The two best flyweights on the planet will decide who's the top dog this Saturday night (Sept. 22, 2012) as Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson vie for the inaugural UFC Flyweight Title in the co-main event of UFC 152 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Benavidez looked incredible in his flyweight debut earlier this year, smashing Yasuhiro Urushitani in the second round with powerful strikes to record his first ever stoppage in the UFC. Now, he's looking to make history by becoming the first flyweight champion in the promotion.
Demetrious Johnson had to do it the hard way. After a controversial draw against number one ranked flyweight Ian McCall, Johnson came back with a vengeance to win the rematch and secure his spot in the title bout. Now, "Mighty Mouse" is looking to put the controversy behind him and move forward with a huge title opportunity.
Will Benavidez bring a championship belt back to Team Alpha Male? Can Johnson play spoiler one last time? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Joseph Benavidez
Record: 15-2 overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Dominick Cruz 2x (WEC 42, WEC 50)
How he got here: Joseph Benavidez was a state champion wrestler in high school and made a smooth transition into mixed martial arts, where his athleticism, wrestling and speed helped him crush his opposition. After a large amount of unsanctioned fights as well as competing at local shows, the compact combatant signed up with Urijah Faber and Team Alpha Male, who helped him become a force in the WEC.
Upon his WEC arrival in late 2008, Benavidez soundly won his first two fights including former title challenger Jeff Curran before he suffered his first career loss to Dominick Cruz. He would bounce back in terrific fashion, stopping both Rani Yahya and former champion Miguel Torres to earn another shot at Cruz, this time with the bantamweight title on the line.
The Team Alpha Male fighter would drop a split decision to Cruz in a close fight where he held his own in the striking department, and would be relegated to MMA purgatory. Since the loss, he defeated Wagnney Fabiano and then has gone 2-0 in the UFC, although it seemed like the promotion was just keeping him busy and out of the way.
With the debut of the flyweight division, new life was breathed into Benavidez's career and he made a huge impact, knockout out Urishitani just eight seconds into the second round. Now, after a delay, he's ready to go out and try to win that belt.
How he gets it done: Benavidez has terrific wrestling and vastly improved stand-up skills. He was putting some time in with the Alpha Male muay thai coach and he had been working with Sean Tompkins, which was really taking his striking to a new level. It shows in his last bantamweight fight against the powerful Eddie Wineland where Benavidez utilized terrific footwork and rocked the former WEC champion on several occasions and it went over the top with the Urishitani knockout.
He is very quick and while he doesn't have a huge reach, it's now much more natural at flyweight where there won't be many big opponents at all for him. Size will no longer be a disadvantage for him.
Wrestling could also be very important for Benavidez as he's explosive, powerful and is very good at utilizing his elbows in ground and pound on the canvas. Who can forget the canyon he opened up on Miguel Torres' forehead before choking him out? Johnson has been taken down by Ian McCall and Dominick Cruz so it's not out of the realm of possibility that Benavidez could put him on his back.
Record: 15-2-1 overall, 3-1-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Ian McCall (UFC on FX 3), Miguel Torres (UFC 130), Norifumi Yamamoto (UFC 126)
How he got here:"Mighty Mouse" carried an impressive string of five straight wins on the regional circuit to earn a WEC debut against top bantamweight Brad Pickett in the promotion's first and only pay-per-view event. The AMC Pankration fighter lost a spirited decision to "One Punch" but then proceeded to reel off two consecutive victories in just a few short months against top 15 ranked bantamweights Nick Pace and Damacio Page
He would meet Japanese legend Norifuni "Kid" Yamamoto in his UFC debut this past February and completely outworked the dynamic striker/wrestler over the course of three rounds.
Never one to turn down an opportunity, Johnson stepped up when Brad Pickett dropped out of his UFC 130 bout with Miguel Torres. Despite breaking his leg early in the fight, Johnson gutted through the injury and turned what had been a strong striking performance into a smothering wrestling bout against the former WEC bantamweight champion and pulled out a unanimous decision victory.
Johnson's victory was enough to vault him into title-challenger status and he faced Cruz for the UFC bantamweight belt last October. While he held his own against Dominick Cruz in the stand-up, he was repeatedly taken down by his bigger, stronger foe en route to a unanimous decision defeat.
He dropped to 125 pounds and battled McCall earlier this year, but was disappointed with a majority draw. He had a more conclusive performance in the rematch, winning two rounds to take home a unanimous decision and earn his shot. Now, he'll be getting his second shot at UFC gold.
How he gets it done: Demetrious Johnson absolutely needs to utilize his tremendous athletic gifts. His speed has always been his biggest advantage and while Benavidez is quick, Johnson still can move like a lightning bolt across the cage.
If he can maneuver himself around the cage quickly, he could definitely set up some good shots with his striking. It's all about speed and footwork for Johnson in the stand-up because he doesn't have Benavidez's power (although he's not completely helpless in that department either considering he dropped McCall in his last fight).
While Johnson has some pretty solid wrestling ability, he should be using it to either keep the fight standing or to force scrambles and get back to his feet if taken down. He faded in the third round of the first McCall fight, so pacing could be an issue.
The most important thing for Johnson is not to get too crazy in the stand-up. Yes, his striking is improving, but he can't be so focused on the striking and so aggressive that he leaves himself wide open to easy takedowns or power shots. That could really come back to bite him.
Fight X-Factor: With wrestling, endurance and speed potentially being a wash, it could very well all come down to striking prowess. Both Benavidez and Johnson have taken great strides in their stand-up skills but it is likely going to come down to whoever has the technical advantage and the power advantage. Joseph Benavidez has displayed power at bantamweight and he really looked strong at 125 with the beautiful second round knockout. If he can hit Johnson just as hard as he did Urishitani, that could definitely give him the edge.
Bottom Line: These are two incredibly talented and evenly matched flyweights. Both men are going to be looking to push the pace, move forward and throw heavy strikes. Out of every bout on this main card, this one has the most potential to be a back and forth barnburner. Flyweights bring it every time and this will be no different. Brace yourselves for 25 potential minutes of awesome.
Who will come out on top at UFC 152? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!