LAS VEGAS (AP) — Deiveson Figueiredo stepped back after the final bell and spread his arms wide. The UFC flyweight champion loosed a full-throated scream as he wrapped a hug around Brandon Moreno, who had just stretched him to the limit of his ability.
When the scorecards couldn’t decide a winner, Figueiredo stayed the champ — and the UFC had every reason to get these two together again soon.
Figueiredo and Moreno fought to a thrilling majority draw at UFC 256 on Saturday, with Figuereido setting a UFC record in his second defense of his flyweight title in three weeks.
Lightweight contender Charles Oliveira also earned his eighth consecutive victory by unanimous decision after dominating former champion Tony Ferguson on the ground at the Apex gym on the UFC’s corporate campus.
Just 21 days after Figueiredo (20-1-1) stopped Alex Perez for his first title defense at UFC 255, the Brazilian returned to the cage and survived a perilous stalemate with Moreno (18-5-2), who also fought at UFC 255.
After making a trip to the hospital Friday night because of an undisclosed ailment, Figueiredo gathered the strength to complete the quickest two title defenses in UFC history. His third defense will almost certainly be against Moreno again.
“You absolutely, positively do that rematch,” UFC President Dana White said. “What a fight that was.”
Figueiredo didn’t speak publicly after the fight, heading straight back to the hospital instead. He was battered and bruised after barely holding off Moreno, who almost became the first Mexican-born champion in UFC history with a stirring mid-fight rally after a low blow left him crouched in pain on the canvas.
Referee Jason Herzog took a point from Figueiredo in the third round for the low kick, and Figueiredo’s mistake proved crucial: One judge scored it 48-47 for Figueiredo, but the other two had it 47-47. The Associated Press also scored it 47-47.
“I think it’s the correct decision to make an immediate rematch, and I’ll be ready next year,” Moreno said. “I’m happy, because obviously I wanted the title, but I just enjoy throwing punches in the octagon.”
Figueiredo and Moreno both won last month and then agreed to stay in Las Vegas for a hastily arranged title fight headlining a card that had been decimated by injuries and COVID-related bout cancellations.
Their subsequent slugfest capped the final pay-per-view event of a tumultuous year for the UFC, the first major North American sports organization to return to competition amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The promotion has put on 32 events in 32 weeks since early May despite innumerable fight cancellations and alterations due to positive COVID-19 tests.
After one more event in Las Vegas next Saturday, the UFC will take a three-week holiday break before resuming weekly shows, likely inside its coronavirus-secure bubble in Abu Dhabi.
Conor McGregor, the biggest star in combat sports, is scheduled for a rematch with Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 on Jan. 23.
“I don’t know what I expected for 2021, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a lot different,” White said. “But this was a great year for us. We had great fights. Business has never been better. Basically our business broke records last year in almost every category except live gate. 2020 was a horrible year in a lot of ways for all of us personally and professionally, but it was a great year for the UFC.”
Figueiredo and Moreno traded big shots from the opening minutes, with both fighters showing power belying their 125-pound frames. Moreno took significant damage around his right eye in the first two rounds, but he also peppered Figueiredo with shots and controlled the champion when they went to the ground.
Moreno was in serious pain after Figueiredo’s low blow, but he gathered himself and unleashed on Figueiredo for the rest of the round. Moreno also looked sharper in the fourth round, but Figueiredo rallied with power in the fifth.
Earlier, Oliveira (30-8) left no doubt about his worthiness for a title shot in the UFC’s deepest weight class with his one-sided victory over Ferguson (25-5), who lost his second fight in 2020 after going 12-0 over the previous seven years.
“Nobody has done to Tony Ferguson what I just did,” Oliveira said. “I’m proving that I have what it takes to be champion, and that I will be champion next year.”
Oliveira sunk in a nasty armbar in the closing seconds of the first, but Ferguson simply refused to tap before the bell, even as his elbow bowed dangerously in the wrong direction.
Oliveira won 30-26 on all three judges’ cards. Only four active UFC fighters have longer winning streaks than the Brazilian submission specialist.
The main card began with former heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos’ fourth consecutive TKO loss, this time to France’s Ciryl Gane, who only started MMA three years ago.
Several minutes later, middleweight Kevin Holland improbably knocked out Ronaldo “Jacaré” Souza with punches from the ground just 1:45 into the first round. Holland somehow generated enough power in a right hook to stop the veteran Jacaré despite being on the bottom of their clinch on the ground.
Holland has won five fights in seven months after the UFC’s coronavirus pause, and he yelled at the cageside cameras after this victory, asking for another fight next week.
“If I broke records this year, that means I need to break more records next year,” Holland said. “We’re just getting started. If I’m happy off what I did, that means I can’t continue to grow.”
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