Greetings, fight fans! UFC 256 is in the books, and as is all too common in this rollercoaster of a year that is 2020, a card ravaged by pandemic-related changes and cancelations still lived up to the hype, and in this case produced one of the best fights of the year in the main event. We also so the official emergence of a new contender at lightweight, as the long road of Charles Oliveira looks to finally have its destination in sight. Lots of action to unpack, so let's get down to what the hell happened!
The Main Card
A point deduction leads to a majority draw in a late-year contender for Fight of the Year
Deiveson Figueiredo (c) vs Brandon Moreno declared a majority draw (47-46 Figueiredo, 47-47, 47-47) -- UFC flyweight championship
What happened?: In a thrilling, back-and-forth war for the flyweight championship, Figueiredo was just a bit more accurate, diverse, and powerful, but a third round low blow (and some bad judging, but we'll get to that) resulted in a point deduction resulted in two 47-47 scorecards, while the lone dissenting judge turned in a 48-46 card for the champion.
How did that happen?: I have to say right off the bat that I can't commit myself to doing full round-by-round breakdowns of this fight, because there was just so much action that I'll be here typing forever! Many of the components I imagined would take place in the fight came to fruition. Figueiredo was the bigger, stronger guy and hit noticeably harder, but Moreno's volume and extended combinations gave him fits at times because he tends to rely on reflexes and head movement when it comes to mid-range defense, and that's best for avoiding single strikes or short combos before you run out of room and balance to slip attacks. Moreno's wrestling and scrambling ability served him pretty well overall, as he was able to take Figueiredo down emphatically four times over the course of the fight, but the champion being the high level grappler he is, stayed out of trouble and with the exception of the fourth round was always able to scramble back to his feet pretty quickly. Moreno's toughness shone through more in this fight than any other; he's shown a great chin over his career, but the way he was able to eat big shots and still come back with shots of his own was pretty awe-inspiring. Figueiredo had his own moments of this as well, but if you really put them side by side and just isolate who looked the most tired and hurt after big shots, Figueiredo actually looked a bit more affected overall, even if he clearly hit harder.
He definitely looked to have the champ in a bit of trouble here.
All of these were factors that I expected to see over the course of the fight, and they faithfully occurred. Figueiredo's cardio was a significant question mark that I think did offer some surprise given his quick turnaround, and especially considering his revelation that he was hospitalized due to a stomach infection just the night before. To me this fight fit the classic mould of "Fighter A has the power to end it early, but the longer the fight goes, the more it favors Fighter B." In practice, while Figueiredo did tire in the second half of the fight, he found his second wind nearer to the end and finished strong, although this was helped by Moreno injuring his left arm in the round. Although he continued to throw it a bit anyway, the injury definitely hampered his jab, which was one of his more reliable weapons throughout the fight. It was also one of the primary attacks Figueiredo sought to time and counter over the top of, so in addition to him allowing him to slow the pace in the final round due to Moreno's vastly decreased output, it also took away Figueiredo's best counter shot for much of the stanza and forced him to load up on punches more.
As mentioned there was clear power differential between the two in terms of the shots they landed. Figueiredo did a fine job matching, and at some times even surpassing Moreno's pace, but historically he's much more comfortable as a lower output, stalking counter puncher. Here he took advantage of Moreno lapsing defensively sometimes after throwing his jab, and he did well to frequently go to some rather hellacious left hooks to the body whenever he'd manage to walk Moreno back to the cage. These not only served to try and sap some of Moreno's cardio and break him down, but they also help him cut off Moreno when he tried to circle off the cage to his right, and keep him in front of Figueiredo to set up right hands up the top. Although Figueiredo's incessant pressure paid some dividends for him, it did also allow Moreno into the fight in a lot of ways just due to his sheer fortitude. The champion is used to opponents opting not to stay in the pocket with him, so his habit of leaving his head unprotected as he throws combinations tends to go largely unchecked. Moreno often refused to distance himself from a brawl, instead firing right back, and he tagged Figueiredo with several hard shots in return that sometimes led to Figueiredo being the one who retreated from the pocket as Moreno pursued him with combinations. This led to some wonderful back-and-forth moments where one fighter would appear to be hurt by a shot, but then turn right around and hurt his opponent.
