It wasn’t just quickness that helped Demetrious Johnson dodge Joseph Benavidez’s overhand rights Saturday at UFC 152. He also knew when they were coming before Benavidez actually threw them.
“You could see them coming because Joseph likes to bury his feet and duck his head when he throws,” Johnson told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “When Joseph starts to duck his head a little bit at me, I can tell that he’s about to throw that overhand right. There were a couple of times where I actually stayed in the pocket, and I blocked it just by raising my hand up because it’s such a wild punch. It’s not coming straight down the pike, so you can get away with having your arms wide out. It worked out to my advantage.”
Johnson won the bout via split decision to claim the UFC’s first flyweight championship. Over the course of 25 minutes, he displayed an array of skills, from footwork to striking to wrestling. He was happy with his performance, but believes it could have been better.
“Joseph Benavidez is a tough competitor, and it was exactly what I thought it was going to be,” Johnson said of the fight. “He likes to throw those big haymakers, and when I watched the fight, I thought I did a great job making him miss a whole lot. I wish I could have stayed in the pocket a little more to make him pay for missing. He missed a lot of shots and he got away with just missing.”
Johnson also wished that he’d mixed up his techniques earlier in the fight. He did that well in the third, fourth and fifth rounds, during which he was able to take down Benavidez and keep him guessing on the feet. Benavidez also had his moments, however. In the fourth he caught Johnson with a right hand and grabbed onto a mounted guillotine choke.
“The choke was a good application around my neck, but other than that, I was nowhere near close to going out,” Johnson said. “We trained that a lot at AMC. I mean, for 10 weeks straight. There’s been a couple of times during training camp where I almost bit through my lip because guys were trying to crank on it. ... It was nowhere near close.”
It likely helped Benavidez earn a 48-47 scorecard from judge Richard Bertrand, though. Meanwhile Jeff Blatnick (48-47) and Doug Crosby (49-46) favored Johnson, who said he could understand Benavidez winning two of the five rounds but was surprised that the decision was split.
“You can never be 110-percent confident when it goes to the judges just because you don’t know what they’re looking for,” Johnson said. “When you look at mixed martial arts, you look at every aspect of the game. I felt that I won every aspect. The standup, I felt that I had the cleaner strikes, the better counterattacks. Takedown defense, I think I defended the majority of his takedowns. He dropped me once, but I recovered. I defended all of his submission attempts. I took him down multiple times, had a couple of good slams in there. When you look on paper, I felt that I won that fight. It looks like the judges got it right.”
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 35:11).