Two of the best flyweights on the planet will settle bragging rights this Saturday night (Feb. 2, 2013) as Ian McCall takes on recent title challenger Joseph Benavidez in the opening bout of the UFC 156 main card.
McCall had a very odd 2012, earning an invite to the UFC and fought current UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson twice, earning a draw the first time and losing a close decision the second. Now, instead of coming back with an easy tune-up fight, he's taking on the recent title challenger in Benavidez.
Joseph Benavidez is the man many had crowned to be the flyweight champ the second the division was announced. After destroying Yasuhiro Urishitani in the opening round of the 125 pound tournament, he would lose a decision to Johnson after five hard-fought rounds. Now, he's trying to build back up to another shot at the belt by taking out McCall.
Will McCall earn his sweet redemption in 2013? Can Benavidez finally win the big one? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 11-3-1 overall, 0-1-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Jussier da Silva (Tachi Palace Fights 8), Darrel Montague (Tachi Palace Fights 10), Dustin Ortiz (Tachi Palace Fights 9)
How he got here: Ian McCall has one of the craziest stories of them all. A free spirit, he found himself making some very bad decisions in the early part of his career as he descended into drug addiction. Despite that, he was able to start his career undefeated and earn a trip to the WEC.
He went 1-2 in the promotion, defeating Coty Wheeler but losing to veteran Charlie Valencia. He would score one more fight in the WEC, dropping a decision to current bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and then he spiraled out of control. He would be away from MMA for nearly two years and he nearly died after one particularly bad episode which made him see his mistakes and give up drugs for good.
He victoriously returned to the sport in November of 2010 with a first round triangle choke victory, which earned him a fight against Jussier da Silva, the then-top ranked flyweight fighter in the world. After dropping the first round, McCall stormed back and dominated the Brazilian to upset "Formiga."
"Uncle Creepy" would earn another big fight against Dustin Ortiz, which he dominated en route to a unanimous decision victory which earned him a shot against Tachi Palace flyweight champion Darell Montague. McCall again looked terrific, hurting Montague on multiple occasions and taking his opponent down before finishing the fight in the third round via rear naked choke.
With that victory, McCall earned the number one flyweight ranking in the world and he signed with the UFC to prove it in the inaugural flyweight tournament. Many fans thought he had done enough to beat Demetrious Johnson the first time around but it was ruled a draw. In the rematch, McCall would lose a close decision which knocked him out of the tourney.
Now, "Uncle Creepy" is back and hoping to potentially earn a third fight against Johnson if he can put on a show against Benavidez this weekend.
How he gets it done: McCall can be flat out ferocious at times. He's a very large flyweight and in the stand-up, he's got some serious power in his right hand and he's not afraid to really throw it aggressively.
What he would really like to do is close the distance on Benavidez, perhaps get him trapped against the fence because he's got some very dangerous short range attacks. "Uncle Creepy" throws a mean elbow and his knees to the legs and body are equally devastating.
The most vital weapon for McCall is his solid wrestling ability. If Benavidez is headhunting for a knockout and wings his punches too wildly or aggressively, the Team Oyama fighter is very capable of changing levels and putting him on his back. From top control, McCall is extremely aggressive with elbows and punches. He almost put the current champ away in the third round of their first fight with ground and pound.
Expect McCall to really try to utilize his speed here, similar to what Johnson did against Benavidez, although to a slightly lesser extent.
Record: 15-3 overall, 2-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Demetrious Johnson (UFC 152), 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. In his title fight, he was able to hurt Demetrious Johnson a time or two, but was simply outworked over the course of five rounds to lose a unanimous decision victory.
His comeback trail for another shot at the belt begins this weekend against McCall.
How he gets it done: Benavidez has terrific wrestling and vastly improved stand-up skills. He invested a large amount of time in his striking and it showed in his bouts against former WEC bantamweight champion Eddie Wineland where Benavidez rocked him at least three times and in his knockout of Urishitani.
Benavidez will try to stay in the cage center and work that power right hand. His opponent, McCall has a bad habit of dropping his left hand during exchanges so if "JoJitsu" can find a home for his right, it could be lights out for McCall.
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? McCall is not easy to take down by any means, but if he gets overaggressive, or leaves an opening, Benavidez shouldn't hesitate in shooting in and blasting him to the ground.
As long as Benavidez doesn't simply rely on trying to knock McCall's head off with every big strike he throws, he has a good shot here.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is what each man has learned from suffering their first defeat in the flyweight division. Both Benavidez and McCall lost to Demetrious Johnson for slightly different reasons. Benavidez lost in the speed department and was unable to adapt to Johnson's shift in strategy while McCall simply came in a bit too heavy and was outworked in the decisive third round of their rematch.
McCall told MMAmania.com that he plans on coming into this bout lighter and faster which should help him out against the Team Alpha Male fighter. Benavidez will need to work on his timing and being better at adapting to what his opponent is doing. This is a very evenly matched bout and whoever has adapted and grown the most since they lost to "Mighty Mouse" has the best shot at victory.
Bottom Line: These are the second and third ranked flyweights in the world (in my opinion) and this fight is almost guaranteed to be fantastic. Both men are dangerous both standing and on the ground, possess solid weapons with punches, knees and elbows as well as wrestling and even some submissions. Expect this fight to go anywhere and everywhere and be pretty damn exciting in all areas. UFC could not have picked a better fight to set the tone for the UFC 156 pay-per-view main card.
Who will come out on top at UFC 156? Tell us your prediction in the comments below!