What turned out to be a deciding factor in the fight was an unfortunate Figueiredo front kick that went low in the third round, leading to a point deduction with no warning given. The shot looked bad enough to potentially end the fight, which no doubt factored into the decision to take a point even though the kick was clearly unintentional, but thankfully Moreno was able to continue on with no discernable degradation of his performance. He would go on to arguably win the round (though no judges scored it for him), as well as clearly win the fourth round thereafter. That encompassed an apparent momentum shift after the first two rounds of the fight were competitive, but mostly characterized by Figueiredo landing the harder shots amid Moreno's higher volume of head strikes landed. The air around the contest going into the final round was definitely that fight hung in the balance, and the unfortunate injury to Moreno's from blocking a high kick hampered his output enough that Figueiredo was able to take command over most of the round before Moreno made his final offensive push. In the end, a draw was a serviceable result, as both men dazzled and impressed, and all in all it was a pretty close, competitive affair. There was no loser here.
Just gonna dump some tweets here, because the fight was awesome.
Other thoughts: This fight was a joy to watch, and I like everyone else hope we can see it again sooner rather than later. Moreno stepped up and showed that he's the live dog I knew he could be, and Figueiredo still showed that he's a highly regarded champion for good reason. As far as the point deduction is concerned, I could see an argument that it was hasty and ended up denying him a win, but I personally have no problem with a clear and severe foul that could alter the victim for the rest of the fight if they're able to continue is met with swift punitive measures. The foul was unintentional, but also appeared to be more a case of neglect as to where Figueiredo aimed his kick rather than Moreno moving into it. However, in the end I wasn't even necessarily the point deduction that led to the draw; it was some spotty judging at the hands of Junichiro Kamijo, who gave Moreno round five when he pretty clearly didn't win it. Had he given Figueiredo the round, we'd be looking at a majority decision for him rather than a majority draw. Still, if it means we get to see them go at it again, I guess I can't complain.
Next for Figueiredo: In a division not exactly overrun with contenders at the moment, the best solution is just to run it back. We'll of course have to see how both men fared in terms of injuries, but they both deserve breaks anyway after their historic 21-day turnarounds to produce this classic.
Next for Moreno: See above.
Oliveira utterly dominates Ferguson to stake his claim as a top lightweight contender
Charles Oliveira def. Tony Ferguson via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
What happened?: This one wasn't even close, as Oliveira used his size, wrestling, and vastly superior grappling to exact wholesale dominance on the former interim lightweight champion.
How did that happen?: From the onset, Oliveira essentially did what he wanted to do. He came out immediately with a countering mindset on the feet, no doubt gleaned from Justin Gaethje's success in Ferguson's previous fight. Knowing that Ferguson is a relentless pressure fighter, he was content to allow him to do just that while looking to time and counter with punches of his own and disrupt Ferguson's rhythm and forward movement with low kicks. He did manage to land several low kicks that definitely seemed to have an effect, but for the most part the striking was pretty competitive, and I think a lot of it did have to do with Ferguson being uncharacteristically a bit lax in his pressure. Ferguson is definitely no stranger to slow starts, so it's no surprise that he let up on his attack a bit in the beginning of the fight, but he seemed a little hesitant to employ his usual "Take a shot to give several" mentality, and that may be due to him being wary of counters after how successful Gaethje was against him. This actually worked to his benefit since Oliveira wasn't able to counter him all that effectively on the feet, but ultimately it also meant he wasn't able to push the kind of pace that would give Oliveira any pause or force him to respect and accept his pace.
Ferguson definitely wasn't his usual aggressive self.
However, the story of the fight certainly didn't play out significantly on the feet. In each round, Oliveira was able to time and land high amplitude takedowns shockingly easily, and from there Ferguson offered him little challenge. He was able to effortlessly assert his control on top, get to dominant positions, and overall just run a grappling clinic on Ferguson, who himself is a standout grappler in the division. As they say, there are levels to this, and Oliveira displayed how much higher his level of grappling is. This was put on full display in the first round when Oliveira cavalierly went to step over into mount from half guard, and Ferguson tried to roll him over to gain top position, but Oliveira's pressure and balance were so high level that he just put pressure on Ferguson's head and shoulders, and planted with his left leg to block the roll while sliding his hips down to gain mount anyway. From there he patiently picked his shots while he slowly walked his way up to a high mount. Ferguson frequently attempted to turn away and reach out for him once he postured up to land strikes, and late in the round Oliveira exploited that pattern by expertly spinning for an armbar on that arm Ferguson continuously left open. He locked in an armbar that anyone would have tapped to, but apparently Ferguson wasn't the type of guy to tap to it, because he gutted his way through a grotesquely hyperextended elbow and somehow made it to the horn.
