2:02 AM ET
Ariel HelwaniESPN Staff Writer
What does it take to become a star in MMA?
Well, for starters, you have to win fights. Obviously. But, as we all know, that’s not enough.
You have to finish fights. No doubt about it.
You have to be well-rounded. For sure.
You have to be flashy. That always helps.
And you most certainly have to be a showman. Absolutely.
Deiveson Figueiredo has it all. He is a star in the making. He is the fighter the male flyweight division has been waiting for, and he is the next Brazilian star the UFC has been craving.
On Saturday, in his first title defense, Figueiredo capped off the best year of his career with a phenomenal win over Alex Perez. The supremely strong and quick Brazilian pulled off a beaut of a guillotine in under two minutes.
This was the kind of showing Figueiredo needed in his first pay-per-view main event, which just so happened to coincide with his first trip to Las Vegas. Imagine that.
It was also the performance the UFC needed to justify not only the decision to put Figueiredo in the main event, but to also remain in the men’s flyweight business.
It wasn’t that long ago that the entire division appeared to be on life support. Heck, some even believed Figueiredo missing weight earlier this year prior to the vacant title fight against Joseph Benavidez would prove to be the final nail in the division’s coffin. Some believed the UFC would finally shut the division down after he beat Benavidez, but couldn’t win the title due to the fact that he missed weight. Honestly, it seemed like the perfect excuse to cut bait.
Thank heavens they decided against that.
I’d like to think that despite that blunder on the scale the UFC brass saw something in Figueiredo during that first fight against Benavidez. I mean, who wouldn’t be intrigued by a former hair stylist/sushi chef/fisherman/brick layer/security guard/taxi driver turned high-level fighter. Add his 85 percent finishing rate, his impeccable style and his cool hair, Figueiredo is just what the doctor ordered for 125.
And while I’m showering Figueiredo with praise, how about the fact that he, as champion, called out his next foe in the post-fight interview with Joe Rogan? That rarely happens.
Instead of targeting the sexier name, Cody Garbrandt, the champ called out a true flyweight, Brandon Moreno, who just so happened to pick up a big win Saturday as well, and is unbeaten in his last five fights.
Look at that. An exciting, fighting 125-pound champion calling out a fellow flyweight, who picked up a big win in the coveted featured prelim of a pay-per-view event headlined by a male flyweight title fight, which had not headlined a UFC pay-per-view in over five years.
In a year filled with one strange occurrence after the next, this feels fitting. It’s also extremely refreshing.
No longer is every flyweight fight a referendum on the division and weight class. No longer are we talking about whether the division will cease to exist in a month or so.
No, now we’re just all looking forward to Figueiredo’s next fight. His next defense. His next outfit. His next finish.
This is a victory for the vocal minority who pleaded for the promotion to not give up on the little guys. Because the UFC’s newest Brazilian champion, who just might end up being its 2020 male fighter of the year, too, is also on the verge of becoming its next star.