FeatherweightGabriel Benitez (19-6) vs. Jason Knight (20-3)
ODDS: Knight (-310), Benitez (+255)
ANALYSIS: Sure, he is the third biggest favorite on the card and this essentially amounts to a high-level tune-up fight, but folks, “Hick Diaz” is back. Do not attempt to posture as though you are not thrilled.
At UFC 214 in July, Knight was the recipient of an ego-check beating from perennial divisional stalwart Ricardo Lamas, reminding him -- and the fawning MMA public -- that Knight still has a ways to go in his progression as an MMA fighter. Nonetheless, the 25-year-old Mississippi native is already one of the most exciting fighters under UFC employ and continuously improving; at the bare minimum, has many markings of a UFC roster lifer. Prior to the Lamas loss, the Alan Belcher pupil stole hardcore MMA fans’ hearts with his four-fight UFC winning streak, using high-volume striking and opportunistic, dynamic grappling to defeat Jim Alers, Dan Hooker, Alex Caceres and Chas Skelly. It speaks volumes that in the devoutly “What have you done for me lately?” realm of MMA, no one interpreted Knight’s first-round submission defeat to Lamas as an invalidation of his upside but rather a necessary learning lesson for a greenhorn fighter.
Mexico’s Benitez has certainly refined his game while spending time at the American Kickboxing Academy over the last two years and change, but Knight is a difficult style match, especially in light of “Moggly’s” most recent loss. In May, Benitez slowed after a hot start against Peruvian Enrique Barzola and eventually succumbed to a smaller man rushing him with flurries, running him into the fence, taking him down and threatening when he attempted to scramble. Knight is taller and rangier than Barzola and infinitely more predatory with his swarming strikes and scrambles.
As Lamas showed us less than five months ago, Knight can be hit and hurt. However, despite Benitez having some decent southpaw striking, he is unlikely to be the standup general against the forward-marching “Mississippi Mean,” who can shift stances while jabbing and kicking in either alignment. Knight’s wrestling is far from his strong suit, but it is more than good enough to put Benitez on the floor, where his natural instinct is to jump up as quickly and possible and turtle. Knight will have more than a few opportunities to claim dominant position in these scrambles and is liable to get a submission in the first 10 minutes.
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