Ferguson came out in round two with a solid poker face, but it was clear that arm was compromised. More importantly, this is generally when he starts turning up the pressure overwhelming his opponents, and he instead fought much more carefully than we're used to seeing. A cautious front kick with no set up lead to Oliveira catching it and easily pushing him to the mat, though not before an elbow during that takedown cut Oliveira open. A subsequent illegal up kick brought a short pause to the action, but once they resumed, Oliveira just continued dominating Ferguson at every turn on the ground. The remainder of the round mostly consisted of Oliveira maintaining dominant position and easily controlling Ferguson with his lockdown top game.
The final stanza saw Ferguson come out with a bit more urgency, but he was still reticent to let his strikes go. It wasn't long before another naked kick was caught, and after he rolled out of it Oliveira just stayed on him and easily grabbed onto a double leg takedown, lifting Ferguson in the air and slamming him down, nearly stepping right into mount in the process. Ferguson made a grave mistake in that transition in choosing to attack a guillotine to counter the takedown rather than digging for underhooks, but Oliveira was in deep very quickly. From there it was right back to domination by the Sao Paulo native, and it didn't take long for him to effortless step into mount. Ferguson did well to recognize his position and wall walk into a scramble, but Oliveira expertly controlled his head, and like a wizard transitioned right into a triangle choke that like every other submission he attempts, was immediately tight.
How insanely good is Oliveira on the ground?!
From there, something interesting happened because as he inched his way to top position in the triangle, he had a clear opportunity to transition into an armbar on the very same arm he contorted in the first round. Perhaps it was because he knew Ferguson wasn't going to tap and didn't want to damage him more than was necessary considering he was way up on the scorecards and had full control of the fight, but he appeared to consider the armbar before just abandoning the position and settling into side control. He would maintain his smothering top control for the rest of the round, culminating in a dominant decision victory.
Other thoughts: Oliveira has essentially grown up as a fighter before our eyes, and this performance finally demonstrated that he's become what many projected he would be over a decade ago: a bona fide title contender. He's evolved from a dangerous, but flawed and somewhat fragile fighter, to a fighter who is even more dangerous, has patched up most of his technical flaws, and has improved greatly in terms of his overall resolve. He has definitely convinced me that he's at that elite level with this performance, but his resolve is still something I'd like to see tested. Ferguson seemed to be the perfect fighter to do that, but his unusually cautious approach in the fight and inability to provide an answer for Oliveira's wrestling showed that even if Oliveira still has issues with opponents who don't go away and keep putting pressure on him, it's a tall order actually putting that into practice on him these days and not ending up finished or in a harrowing situation.
The only real surprise for me in the fight was the connective tissue in Oliveira having such a dominant performance: his wrestling. Ferguson had long stopped using his wrestling offensively, and has never exactly been a top tier takedown defender, but historically it's taken a standout wrestler to put him on his back consistently, and Oliveira has never shown to be that. Once the fight hit the ground, it was no shock to see that Oliveira was head and shoulders above him in the grappling department, because Ferguson's grappling efficacy has always been complimented by his pace and ability to overwhelm opponents and wear them down on the feet first. He's never been the type of grappler that can catch someone fresh using just superior technique the way Oliveira can. Oliveira did well to stifle his busy bottom game as well, which showed some maturity in his game. The Oliveira of old would have happily engaged Ferguson in a scramble-fest that could have led to his own downfall as it has for him several times in the past. He's in his prime, and he looked like championship material out there.
