There’s no question that it was hard for nearly anyone to have a “good year” in 2020. As COVID-19 tore through the world and changed lives, there was more than enough reasons to not have a “good year.”
In the unforgiving world of sport, athletes were asked as usual to put in their absolute best effort to earn their living. In a year where sometimes the opportunity to compete was up in the air and the global spread of a virus put fighters in more physical danger than ever, a flyweight put together his most notable year yet.
The 2020 Knockdown News Fighter of the Year award goes to the UFC Flyweight Champion, Deiveson Figueiredo.
Figueiredo’s year was high profile, it was main eventing and it was championship level – but that’s not to say it was perfect. Missed weight, short-notice fights and a bitter end to the year with a draw made his year full of asterisks. But in a year that went a way nobody could have predicted, it was clear he did the absolute best in the MMA world.
The start of Figueiredo’s year didn’t look like an award-winning one. Figueiredo’s year started in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, where he would fight veteran Joseph Benavidez in an attempt to become the new UFC Flyweight Champion. The fight was booked to fill the spot of Henry Cejudo, who vacated the belt in 2019 and later retired in May.
Missing weight for the fight, Figueiredo was made himself ineligible to win the belt. The belt remained vacant, of course, after Figueiredo won the fight, stopping Benavidez in the second round. To make things worse, the win wasn’t clear cut, as Benavidez later claimed a clash of heads in the second round contributed to the finishing sequence.
A rough start for Figueiredo – but only the start.
When given a chance to redeem himself in July, being booked in a rematch against Benavidez, Figueiredo did so in quite possibly the best way ever. Figueiredo was on weight perfectly. The day of the fight, Figueiredo put together a quick and explosive one-round win that saw him score three knockdowns before putting Benavidez unconscious with a rear naked choke. Figueiredo won the belt, took the now long-vacant crowd of the 125-pound division, and did so without any ifs, ands or buts.
So Figueiredo can win a belt – cool. But he’s in a division where a tall list of wins might have to be racked up to cement himself in history. Figueiredo has a hard act to follow, as prior to Cejudo’s short, yet strong championship reign, Demetrious Johnson defended his 125-pound belt 11 times.
Figueiredo’s final fight of the year was supposed to be in November, aiming to defend his belt for the first time against Alex Perez. It was supposed to be his last, we’ll get back to that. The main event win, his first on a pay-per-view card after only being on “Fight Night” cards before, was brutal. He made quick work of Perez, stopping him in the second minute with a guillotine choke.
Right after his third win of the year, UFC President Dana White was quick to target his next fight. With a sudden absence on the promotion’s December pay-per-view card after a fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling was scrapped, the show needed a new main event. Rising to the occasion was Figueiredo, as well as his opponent Brandon Moreno, who also deserves credit given he fought on the same November card as the flyweight champ.
Moreno gave Figueiredo his toughest test of the year, fighting all 25 minutes before judges gave the fight a draw. Figueiredo’s strong performance saw a setback during it, as an accidental groin kick he delivered caused a point to be deducted from his score.
Figueiredo was somber after the fight, revealing afterwards that he entered the bout just a day after being hospitalized due to a stomach infection. The year definitely didn’t end the way he wanted it to. The unsatisfying draw ended Figueiredo’s year on a relatively low note, but it did not take much away from the year he had in general.
Looking at the numbers, the year that Figueiredo had was amazing. With four fights, four main events, three stoppages and two pay-per-view headlining bouts, Figueiredo’s 2020 run is something that will not be forgotten soon.