UFC 256 is Critical for Deiveson Figueiredo and Tony Ferguson

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For the second straight pay per view, UFC 256 is headlined by flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo. Despite only 21 days separating this bout from his successful title defense at UFC 255, Figueiredo—and Brandon Moreno, who also won at 255—will be headlining Saturday evening’s card, after Kamaru Usman, Amanda Nunes and Petr Yan were all deemed unavailable.

For the first time since his one-sided defeat to Justin Gaethje in May, Tony Ferguson steps back into the Octagon at UFC 256. He will meet Charles Oliveira in a lightweight fight, and the winner will immediately be on the short list of candidates to fight for the vacant lightweight championship. Ferguson will be surrounded by questions until he responds with a victory against Oliveira, who has looked impressive during his active seven fight win streak.

This card lacks star power, but that is made up for in its depth. Ciryl Gane seeks to add a signature win to his portfolio. His opponent is a former UFC heavyweight champion in Junior dos Santos, who has dropped each of his last three fights. Mackenzie Dern is back in women’s strawweight competition, and a win against Virna Jandiroba will start to build momentum for a title fight against Zhang Weili. Also, Kevin Holland looks for a defining moment of his own against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, a bout that appears destined to send Souza further into the twilight of his career.

Here is a look at some of the top storylines for UFC 256, which kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2 (prelims) and ESPN+ (main card, at 10 p.m. ET) from Las Vegas.

Will Brandon Moreno dethrone Deiveson Figueiredo?

Only three weeks after a victory at UFC 255, flyweight champion Figueiredo returns to the Octagon. He defends his title against Moreno, who, like Figueiredo, also had a first-round finish at UFC 255.

Figueiredo (20-1) has looked dominant as champ, and it appears that, long term, his biggest challenge in the flyweight division will be making weight. He is very big for the division, but his approach has been very successful. Moreno (18-5-1) is extremely talented at jiu-jitsu and grappling, but what we’ve seen thus far in Figueiredo’s run does not lead me to believe he is going to lose his title. Moreno is a very game competitor, especially skilled on the ground, and he will not be easy to submit. This is likely to be multi-round fight, but by the third round, this should be Figueiredo’s bout.

For the first time in his career, is Tony Ferguson going to lose consecutive fights?

Over the course of his 12-year MMA career, Tony Ferguson has never dropped two fights in a row. He looks to keep that streak alive this Saturday, and re-enter the lightweight championship title picture, with a win against Charles Oliveira.

Oliveira (29-8, 1 NC) is riding his own win streak, having captured his past seven fights. As impressive as that run has been, he has not defeated an opponent on the level of Ferguson (25-4). Before his loss to Justin Gaethje this past May, Ferguson had won a dozen straight fights.

Ferguson is acutely aware of his circumstances entering this bout. With Khabib Nurmagomedov now retired, a win here opens a number of possibilities. Ferguson could have a rematch against Gaethje, or even potential matchups against Conor McGregor or Dustin Poirier. A win at 256 places Ferguson near the front of a crowded pack all angling for a title fight, while a defeat would be crushing.

Will Ferguson still operate at an elite level following the lopsided loss to Gaethje? Style is going to play a major factor here. Unlike Gaethje, who had the perfect style and a chin Ferguson could not take down, Oliveira is an entirely different fighter and will be overwhelmed by Ferguson’s unrelenting pace and unorthodox style. Ferguson is going to win this fight, and I am not all that certain it is going to be close.

Will UFC 256 be a breakout party for Ciryl Gane?

Ciryl Gane is entering his fight against Junior dos Santos as a massive favorite. Ranked seventh in the heavyweight division, Santos (21-8) is fighting in the wrong direction. A loss against the 14th-ranked Gane (6-0) would be a significant blow, especially considering he enters this bout having already dropped his past three fights.

Santos can flip the script with a win. Even though has lost three in a row, each of those defeats were handed to him by elite heavyweights (Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Curtis Blaydes, and Francis Ngannou). He still has an advantage in technique and experience, as this is only Gane’s third fight in the UFC.

Santos needs to avoid the knockout shot and extend this bout, fatiguing Gane and make this a battle of technique. Though he is the underdog, a win gives Santos an outside shot at one more run for the world title.

Blaydes and Ngannou are both out of reach, but the winner of this bout should challenge Derrick Lewis.

The 256 card is so deep. What else stands out?

It is a strange sight to see Ronaldo Souza out of the rankings. That is unlikely to change as he meets Kevin Holland.

Though Souza (26-8, 1 NC) is still a big name in MMA, the 41-year-old has dropped four of his past six contests. This fight looks destined to be a marquee win at relatively low risk situation for Holland (20-5), and it feels very similar to Israel Adesanya picking up a win against then 43-year-old Anderson Silva.

Another fight to look forward to is Mackenzie Dern against Virna Jandiroba in a women’s strawweight bout. Dern (9-1) is one of the best grapplers in the world, but she has struggled to expand her striking skillset. UFC still has very high hopes for her, and her fights are usually compelling. Jandiroba (16-1) is fairly new to the UFC, and this will be a good test for Dern.

In addition to a Cub Swanson (26-11)-Daniel Pineda (27-13, 2 NC) featherweight bout, the preliminary card also features a lightweight fight pitting Renato Moicano against Rafael Fiziev.

This should be an outstanding fight, as well as one of the tougher ones to call.

Moicano (14-3, 1 NC) has a dynamic technique, and this will represent the biggest test for the unproven Fiziev (8-1). A fight like this is matchmaking 101 for the UFC to keep people entertained on the prelims.

UFC 256 does not feature the star power in the main event of recent pay per views, but from bottom to top, this is a solid, entertaining card.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.