As for Ferguson, his decline has been disheartening, but perhaps not as sudden as many seem to characterize it. I maintained even before the Gaethje fight that Ferguson was no longer in his prime; it's one of the reasons I ended up being relatively confident Gaethje would beat him. While I thought he had the relentless pressure to wear Oliveira down and the defensive wrestling to stay out of extended grappling exchanges with him, it wasn't so much surprising that he lost than it was that he really didn't and couldn't do anything during the fight. Being a slow starter who takes over fights late isn't the most sustainable style, especially when you start to fight opponents who can handle or thwart your pace, and the damage you accrue in the process takes it's toll. I don't think the Gaethje loss was necessarily the end of Ferguson as a high level fighter, but I do think it shows that his style is fundamentally flawed when paired with the elite of the division. As such, I believe this fight proved with little doubt that he would have had little to offer former/maybe still current lightweight champion and "The one that got away," Khabib Nurmagomedov. If Oliveira was able to take him down and neutralize him so easily, I really just don't see any way he would have fared better against Khabib. It doesn't look like we'll ever see that fight happen, but over time that missed opportunity has become less and less of a tragic one.
Next for Oliveira: After his performance, his next fight should be for a title. It could be against the winner of Dustin Poirier vs Conor McGregor, it could be against Justin Gaethje, or even Nurmagomedov if the UFC is able to successfully coax him out of retirement. Either way, a belt needs to be on the line next time he steps into the cage.
Next for Ferguson: After two dominant losses in a row, Ferguson has fallen dramatically in 2020. It's tempting to look further down the rankings for his next opponent given the nature of his losses, but I think a fight with Dan Hooker would be fitting.
Dern outpoints Jandiroba in wild striking war between jiu jitsu world champions
Mackenzie Dern def. Virna Jandiroba via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
What happened?: Both women showed off some improvements in their striking, and the grappling proved mostly a wash, but Dern's pressure and output netted were the first and third rounds in a closely contested affair.
How did that happen?: You know what they say, when you get two fighters who are elite in the same area, the fight often takes place mostly outside of their area of expertise, and that's what we got here. There weren't too many surprises on the feet; Dern's striking looked a bit sharper and she closed the gap a little between her high willingness to strike and her lower aptitude for striking. Basically, she looked slightly more patient and thoughtful on the feet, and her strikes were slightly straighter and cleaner than usual. Jandiroba looked a bit more comfortable than she typically is on the feet and was more willing to engage there than I anticipated. I imagined Dern's pressure and volume would force her to shoot and clinch more frequently, but she held her own pretty well in the striking exchanges. However, one thing that was pretty clear in the early going was that not only was Dern much more active and aggressive, but she was clearly the quicker and harder hitter of the two, and it definitely threw Jandiroba off in the first half of the opening round and had her retreating at the tail end of some exchanges. Over time she got a better feel for Dern's timing evaded shots easier when Dern loaded up on punches, leading to some counters with straight punches, but Dern's pace and volume pretty clearly placed the round in her favor.
The second round saw a shift in the momentum, as Jandiroba did a much better job pumping her jab to keep Dern away and scaring her off of continuous pressure with knees and counter shots for a much more even striking battle in the first half of the stanza. The turning point came when Jandiroba threw a body kick and caught Dern ducking in with the knee, cutting her on the bridge of the nose and possibly breaking her nose. Dern drove through to attempt the takedown, but was clearly bothered by the nose, and after contemplating pulling guard, Jandiroba slammed her to the canvas. She wasn't able to do much from top position but she did bank some valuable control time, spending the last 30 seconds of the round thwarting a leglock attempt from Dern.
This should teach her to stop ducking her head so much in the pocket.
With the fight up for grabs in the final round, both women came out swinging and both women landed some solid shots. The best shot of the round was definitely landed by Dern, who popped Jandiroba with an overhand right that stunned her and sent her stumbling back into the cage. She also landed several stiff jabs and hard body kicks, while Jandiroba landed some nice jabs and a few 1-2 combinations herself. Late in the round Dern shot in for a takedown, and Jandiroba took a risk that didn't pay off and may have cost her the close round when she attempted to jump guard, perhaps going for a flying triangle choke, but it was easily avoided, as was her immediate attempt to transition into an omoplata sweep. As a result, Dern ended the fight on top and landed a flush hammerfist for good measure before the horn. In the end, all judges agreed that Dern did enough to win the round and the fight.
