Demetrious Johnson has emerged as one of MMA’s pound-for-pound best. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Make no mistake, UFC on Fox 9 is a strong card, but it could have been so much better. Once upon a time, Anthony Pettis-Josh Thomson, Carlos Condit-Matt Brown and Scott Jorgensen-John Dodson/Ian McCall were all part of the lineup scheduled to take place on Saturday at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif. That does not even include other withdrawals such as Jamie Varner and John Moraga, who were also bitten by the injury bug.
Thankfully, as the ailments piled up, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was able to do some reshuffling and move the flyweight title rematch between Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez from the spot atop “The Ultimate Fighter 18” Finale to the UFC on Fox 9 headliner. Additionally, a pivotal bantamweight clash between Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald makes for an intriguing co-main event. Overall, the event is still deep enough to satisfy the fight nerd in all of us, but oh, what might have been.
Here is a closer look at UFC on Fox 9 “Johnson vs. Benavidez 2,” with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC on Fox 9 Free Fan Pick’Em
UFC Flyweight ChampionshipDemetrious Johnson (18-2-1, 6-1-1 UFC) vs. Joseph Benavidez (19-3, 6-1 UFC)
The Matchup: It comes as no great surprise that Benavidez was able to work his way back to a rematch against Johnson. Their first meeting was a closely contested affair, with “Mighty Mouse” outstriking his foe 96 to 53 and out-landing him five takedowns to none en route to a split decision victory. Despite the disparity in statistics, Benavidez had his moments. The Team Alpha Male product staggered Johnson with a right hand and followed up with a mounted guillotine to nearly finish the fight in round four. Still, it was Johnson who controlled the majority of the match.
Since then, Benavidez has bested Ian McCall, Darren Uyenoyama and Jussier da Silva to regain the No. 1 contender’s spot. He gets the added bonus of having coach Duane Ludwig in his corner this time around -- something he did not have at UFC 152. Team Alpha Male members have been wildly successful as a whole since Ludwig’s arrival, not that they were struggling to begin with.
Johnson has made some progress since the first Benavidez fight, as well. He finally achieved the finish he had been seeking at UFC on Fox 8, tapping out Moraga with an armbar late in round five. The AMC Pankration representative appears to be growing more and more comfortable in his role as champion; against Moraga, he dominated both the striking and takedown stats before getting the finish. His ability to make adjustments is impressive, too, as he utilized the Thai plum to wear down Dodson in the championship rounds of what had been a toss-up fight at UFC on Fox 6.
All signs point to yet another competitive battle here. Johnson has some of the best cardio and pace in the sport, and there are few, if any, who can keep up with him for a full 25 minutes. This is not to say that Benavidez will gas in rounds four and five; it is just unlikely that his output will match the champion’s in the final 10 minutes. While Johnson’s approach is based on speed, angles, feints and movement, Benavidez is stronger and somewhat more deliberate. Both men blend striking and takedowns extremely well. Johnson’s movement, kicks and punching combinations are all excellent setups. Additionally, he keeps opponents guessing in the clinch with the threat of both striking and takedowns.
Benavidez, meanwhile, often uses wide, heavy punches to close distance. The impending threat of the takedown usually makes his striking that much more effective, and he will often fake level changes to further confuse his adversaries. On the mat, Benavidez has forceful ground-and-pound and dangerous rear-naked and guillotine chokes. While he is normally accustomed to having his way when scrambles ensue, he struggled to get the better of the quicker Johnson at UFC 152.
Benavidez unquestionably hits harder than “Mighty Mouse,” but he will need to make more effective use of his jab if he wants to improve upon his initial performance against the champion. The jab will allow him to set up his more powerful punches, as well as kicks and knees to legs and body. Simply relying on hooks will not work against someone who moves as well as Johnson.
The Pick: Benavidez’s best chance to win is to hurt the champion and then capitalize for the finish, whether that comes via TKO or submission. However, Johnson has proven to be a versatile and creative fighter, and he will not be outworked in a five-rounder. Johnson wins by decision.
Next Fight » Urijah Faber vs. Michael McDonald