rather unique in the flyweight division as he truly is a finisher, irrespective of whether the fight is on the feet or on the ground.  He possesses that God-given ability to disconnect opponents from consciousness with one punch perhaps more than any flyweight in UFC history (save for a skinny John Lineker maybe!).  He’s quick, elusive, and employs a diverse stand-up game.  In my mind, I view him as a smaller version of young Jose Aldo – fearless, relentless and dangerous anywhere the fight goes.

Standing across the Octagon from Perez tomorrow will be Alex Perez, a DWCS alum (I believe the first alum to challenge for a title shot), who has since gone 6-1 in the UFC with his lone defeat at the hands of Joseph Benavidez.  In his most recent fight, Perez stopped Jussier Formiga (the only man ever to defeat Figueiredo) via TKO leg strikes. 

What Perez lacks in fight-ending power, he more than makes up for with skill and sheer tenacity.  He is a fighter that moves forward and is constantly looking to impose his offense, whether it comes in the form of strikes or takedowns to set up a potential submission.  While Perez is technically the replacement, as Cody Garbrandt was initially slated to compete in this main event, Perez is a worthy contender.

While most, including myself, doubt this fight/card will result in huge box office numbers I do think the fight will deliver in terms of spectator enjoyment, as both fighters are always game.  Ultimately, for the toughness and relentlessness that Alex Perez possesses, I think he is simply running into a talent that is coming into his own and is among the sport’s elite.  Look for Figueiredo to stop Perez with strikes in the 2nd or 3rd round of the fight.

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In the co-main event, the women’s #2 pound-for-pound fighter and current UFC Flyweight Champion, Valentina Shevchenko will put her title on the line against Jennifer Maia.  Shevchenko, a multi-time world Muay Thai Champion, is 19-3 in her MMA career having only had losses to Amanda Nunes (two razor thin decision losses, the second of which I thought she won) and an earlier fight in her career against Liz Carmouche, which she ultimately avenged in dominant fashion.  When the UFC first announced the creation of the 125-pound women’s division, all followers of the sport immediately predicted it would soon be “the Bullet’s” division, and we have all been proven correct. 

Shevchenko is 5-0 in the division and each of her wins has been dominant.  Some argue that Shevchenko, more than any champion in their respective weight class, is the most dominant champion and least likely to be seriously challenged for her belt.  Why?  Beyond her world class striking, with excellent timing, counter punching, fast hands and devastating kicks, Shevchenko has a rapidly developing takedown and ground game, which has seen her submit the likes of Julianna Pena and result in TKO via ground-and-pound, like her last title defense against Katilyn Chookagian.  Throw in her unflappable confidence and unending cardio and you have a near perfect fighter.

Jennifer Maia will be the next competitor charged with trying to topple this near perfect champion.  The former Invicta FC Flyweight Champion earned the title shot after her resounding submission defeat of then #1 contender Joanne Calderwood.  Maia, who trains at the famed Chute Boxe Academy in Curitiba, Brazil, is an accomplished and aggressive striker, with a black belt in BJJ.  Though she is 3-2 in the UFC, she has fought the top of the women’s flyweight division, and each fight continues to look vastly improved.  Moreover, she continues to make great strides in her overall strength and conditioning.  Maia is as tough as they come and definitely has the fighting spirit of Chute Boxe alums from the past.

Ultimately, Shevchenko’s athleticism and overall fight acumen will be too steep a hill for Maia to climb.  Shevchenko has overcome far greater obstacles and has the tenacity and skill to make this a short night.  Should Maia recklessly charge forward, Shevchenko will be prepared and end this fight in spectacular fashion.  Either way, I do not anticipate this fight will go the distance and look for a 3rd round stoppage from the champion.

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