Other thoughts: As close of a fight as it was, I thought this was an example of "close but clear" for Dern. Most will agree the fight was all tied up going into the final round, and Dern pretty clearly landed the harder shots in the round. One thing that I did think unfairly swayed some fans was the unofficial stats graphic, which at one point showed Jandiroba up in significant strikes by a considerable amount in the round. The graphic confused me because it did not at all reflect what I had seen up to that point, and it may have also swayed commentator Daniel Cormier into saying that Jandiroba was winning the round when she had mostly landed some jabs after eating the best shot of the round and just as many jabs herself. Ultimately the final stats show that Dern did in fact land a higher volume of strikes in the round, only strengthening her claim on it.
As mentioned, both women showed some improvements in their striking, though overall it still definitely got sloppy, and there were moments for both women when they seemed to freeze up in the pocket and pass up some good strike opportunities, probably out of fear of counters coming their way. They should only improve with time, so I think their performance showed a net positive. Dern is showing that although she may not have been worthy of some of the hype being heaped on her, she can still be a solid strawweight and that she's taking her fighting career more serious these days. For Jandiroba, she has nothing to hang her head about in the loss, and she still shows the skills that could see her enter the top 10 sooner rather than later.
Next for Dern: It could be a significant step up in competition, but Tecia Torres lines up nicely with her in the rankings.
Next for Jandiroba: Angela Hill was originally slated to fight Torres, and at this point Jandiroba makes a lot more sense than trying to rebook it. Brianna Van Buren would also be a worthwhile opponent, as she should either be in the #14 spot right under Jandiroba instead of Felice Herrig or at #15 instead of Linvinha Souza (who she beat).
Holland goes 5-0 in 2020, knocks 'Jacare' out with punches off his back
Kevin Holland def. Jacare Souza by knockout (1:45, R1)
Kevin Holland with a KO from his back against Ronaldo Souza!!!— Pound For Pound: MMA Podcast (@PFP_Podcast) December 13, 2020
How did he just put that much power in that right hand!! Wow!!
5 wins in 7 Months! Book him as a main event now!#UFC #UFC256 #MMA pic.twitter.com/G7WaiOhjks
What happened?: Insanity, that's what. Jacare wasted no time in taking Holland to the ground, and unsurprisingly he was more than willing to engage the BJJ world champion there. Was was surprising was that he was able to hold his own before landing an improbable looping right hand as he was getting up that badly rocked Souza and allowed Holland to stand over his awkwardly bent foe and land punches until he was out.
How did that happen?: Kevin Holland has become the human embodiment of "That's so crazy, it just might work;" that's how. First his slam knockout (submission?) of Charlie Ontiveros and now another low percentage knockout that makes him only the second fighter in the UFC next to Niko Price to earn a knockout stemming from punches off his back. If we're counting The Ultimate Fighter, he'd be third after Uriah Hall's knockout of Dylan Andrews on his wave of terror through the TUF house. There wasn't much to the fight; Holland led off straight away with a low kick that Souza caught and converted to a takedown, but Holland was squirrely and hard to manage from the onset. As soon as his back hit the ground he elevated Souza over him with butterfly hooks, landed a harp open-handed slap off his back as Souza established top position, and immediately threatened with a triangle from there.
Souza of course was able to avoid the triangle, but found himself on the wrong end of several hard elbows that forced him even more on the defensive. He was able to pass to side, but Holland used the opportunity to scramble back up to his feet. Souza stayed on him and grabbed a waist lock to attempt a lift him up for a takedown, but then Holland threatened with a guillotine. He was easily able to slip out and dump him to the ground, where Holland was once again too squirrely to fully control. Souza did manage to land a couple nice right hands (to which Holland exclaimed "Nice!"), and his talking actually got Souza to respond to him. Shortly after that he said "I had a dream about this," and I seriously think the talking was actually successful in getting Souza to put his guard down a bit and relax.
