The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight division is becoming increasingly interesting with each mixed martial arts (MMA) event. And The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale, which takes place later this evening (Sat., Nov 30, 2013) at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, may bring us yet another 125-pound prospect who will be "in the mix" after this weekend.
Sampo, who has fought 12 times since starting his professional career in late 2009, is a fighter known to have a very strong wrestling base. His takedowns are characteristic of what you would expect of a Flyweight: Quick, technical and very effective. Sampo wastes little time in the clinch when looking for takedowns, and once he brings the fight to the mat, he is solid positionally and can threaten with submissions.
Standing, Sampo leaves something to be desired, and although his hands are pretty fast, his defense is very shoddy. On many occasions, he relies on his wrestling to save him from danger when opponents get the better of him in striking exchanges because he leaves himself far too open. His footwork is solid for what his goal seems to be, and he is good at luring opponents into positions that will allow him to more easily execute a takedown on them.
Benoit, meanwhile, is a young fighter, and his raw athleticism makes him a difficult fighter to predict. His striking, while far from perfect, is crisp and powerful, and his wrestling is effective when it needs to be. He is a fighter who is solid in every position, but at times it is noticeable that he forgoes the more technical approach in favor of attacking with brute strength and tenacity.
Benoit's main problem going into this fight is that he isn't the best at fighting for position on the ground. This flaw was highlighted in his loss to Anthony Birchak in their great fight at MFC 37, where he was outdone on several occasions in ground exchanges, giving up top position on numerous occasions and ultimately losing a decision.
What this fight comes down to is how these guys will implement their gameplans. On paper, I would imagine this as Sampo's fight to lose, but I could see Benoit giving him just enough trouble everywhere to make it very interesting. Both men will be fired up to get a win in their UFC debuts, and I think that will be a contributing factor in producing a great fight.
Expect Sampo to attempt to bring this fight to the mat early and often. Benoit, with his solid wrestling and athleticism, is not to be overlooked here though, and I could definitely see him stopping shots and busting up Sampo on the feet. If Sampo does get caught, desperation shots may not be as effective on Benoit as they have been on some of his other opponents, which is the reason it will be important for him to enforce his ground game early.
If the fight does hit the mat, I expect Sampo to methodically control position while Benoit frantically tries to improve his own. This will play out in one of two ways, either with Sampo capitalizing on errors from Benoit, or Benoit initiating scrambles that may be anyone's game. I believe the mat work in this fight will be interesting to watch, especially considering the agility and technicality all flyweights seem to possess.
This is a fight I expect to end up all over the place, with interesting exchanges standing, in the clinch and on the ground. Sampo's gameplan will undoubtedly be based on getting Benoit to the mat, but I could see Benoit thwarting his attempts for long enough to initiate his own offense on the feet or even on the mat.
In the end, expect three rounds of quick back-and-forth action and a Flyweight fight worth talking about when discussing the future of the division.