UFC champ Deiveson Figueiredo has put in the work — from sushi chef to hairdresser

  • MMA columnist for ESPN.com
  • Analyst for “MMA Live”
  • Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun

It comes with the territory at 125 pounds. Not only is UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo tasked with defending his title, but he also needs to draw attention to the weight class — something flyweights have generally struggled to do since the UFC added the division in 2012.

Former champion Demetrious Johnson never got the masses to care about 125 pounds, despite a dominant six-year run that included 11 title defenses. And Henry Cejudo, who took the title from Johnson in 2018, didn’t stay long enough to truly make an impact. He moved up in weight in 2019, and he retired in 2020.

But Figueiredo (19-1), who grew up on a small farm in Soure, Brazil, might just be the right man for the job. The 32-year-old carries the swagger of the most devastating striker in the division, and he dominated longtime flyweight contender Joseph Benavidez — twice — in 2020.

Figueiredo’s path to a UFC championship was not a straight line. Prior to stepping inside the Octagon, he fought in regional promotions in Brazil to gain experience and, of course, earn some income. But beyond fighting, he held a diverse array of jobs throughout his life. Some fit the profile of what one might expect from a fighter — others not so much. Some jobs were just moneymakers for Figueiredo, while others were born out of his passions and could figure into his post-fighting future.

As Figueiredo prepares for his first title defense, against Alex Perez at UFC 255 on Saturday in Las Vegas, ESPN went into his personnel file to take a look at the résumé of a fighter who might be ready for a long reign atop the flyweight division.

Bricklayer: ‘We’d break walls to build new houses’

Age: 19

Location: Soure, Brazil

Figueiredo worked as a bricklayer in his small hometown, in the Brazilian region of Para, for about one year. He worked this job five days per week, Monday through Friday.

“I wasn’t really a brick man — I was a brick man’s assistant,” Figueiredo said. “I did this job until I moved full time to Belem.”

During this period of his life, Figueiredo frequently traveled back and forth between his hometown and the much larger city of Belem, where his brother, Francisco, lived. He had several other jobs at this age, including selling ice cream and clothes he would take to Soure from Belem, but bricklaying took up the majority of his time.

“We’d break walls to build new houses,” Figueiredo said. “What I liked the most about this job was the carpentry part. We used to build roofs for houses, and this was my favorite part. It was more interesting and less heavy than the other jobs. I never liked to work with the heavier things, and the wood that was used for the roofs was the lightest material we used.”

Security guard: ‘They would ask me to … immobilize the biggest guy fighting’

Age: 19

Location: Soure, Brazil

In addition to his bricklaying job on weekdays, Figueiredo worked as a security guard on weekends. He was already training martial arts at the time, having started with Marajoara, a Brazilian grappling style, before he was 10 years old. He added other martial arts, including jiu-jitsu, as he progressed into his teens.

“There are no nightclubs in Soure, so most parties would be held at small clubs,” Figueiredo said. “Whenever there was a fight at a party, the other security guys were all taller than me, but they would ask me to go first and immobilize the biggest guy fighting, so they could then get him out of there. They always send me first, because they didn’t know how to do that. I don’t remember exactly how many guys I submitted during that job, but it was usually about three to four every party.”

Fisherman: ‘It was a really small boat that shook a lot’

Age: 22

Location: Belem, Brazil

Growing up on a farm in Soure, Figueiredo was very familiar with wildlife and hunting. “Ilha do Marajo is the largest maritime island in the world,” Figueiredo said. “It consists of 143 municipalities and many animals, wild animals. Crocodiles, rays, ferocious animals. I was raised in the midst of this wildness. … We ate a lot of tortoise, birds’ egg and a lot of wild boar.”

Figueiredo also fished in the rivers near his farm. He did so with his father for years, but when he tried open-sea fishing from a boat in his 20s, that did not last long.

“I didn’t like it,” Figueiredo said. “I thought it was dangerous. We left at 4 a.m. from the shore and got back at 3 p.m. I hated it. When the boat came back, I threw myself out of the boat and said I’d never go back. It was a really small boat that shook a lot. I had a feeling the whole time it would turn over at any moment. The sun was very hot, and there was a strong smell of gasoline. The whole experience was bad.”

Sushi chef: ‘Maybe one day I will invent my own [sushi]’

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Age: 25

Location: Belem, Brazil

Figueiredo learned how to make sushi in Belem through an acquaintance at the gym where he and his brother trained. “We met a guy at the gym who was a sushi man, so he took us to learn how to make sushi at the same school he had learned,” said Figueiredo’s brother, Francisco. “Then this guy got a job for Daico [Deiveson’s nickname], even without much experience. But then this guy left the job in the next week and left Daico to be the boss there!”

It was Figueiredo’s first experience being a sushi chef, and that was before he had moved to Belem full time. Once he permanently left Soure and moved to the city, he relied on making sushi at several restaurants to help support himself while he was building his MMA résumé. He even temporarily opened his own sushi enterprise in 2017.

“When I was hired by the UFC in 2017, I used my first UFC paycheck to build a sushi delivery service in my house along with my brother,” Figueiredo said. “But we eventually gave up on that. I never created my own sushi; I always followed the menus of the restaurants I was in. Maybe one day I will invent my own.”

Hairdresser: ‘I loved the salons’

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Age: 26

Location: Belem, Brazil

Of all the jobs Figueiredo had prior to signing with the UFC, his favorite, by far, was styling hair. He began working at a beauty salon when he was 26 and had interest in becoming a hairdresser, but wasn’t allowed to at first.

“I was just running errands there, until one of the hairdressers said, ‘Come here and be my assistant.’ That’s when I really started to learn,” Figueiredo said.

He quickly realized he had a passion for working in beauty salons, even though he didn’t know how to do any of the work there. “You gotta show a special affection,” Figueiredo said. “I loved the salons. I just didn’t like the part of brushing a woman’s hair because it burned my whole hand with the blow dryer.”

Figueiredo did not know how to cut a man’s hair, but he had what he thought was a clever solution. “I asked my boss to cut it, and said I knew [how to do] it,” he said. “Then he gave me that chance. I went to cut a boy’s hair. He was 16 years old; I ruined the kid’s entire head. I looked at my boss and thought, ‘I lost my job this time.’ But I got away with it.

“Then he put me to shave a client; this one was even worse. In the end, I looked at the client and blood was coming out of his entire beard, I cut the guy’s face so much.”

Figueiredo kept his job, staying on as an assistant, and learned new skills. “I even learned how to do makeup,” he said. “I was always observing. It’s something I’ve always identified with, working with hair. After I finish fighting, which is my great passion, I will think about opening a beauty salon.”

Motorcycle taxi driver: ‘There was always someone wanting to go somewhere’

Age: 30

Location: Belem, Brazil

The last job Figueiredo held before signing with the UFC consisted of him crisscrossing the city of Belem with passengers on the back of his motorcycle. Figueiredo was undefeated in Brazil’s regional MMA circuit at the time, and he believed he was close to a UFC contract. The promotion signed him in 2017 to compete in a pay-per-view event in Rio de Janeiro that summer.

“I had my girlfriend, who is my wife today, and dating costs money,” Figueiredo said. “I needed to work more to make money for that. I would bring people to work, back home, and there was always someone wanting to go somewhere along the way. I liked it, getting to know places in Belem I normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see.

“I had been doing things to become a professional fighter ever since I moved to Belem, and I always felt this presence in my life, becoming a professional fighter. When I was fighting on Jungle Fights [in 2016], which is the biggest show in the region, that is when I knew I could make it to the UFC.”

ESPN’s Igor Resende contributed to this report.

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