This was a pretty lethal mistake, because just seconds later Holland landed the shot that rally got the ball rolling to the finish: a short right hook that seemed to go unnoticed by the commentary, but landed right on Souza's chin and immediately forced him to cover up. It was then that Holland was able to tip him off balance a bit (which really convinces me he was rocked from the punch), push away with his legs, and actually swing his right leg wide to create extra momentum for a sweeping right hook as he was standing up that caught Souza on his forehead and stunned him badly. He quickly landed another right hand as he got up to his feet that again landed right on the chin, and this was the one that essentially finished the fight and made Souza go limp. The following three punches weren't even really necessary, but they removed him from consciousness and left no doubt. Holland has put together an incredible run in 2020 after ending last year with an upset submission loss to Brendan Allen. Prior to that he'd started to become known for winning some tepid, clinch-heavy decisions, but in 2020 he's come alive, winning five straight and finishing four of them emphatically. Souza was no longer ranked at middleweight due to his foray into the light heavyweight division, but you figure this win should get Holland a nice bump up in competition for his next bout.
Other thoughts: I underestimated Holland in this one; I thought his willingness to engage his opponents pretty much anywhere they want the fight to go would land him in bad situations, and it turned out to work in his favor here. His wily guard game prevented Souza from ever getting comfortable on top, and his reedy limbs turned out to be the perfect foil to the BJJ players' tendency to prioritize securing their foe's leg position to establish their top control. Many times over the course of this short fight we saw Souza focusing on wrangling Holland's legs to advance his position, only to be hit with punches or elbows when he didn't expect them, and that ultimately led to his demise. All credit goes to Holland with this one; Souza looked fine all things considered, and I picked him to win because although he lost, he was highly competitive and very well could have earned the decision in a close fight with the current light heavyweight champion in his previous fight up at 205 lbs. Holland is just the right amount of skilled and the right amount of unpredictable at this point to become a serious threat. And on top of it he's just plain entertaining with his in-cage talking. Thanks to the pandemic, the empty arenas have afforded us the pleasure of hearing his antics clearly during the fight, but once crowds return they should seriously consider having him mic'd up.
Next for Holland: Not Khamzat Chimaev, for one. I know it's become popular to call him out, but the fight makes little sense for Holland, who as I mentioned earlier, should get a sizable increase in opponent ranking after this win. I think Derek Brunson or the winner of the upcoming Chris Weidman vs Uriah Hall rematch would work for him.
Next for Souza: This was a tough third-straight loss for the Brazilian vet, and he's on the wrong side of 40, so one has to think he's not too much longer for this sport. We can't even be sure the UFC will even keep him, given how they've let go of guys like Yoel Romero, but if they do he should get a significant step down in competition. I'm thinking someone like Markus Perez, Gerald Meerschaert, or the loser of Karl Roberson vs Dalcha Lungiambula.
Gane shines in second round TKO, while dos Santos' fall continues
Ciryl Gane def. Junior Dos Santos via TKO (2:34, R2)
What happened?: Dos Santos had little to offer his younger, quicker opposition, as his relatively one-note approach to striking was no match for Gane's diverse attack and superior footwork. After over seven lopsided minutes, he finally succumbed to punches in the second round.
How did that happen?: Gane is one of the, if not the most fleet-footed heavyweight on the roster and has a solid understanding range and how to navigate it. By comparison dos Santos just really didn't have anything for him with his usual array of wide one-off overhand rights, body jabs, and not much else. In contrast, Gane frequently worked kicks to all levels at range, bounced around and displayed solid lateral movement to easily thwart dos Santos' attempts to pressure him, and made him pay with counter hooks before exiting the pocket before he could be countered. Dos Santos' only real success came near the end of the opening round where he started to swing a bit more desparately landed a solid left and a right before the horn, but it was nothing that gave Gane much pause.
'JDS' wasn't completely devoid of offense.
Round two was a landslide for Gane who outlanded dos Santos 22 significant strikes to just one (59-to-10 overall). He began to eat up dos Santos' lead leg with low kicks, and punish him for whiffing on his wide hooks with tight hooks of his own. The fight broke down for the former heavyweight champion at the hands of a stiff southpaw jab that had him rocked and backing up to the fence. Gane smoothly closed the distance, feinting a couple kicks along the way before landing a short right hook over the top, and eventually a tight elbow behind the ear just as dos Santos turned away from him against the fence that put him down on all fours (a sadly familiar position for him in his losses). A couple follow up hands partially landed, but they were unnecessary as the referee saw fit to stop the contest.
