Sometime later this year, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will crown its first flyweight titleholder. Demetrious Johnson made sure he would at least have a chance to partake in history.
Johnson outdueled the top-ranked Ian McCall in the UFC flyweight tournament semifinals, as he used superb timing and incomparable speed to walk away with a unanimous decision victory at UFC on FX 3 on Friday at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla. “Mighty Mouse” swept the scorecards by 29-28, 30-27 and 29-28 counts, handing McCall his first defeat at 125 pounds.
The win -- which comes three months after Johnson battled McCall to a controversial majority draw in their first matchup -- propels the AMC Pankration export into the final of the flyweight tournament, where Joseph Benavidez awaits. A protégé of former WEC poster boy Urijah Faber, the 27-year-old Benavidez looked downright dominant in his 125-pound debut, as he flattened Japanese veteran Yasuhiro Urushitani in March.
Johnson will have his work cut out for him, as Benavidez has won his last four fights. An athletic wrestler with potent finishing ability, he has secured 12 of his 16 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission. His list of victims includes former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres, onetime International Fight League featherweight titleholder Wagnney Fabiano and 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Rani Yahya.
In wake of UFC on FX 3, here are five other matchups that need to be made:
Ian McCall vs. Yasuhiro Urushitani: By now, UFC brass should have a firm grasp on what a marketable commodity it has in McCall. The mercurial Californian and his handlebar mustache will likely remain factors in the promotion’s fledgling flyweight division for years to come, either as a perennial contender or as an invaluable litmus test for other 125-pound hopefuls. McCall simply could not deal with Johnson’s overwhelming speed, dizzying lateral movement and ability to escape disadvantageous positions. That will not be as significant a problem for him against most other flyweights. Urushitani’s debut in the Octagon was brief and violent, as Benavidez halted him on strikes 11 seconds into the second round of their tournament semifinal. Time may be running out for the 35-year-old Japanese standout, but he at least deserves one more crack at the division’s elite before the UFC weighs the possibility of moving him down in the pecking order or even cutting him loose. A showdown with McCall, with both men on the rebound, sounds like a plan.
Erick Silva vs. Siyar Bahadurzada: No one in South Florida did more to up their stock than Silva. The Brazilian prospect was utterly electrifying in submitting respected AMA Fight Club representative Charlie Brenneman in the co-main event. Silva, a former Jungle Fighting champion, appears to have few, if any, weaknesses. Perhaps a showdown with a heavy-artillery striker would reveal even more of his potential. Bahadurzada has a date with Chris Clements at UFC 149 on July 21. He has finished his past five opponents with strikes, four of them inside the first round. If Bahadurzada clears the Clements hurdle, a matchup with Silva could prove golden.
Charlie Brenneman vs. Josh Neer: Brenneman had a night to forget, tapping out to a rear-naked choke from Silva. Neer did not fare much better, as he found himself face down on the mat after his encounter with a Mike Pyle right hand. Despite their defeats, Brenneman and Neer remain valuable parts of the UFC’s welterweight division. A bout between them makes plenty of sense.
Eddie Wineland vs. Mike Easton-Ivan Menjivar winner: Wineland notched his first UFC victory in spectacular fashion, as he put away the durable Scott Jorgensen in the second round of their bantamweight scrap. Though his stout right hand packs quite the wallop, toughness remains Wineland’s most endearing quality. The 27-year-old former WEC champion fought through a nasty gash -- the result of a first-round knee strike -- to defeat Jorgensen. The performance puts him in contention for a Top 10 ranking and positions him for another high-profile matchup at 135 pounds. When the dust settles from the Easton-Menjivar scrap at UFC 148, throw Wineland the winner and let the sparks fly.
Mike Pyle vs. Mike Pierce: There may be no more underappreciated welterweight than Pyle, who, at age 36, has never looked better. The Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts export wiped out Neer with a devastating right hand in the closing seconds of the first round. Pyle has developed an effective standup game to go along with the smooth grappling skills for which his has become known, rattling off five wins in six outings. In the last three years, he has only lost to Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald. Perhaps the time has come to up the ante once again. Pierce grinded through Carlos Eduardo Rocha with surprising ease, but, despite the high regard with which most hold him, the Oregonian has alternated between wins and losses in each of his last four appearances. Why not give Pyle a shot?