UFC 255: Deiveson Figueiredo, Valentina Shevchenko defend flyweight belts
Valentina Shevchenko defended the UFC women’s flyweight title with a surprisingly difficult unanimous decision over Jennifer Maia at the UFC Apex gym on the promotion’s corporate campus in its hometown.
Figueiredo (20-1) earned his record-tying seventh stoppage victory in the 125-pound division by clamping onto Perez’s neck out of a scramble at 1:57 in the opening round.
Perez (24-6) had nearly taken Figueiredo’s back an instant before the Brazilian champion turned the tables and finished the fight with the flair and skill that have made him a rising mixed martial arts star.
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Shevchenko (20-3) earned her sixth consecutive victory as a UFC flyweight and her fourth title defense, but the dominant champion had to work much harder than almost everyone expected. Shevchenko won 49-46 on all three cards.
Maia (18-7-1), one of the biggest underdogs in UFC title fight history, stretched Shevchenko to the limit and even likely won the second round against a champion who had barely been tested during her nearly three-year run at 125 pounds.
Figueiredo claimed his title earlier this year with his second consecutive victory over Joseph Benavidez, finally ascending to the peak of a UFC division with only two previous champions. Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson dominated the flyweight ranks for six years before Henry Cejudo dethroned him in 2018.
Figueiredo’s exciting victory fits the plan for the UFC, which would love to spark public interest in the quiet flyweight division with a dominant title reign by Figueiredo, a former sushi chef and hairdresser’s assistant from the mouth of the Amazon.
With 17 stoppages in his first 20 career victories, Figueiredo’s ability to finish his fights is unusual in the flyweight division — and exactly what it needs to attract fans.
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Perez earned his way into a title shot after several years in regional promotions in his native central California, followed by an appearance on UFC President Dana White’s Contender Series. He then won five of his first six fights in the UFC, allowing him to seize the opportunity last month when former bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt had to drop out of the main event with an injury.
For most of the show’s penultimate bout, Shevchenko eschewed her dominant kickboxing and counterpunching in favor of takedowns and ground fighting with Maia, the massive underdog who caused enough trouble in the early rounds to get Shevchenko’s attention.
After Shevchenko dominated the first round on the ground, Maia largely controlled the second round, also on the ground — no small feat against Shevchenko, who had lost only one round on the judges’ scorecards in her entire UFC career as a flyweight.
Shevchenko took down Maia twice in the third, and the champion picked apart Maia on their feet and on the ground in the fourth. Shevchenko bloodied Maia’s face in the fifth round with strikes, but Maia survived to the final horn.
The 32-year-old Shevchenko has dominated the 125-pound division since December 2018, one year after the UFC created the belt. Her only two losses in the past decade were close decisions against two-division UFC champion Amanda Nunes, and Shevchenko dominated each of her first three flyweight title defenses.
Maia got her first title shot after an upset victory over top contender Joanne Calderwood in August, jumping the line for her shot — and then proving she deserved it.
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Scotland’s Paul Craig opened the pay-per-view portion of the show with a second-round stoppage of former light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
Earlier, Mexico’s Brandon Moreno likely put himself in line for the next shot at the men’s flyweight belt with a first-round stoppage of fellow top contender Brandon Royval.
Moreno (18-5-1) was booked to fight Perez at UFC 255 before Garbrandt pulled out and Perez got the title shot. Moreno was disappointed, but he still finished Royval, whose shoulder was dislocated, on the ground with one second left in the round.
Shevchenko’s older sister, Antonina, stopped Ariane Lipski with punches in the second round of their undercard bout. The Shevchenkos are the first sisters to compete on the same card in UFC history.
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