Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) flyweight gold will be on the line when champion Demetrious Johnson squares off against Joseph Benavidez in the main event of Saturday night's (Dec. 14, 2013) UFC on FOX 9 event from Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California.
Their bout is a rematch of their first battle at UFC 152, a fight that Johnson won by narrow split decision. The victory earned "Mighty Mouse" the inaugural UFC flyweight title and he's capitalized on the opportunity in a big way.
Johnson sits with an impressive 18-2-1 record in mixed martial arts (MMA). He's won four straight bouts and eight out of 10 overall. His only loss in that time span was a decision to current UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz.
Johnson was last seen defeating John Moraga with a slick armbar submission at UFC on FOX 8 in July. He'll look to defeat Team Alpha Male-trained product Benavidez, who's been on quite the tear of his own as of late.
"Beefcake" has won three straight, earning a striking stoppage in two of them. His stand-up game appears to have progressed to a new level since Duane Ludwig became his head coach. Benavidez' last fight was particularly impressive as he finished Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert Jussier Formiga with a brutal series of first round strikes at UFC Fight Night 28.
These are two fighters who know what the other brings to the table. It's going to be a chess match that shapes the future of the flyweight division. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez.
Record: 18-2-1 overall, 6-2-1 UFC
Key Losses: Dominick Cruz (UFC on VERSUS 6), Brad Pickett (WEC 48)
Keys to Victory: Johnson may be the fastest fighter competing in MMA today. He mixes blazing speed with an almost flawless striking technique. His wrestling and submissions are some of the best in the division, as well.
After losing to Cruz at bantamweight and cutting down to 125 pounds, "Mighty Mouse" has looked unstoppable. Benavidez gave him a run for his money and some still think that his first fight with McCall should have been a loss, but overall Johnson is the absolute cream of the crop at flyweight.
To stop Benavidez' impressive streak, Johnson simply needs to keep doing what he's been doing. He needs to stay one step ahead of Benavidez' power striking and mix up his level changes enough to keep "Beefcake" guessing. That shouldn't much of a problem for a fully focused and motivated "Mighty Mouse."
That's not to say that Benavidez will be an easy walkover for Johnson, because he won't be.
But at this point, Johnson has been a tough puzzle to solve. Although he finished Moraga via submission in his last fight, Benavidez has neither been knocked out nor submitted in his entire career. That means the most likely way for "Mighty Mouse" to retain the belt is with a high-paced decision victory.
He has the conditioning and skills to beat Benavidez to the punch everywhere the fight goes. It's just a matter of how much Benavidez has bridged the gap since their last fight.
Record: 19-3 overall, 6-1 UFC
Key Losses: Demetrious Johnson (UFC 152), Dominick Cruz (WEC 42, WEC 50)
Keys to Victory: Not to be outdone by his champion counterpart, Benavidez has also looked like an absolute freight train in recent bouts. Ludwig has taken his striking to a new level but he hasn't quite faced the level of competition that Johnson will provide on Saturday night.
Benavidez is always confident and clearheaded heading into his fights; he'll never need that more than he will at UFC on FOX 9. Johnson has a way of frustrating his opponents by constantly outpacing them so Benavidez can't let that faze him.
He most likely won't, but that doesn't mean he will outpoint Johnson on the feet.
For that reason it may be in Benavidez' best interest to get this fight to the ground. It's far from guaranteed that even a wrestler of Benavidez' caliber can get the wily "Mighty Mouse" to the floor. That shouldn't stop "Beefcake" from trying, however.
Like Benavidez, Johnson has never been finished. He'll be nearly impossible to put away but if any flyweight can put his lights out, it's probably Benavidez.
His striking power has appeared otherworldly for a fighter of his size. He could definitely change the course of this fight with one vicious flurry.
His submissions are solid too, as he possesses the lethal arsenal of chokes that Team Alpha Male has become famous for. If and when Benavidez gets this fight to the ground, he may be able to open up an opportunity to shock Johnson with a tight guillotine choke.
That could be his best way to send a message to the rest of the division, by finishing Johnson.
This is the biggest fight of Benavidez' life. He failed in his bid to become the first UFC flyweight champion but now he's earned a shot at redemption, something many fighters never get. He has to show up with all of his skills at an all-time high to beat a solid champion in Johnson.
Bottom Line from Sacramento: The bottom line for this fight is that it may be the narrowest margin of skills that any UFC title fight could present. Benavidez nearly had the belt wrapped around his waist last year and has only gotten better in the time since.
There's not a number one contender that deserves their title shot more than he does.
But if he loses to Johnson a second time he'll be light years away from fighting for the belt again. That puts him in an urgent situation and he has to win now. Otherwise he'll just be second best at 125 pounds, destined to serve as a tough test for the up-and-coming fighters of the division.
That's not something that he or any of his Team Alpha Male teammates are willing to settle for. It's also what makes this fight so pivotal.
Despite not drumming up a ton of media attention, Johnson is one of the best combatants fighting in the Octagon right now. His well-rounded mix of skills put him head and shoulders above all flyweights save for Benavidez. If he gets past "Beefcake" one more time, a long title reign will most likely ensue.
"Mighty Mouse" has settled into his new home. He's at the height of his abilities and Benavidez has to fight the best bout of his life in order to take the belt from him.
Flyweights may not be getting a ton of press right now, but make no mistake; this is one of the most emotionally-charged fights set to take place right now. Thankfully, both fighters are experts at keeping their feelings in check and fighting a calm, calculated fight. This should be a war that could go the distance. Enjoy the fight.
Demetrious Johnson looks to supplant himself as a dominant 125-pound champion against Joseph Benavidez at UFC on FOX 9. Will he prove he is undoubtedly the best? Or will an improving Benavidez finally see the belt wrapped around his waist?