Dos Santos initially disputed the stoppage because he believed the elbow was landed to the back of his head, but replays showed that it was a legal shot. It was definitely borderline, but you also have to consider that dos Santos turned his body away from Gane when he threw the elbow, and that makes it more likely to land in that spot as it is. It was a solid win for Gane, who normally doesn't display the aggression and pressure to finish his opponents as convincingly as he did here. He tends to spend a lot of time bouncing around on the outside and moving in and out of the pocket, and while he also did that here, he seemed much more comfortable pressuring his way inside with strikes once he had success.
Other thoughts: While Gane did look improved and rightfully punched his ticket into the top 10 with this win, I think the most glaring takeaway is just how diminished dos Santos is at this point. He's always been a flawed fighter, but with age and lack of patching up certain holes in his game, his precipitous fall is all the harder to watch. He still allows himself to be backed into the cage, and when he does he still tends to turn away from his opponent to angle off with his hands down, and it's almost a guarantee at this point that when he does that he's going to eat a shot that hurts him or puts him away. He still really doesn't throw feints outside of sometimes feinting a jab to set up his overhand right, which is his main tool in a limited tool box that everyone is familiar with. His is not a style that ages well, especially at heavyweight, where his defensive liabilities get him into trouble he just can't recover from.
Next for Gane: Although dos Santos was on a three-fight skid coming into this contest, he still held a rather respectable ranking, which should bump Gane up significantly and place him not incredibly far from a title eliminator. The winner of Alistair Overeem vs Alexander Volkov should welcome him to the top five.
Next for dos Santos: Much like Souza, the UFC's recent practices make it all too feasible that they could end up cutting dos Santos, who is on a four-fight losing streak (all TKO losses), and has a lot of mileage on him at this point. He's only 36 years old, which is far from old for a heavyweight, but the sad nature of his losses point to a decline that the UFC may not want to enable any longer. On the other hand, this is heavyweight, which means that even on a rough skid like this, he could feasibly bounce back; we've seen Andrei Arlovski lose his way into potential retirement on at least two occasions before he just simply started winning again, and there are plenty of heavyweights out there who can afford him that; even ranked ones. Walt Harris could provide a serious crossroads fight for both men, as could Maurice Greene if we want to go even further down the rankings.
Cub Swanson def. Daniel Pineda by knockout (1:52, R2)
As a longtime fan of Swanson this one made me beyond happy, especially considering how dangerous Pineda looked in his UFC return, where he upset Herbert Burns with brutally effective pressure, wrestling, and ground and pound. The question of whether Swanson is "done" has going on for a good while now as he snapped a four-fight losing streak in his last fight, and this was a pretty risky follow up on paper. Pineda looked good in the first half of the opening round, landing hard low kicks and punches, though Swanson did have some success pot-shotting with flush straight rights from the outside. The fight hit the mat after Pineda slipped after landing a hard low kick, and it appeared that it was in the extended grappling exchanges that he began to tire. When they made it to their feet late in the round, he was visibly tired and throwing labored shots without moving off-center, and during a particularly lazy, defensively devoid low kick, Swanson tagged him with a straight right, and then a leaping 1-2 that dropped him to the canvas. He quickly sat up and reached for Swanson's legs, eventually making it to his feet, but ended the round eating hard punches and elbows against the cage.
Swanson came out much looser in the second round, standing southpaw with his hands down in a karate stance, and after catching Pineda with a lunging right hand, he went back to orthodox and turned up the pressure. Pineda appeared a bit desperate in loading up his shots. After eating a few counters he opted to shoot a single leg, but it was nicely thwarted by Swanson, who shortly after the break landed a hard uppercut with his back to the cage, then measured the distance with a left before uncorking a huge right hand that dropped Pineda in the center of the cage. He was done right then and there, but some referee hesitation allowed him to add one more shot after prematurely celebrating to put the nail in the coffin. It was not only a great win for Swanson, but also an overall very good performance that showed that he's still got some fight left in him.
Rafael Fiziev def. Renato Moicano by knockout (4:05, R1)
He had a rough start to his UFC tenure, but Fiziev has really been showing lately why he was one of the most feared strikers at lightweight coming into the promotion. His speed, accuracy, and timing really are something else, and he throws combinations you just don't see, such his orthodox inside low kick-straight right-left body kick combination that he throws with the speed most fighters throw three punches. Moicano wasn't without success, as he was able to land a decent amount of punches up top, but nothing that really gave Fiziev any pause outside of a hard right hand that he landed in counte to a body kick that definitely caught Fiziev's attention. Moicano really didn't look bad at all on the feet, but he was just in there with a better striker. With a minute left in the opening round, Fiziev let loose a brutal left hook to the body-right hook-left hook combination that flattened Moicano. The referee dove in immediately, and while you could make the argument that it may have been a tad early, he was definitely in a very bad way and was unlikely to survive much longer.
