UFC Flyweight ChampionshipDemetrious Johnson (15-2-1, 3-1-1 UFC) vs. Joseph Benavidez (16-2, 3-0 UFC)
The Matchup: Originally slotted as the UFC 152 main event, Johnson-Benavidez figures to benefit from the added exposure that comes with appearing on the same card as light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Benavidez enters the bout as the favorite, but it has been a little more than six months since the Team Alpha Male member blasted through Yasuhiro Urushitani in a 125-pound tournament semifinal at UFC on FX 2.
Meanwhile, Johnson has battled through six grueling rounds with former Tachi Palace Fights titlist Ian McCall to get here, significantly improving his performance in the rematch to earn a unanimous verdict against “Uncle Creepy.” It looked as though Johnson would have suffered a loss to McCall had their initial meeting reached a sudden victory frame, and he deserves credit for making the adjustments needed to achieve victory the second time around.
Johnson’s evolution will need to continue against Benavidez, who has the ability to negate nearly everything “Mighty Mouse” does well. The AMC Pankration export relies on his speed to allow him to move in and out of danger while landing pinpoint combinations. While statistics show that Johnson is the more accurate striker, Benavidez generally lands with more power, as he demonstrated by leveling Urushitani with a counter right hook in March. Benavidez likes to establish himself on the feet early to set up takedowns, so it is imperative that Johnson do his best to control distance.
In the McCall rematch, Johnson demonstrated better endurance in finishing the final frame strong, and he proved more than capable of holding his own in tie-ups and on the mat after struggling in those areas the first time he faced “Uncle Creepy.” Benavidez will be the physically stronger fighter here, and much of this fight will come down to who can get the best of the many transitions and scrambles that are likely to ensue once the action hits the floor. Not only will Benavidez be more likely to maintain a dominant position, but the California resident also has the more dangerous submission game. Any critical error by Johnson when trying to escape from the bottom could result in Benavidez securing a rear-naked choke or guillotine. Johnson’s frenetic pace normally wears down most of his foes, but he cannot count on Benavidez’s gas tank dwindling as the contest enters the championship frames; his conditioning is excellent, as well. Keeping the fight upright -- where he can land with more volume -- and stout takedown defense will be key to victory for “Mighty Mouse.” Johnson will want to consistently mix in kicks to slow Benavidez’s shots, though he must be wary of counters should he stick with such an approach.
The Pick: Benavidez will come out firing early and pop Johnson before gradually asserting himself through takedowns and ground-and-pound. Do not be surprised if Johnson outlands Benavidez on the feet, but the Team Alpha Male representative will land the harder shots and dominate positioning to capture a unanimous decision and become the UFC’s inaugural flyweight champion.
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