(“Remember when we were the main event on this card? That was awesome.”)
With all the talk surrounding UFC 152 focusing on Jon “Male Supermodel/Piece of Meat/Ring Boy/Bones” Jones and Vitor “The Young Dinosaur” Belfort, it seems the inaugural flyweight title fight between Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is flying under everyone’s radar. (Except, ironically, Michael Bisping’s.) It’s a shame, because unlike the fight everyone is talking about, this one actually has a chance to be competitive.
This isn’t to say Benavidez doesn’t deserve to be the clear favorite here; he does. He’s only lost twice in his career — both times by decision to current bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz — and has been consistently dominant in his fights since his last loss. Johnson’s record is less impressive of late. A suspect decision win over Miguel Torres was followed by a decision loss to Cruz, in which he was dominated so thoroughly that the aforementioned Torres would have been fired if he had tweeted about it. Since then, Johnson turned in a solid but not entirely impressive performance against the man with the best nickname in MMA which resulted in a draw marred by a scorekeeping controversy before finally putting to rest any doubt by defeating McCall three months later.
But while Johnson’s run hasn’t been as thrilling as Benavidez’s, he’s still a formidable challenge for any fighter. Aside from his two fights with McCall, he has fought opposition despite routinely giving up weight and reach advantages at bantamweight. He was tough enough to grit out the victory over Torres despite breaking his fibula in the second round. And despite getting outclassed by Cruz, he never let up the pace and continued to push forward. He learned from his mistakes against McCall and dominated their second meeting. Neither he nor Benavidez have ever been finished. Both appear to have limitless gas tanks, and fight at a speed that even a NASCAR driver on meth would admit is “fast.”
In other words, this is going to be a good fight. The lighter divisions have always been —and continue to be — superior to the heavier divisions in terms of depth and talent. The skill and speed required to compete at these weights, where you can’t rely on power or strength, necessitates this. It also results in fights being more consistently engaging, technical, and competitive. The battle for the inaugural flyweight title should, by all accounts, be all of these things. If anything, some might perceive this as a criticism since Johnson and Benavidez are so technical that it’s unlikely either will get knocked out or submitted. (Though if it does happen, bet on it being the result of a Benavidez guillotine.)
But while a definitive finish is certainly preferable, I’ll settle for an exciting, competitive fight. Both fighters are going to attempt to implement their wrestling early and often in an attempt to slowly break the other fighter. However, don’t be surprised to see some serious exchanges. Both fighters love to throw the overhand right, but possess well-rounded striking as well. Johnson’s is a little more diverse, but it also leaves him open more often. Expect Benavidez to take advantage of that over the course of the fight, using small mistakes Johnson makes to secure takedowns and slowly wear Johnson down en route to a decision victory or a late submission after a high-octane bout.