He did get walloped pretty good.
Gavin Tucker def. Billy Quarantillo via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
I thought the style match up here slightly favored Quarantillo, but in the end we got a clear picture of how much Tucker is improving, and what kind of ceiling Quarantillo's style has. Tucker's cardio was a concern, but it appeared to be in good order for this fight as he just fought a smart fight, continuously going to his jab, hitting the body, and using his strong wrestling, all while staying defensively sound and keeping his composure amid Quarantillo's pressure. Quarantillo, true to form, came forward constantly and threw lots of volume, but was much more defensively porous and too often threw looping shots that were consistently beaten by Tucker's straight punches. It was an all around solid performance from Tucker, while Quarantillo showed a general inability to adjust his gameplan.
Tecia Torres def. Sam Hughes by TKO via doctor stoppage (5:00, R1)
Originally slated to be a rematch of Torres' 2015 win over Angela Hill, COVID-19 booted the latter from the contest, paving the way for promotional newcomer and former LFA title challenger Sam Hughes to step in try to make an immediate splash in the women's strawweight division. Boy, did that not happen. She was just completely out of her depth, and it didn't help that she was fighting an invigorated Torres the likes of which we'd never seen. She was all over Hughes from start to finish, giving her very little room to breathe. She was much faster, much more technical, and threw extended combinations at every opening that Hughes was just not prepared for. There were points where you could tell Hughes thought Torres was finished with a combination, but two or three more strikes would continue coming her way and she wasn't ready for them.
Torres essentially did whatever she wanted, and it culminated in her effortlessly shooting in for a double leg, picking Hughes up, and slamming her to the ground just before the horn. After the round there was a bit of confusion, as Hughes informed her corner that she couldn't see out of her left eye. Her cornerman told her he was stopping the fight, and she protested, but when the doctor was called in to check her out, she said the same thing to him, which prompted a doctor stoppage. Maybe she wasn't completely clear on the rules, but if you tell a doctor you can't see, you're not fighting anymore. This is why so many fighters lie about it. Daniel Cormier posited that it seemed she probably didn't fully want to continue the fight, and that seemed to be the case based on her reactions to her corner.
Chase Hooper def. Peter Barrett by submission via heel-hook (3:02, R3)
Hooper had a bit of hype behind him before he ran into the much more experienced and well rounded Alex Caceres, and his stock was looking likely to take yet another big hit after Barrett got the better of him for 10 minutes, denying all of his takedown attempts and forcing him to ply his awkward striking for the better part of that stretch. Then in round three, Hoooper's fortune changed with a slick Imanari roll that finally got the fight where he wanted it, and allowed him to attack a heel hook. Hooper then began punching Barrett, which prompted the latter to mug at him, but just then he went back to work on an inverted heel hook, and this time Barrett was in trouble. In one of the bigger comebacks in recent memory, he finally found the right angle and applied enough pressure to cause a frantic tap from Barrett, who just looked gutted following the unfortunate defeat. Hooper is a fun personality and very entertaining to watch on the ground, but it's difficult to see him going very far in the UFC with his current skillset. As he moves along he will face more fighters who can keep his fights standing and strand him outside of his element, and unless he really works on his striking and wrestling, he'll be in for some rough nights.
And that does it for UFC 256! The UFC made the best of a bad situation with a short notice title headliner that turned out to be one of, if not the best fighter of the year, and Charles Oliveira showed us that he's one of the very best lightweights on the planet. And to think that he was teasing a return to featherweight even after having success at 155 lbs. That's all the more ridiculous considering how huge and powerful he looked out there, making Ferguson look like a scrawny lightweight in comparison. All in all it was yet another satisfying card in a year where we certainly needed them. Next up, we cap the year off with UFC Fight Night 183, which is headlined by former two time welterweight title challenger Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson squaring off with rising knockout artist Geoff Neal. Until then, sado out!