There hasn’t been a more surefire bet than the flyweight division when it comes to absolute bangers when the title is on the line. From the tetralogy between Brandon Moreno and Devieson Figueiredo to Moreno’s pair of title fights against Kai Kara-France and Alexandre Pantoja, the 125ers go to war for 25 minutes or less every time. At UFC 290, Pantoja bested Moreno once again in a hypercompetitive contest featuring some of the best striking exchanges and grappling scrambles you’ll see this year. In the end, Pantoja answered Amanda Nunes’ June call to her fellow Brazilians and became the country’s lone reigning champion and once again spun the order at the top of the flyweight wheel.
This is where we stand in the flyweight division:
Outlook: Brazil’s Pantoja celebrated with his family after getting past Moreno for a third time (once on The Ultimate Fighter; twice in official UFC bouts), and this was perhaps his stiffest test. Moreno dragged him into the championship rounds for the first time, and the American Top Team representative gutted out the closest duel yet between the two. Pantoja showed his excellent skill level, grit and unvarnished durability in his title-winning performance, and he’ll make a heck of a test for anyone hoping to challenge his new throne. A rematch with Moreno is pretty likely, but Amir Albazi and Brandon Royval could make noise as worthy contenders, as well, although Pantoja already holds a submission win over the latter. Figueiredo, if he is to stay in the weight class, holds a decision victory over Pantoja in one of 2019’s best battles, so that is a possibility, as well.
Outlook: “The Assassin Baby” is surely feeling frustrated after failing to defend his title once again via a split decision result. While he was probably closer to finishing Pantoja than the other way around, Pantoja’s grappling earned him crucial points and gave him the rounds to wrest the belt away. Moreno, still just 29 years old, has a wealth of championship experience, and the fact that he is yet to defend the title is a bit of a bugaboo on his resume, but whether he gets an immediate rematch or has to take out Albazi or another rising contender before challenging for the belt again, his becoming a 3-time champ is absolutely in play.
Outlook: The former flyweight champion was supposed to compete this summer against the rising Manel Kape, which surprised some as he was expected to move up to the bantamweight division. Alas, Figueiredo was forced to pull out of the matchup and remains in the wings of both divisions’ title pictures. Bantamweight still remains a likely landing spot given Figueiredo’s difficulties making the flyweight limit, but how his power and size translate to a bigger weight class is a crucial question. If he does intend to stay at 125, he has a rather clear path back to his title, having already beaten Pantoja four years ago. It’s likely that Figueiredo would need to fight one more time before that matchup comes together, but if the cards fall right, “Deus de Guerra” isn’t far from another golden opportunity.
Outlook: “The Prince” staked his claim for a title shot with a razor-close decision win over Kai Kara-France in the UFC APEX. Although some felt the judges got the scores wrong, Albazi showed he is worthy of competing against the flyweight elite just five fights into his UFC tenure. Given the shake-up at the top of the division, combined with his close win, Albazi will probably need another victory to solidify his resume for a title shot. Luckily for him, he is the newest entrant and therefore has all the options open. Royval makes sense in the Top 5, but he could also cement his spot in the pecking order fighting down against someone like Kape.
Outlook: The self-proclaimed “most exciting fighter in the flyweight division” continues to deliver the chaotic goods any time he steps into the Octagon, and it seems like he has honed that energy into a winning form as well. “RawDawg” does hold a win over Kai Kara-France in a memorable back-and-forth affair, and it’s a fight any fight fan would enjoy seeing remade. Other than the Kiwi, Royval has only fought Moreno in the Top 5, and that fight ended rather prematurely due to Royval suffering a shoulder injury. He is another potential title challenger who probably needs another win to get a shot, but if the cards fall his way, he could be shooting for UFC gold sooner rather than later.
Outlook: Kara-France has fought like a man worthy of the UFC title for the last couple of years, which made the split decision loss to Albazi all the more gutting. The City Kickboxing representative thwarted most of Albazi’s takedowns and seemingly did his thing on the feet, but the judges saw differently. Now two losses on the bounce, “Don’t Blink” probably needs to fight down the rankings before getting another crack at the title, but his door is a little more open with Pantoja on top. Although he fought and lost to the champion on The Ultimate Fighter, he is one of few with title fight and main event experience.
In the Mix: Matheus Nicolau, Manel Kape, Muhammad Mokaev
Outlook: Flyweight continues to develop into an entertaining and deeper division with each passing month. Veteran Alex Perez is still looking to bounce back from his disappointing result against Pantoja, and he could regain momentum should he beat out Kape in their rumored matchup. Kape started slowly in the UFC, but he seems to have found his groove and is on a three-fight winning streak. Kape is potentially the most dynamic fighter in the division’s top-10, and he is certainly a name to watch in 2023.
Someone more on the outside of the title picture than he is in it is Muhammad Mokaev. The 22-year-old wunderkind racked up three wins during his first year on the roster, and the undefeated prospect is already calling out people in the top-10. Although he hasn’t had anyone bite on that offer yet, it won’t be long until he can’t be denied.