At UFC 152 in Sept. 2012, mixed martial arts (MMA) fans were treated to an excellent scrap between two of the most skilled and agile fighters in the sport, Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez. This 125-pound bout, the co-main event of the evening, was a battle for the then-vacant Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight championship.
Through five rounds of action at a blistering pace, Demetrious Johnson was the one to leave with his hand raised, coming away with a split decision victory.
Though slightly favored heading in, Joseph Benavidez came up short in the initial encounter for many reasons, many of which being Johnson's superior ability in various MMA situations. He couldn't deal with the more agile, more technical fighter, lost in Johnson's superior ability to transition from different phases from range striking to clinch work to takedowns.
In my opinion, the fight was overwhelmingly dominant for Johnson despite one hiccup in the fourth round when he was put down by a hard shot and then threatened with a guillotine from mount. The fact that this fight ended in a split decision left a sour taste in my mouth and I imagine it isn't exactly something "Mighty Mouse" would've wanted, either.
When looking at a rematch, especially one that is not immediate, it is crucial to look at the fighters' performances between their first meeting and their impending rematch. Though many fans and writers alike proclaim Benavidez a "new and improved" fighter, I'm just not seeing it. Fights with Ian McCall, Darren Uyenoyama and Jussier Da Silva saw Benavidez follow the same formula he has always used, which is the same one that failed him against Johnson when they fought the first time.
Indeed, he still relies far too heavily on speed rather than technique and gets away with winging punches against opposition too slow to make him pay for his mistakes.
Meanwhile, in subsequent title defenses against John Dodson and John Moraga, "Mighty Mouse" has shown just how good of a fighter he truly is. His speed and technical ability are perhaps the best we've ever seen from an MMA fighter, and that in itself is amazing. Despite a propensity to take one big shot per fight, Johnson is an elusive, brilliant technician, and in my opinion, the more improved fighter between the two heading into their rematch at UFC on FOX 9.
With unreal timing, wrestling, striking and speed, Johnson is a pound-for-pound great in MMA today. Little wrinkles in his game such as his ability quickly cut angles and fight equally well in orthodox and southpaw stances are what make him standout from the sea of competition. Each fight, we see something new from Johnson, and in his last bout with Moraga, he proved that he is capable of finishing a very hard-nosed and resilient opponent.
This fight has very little to do with what new approach we'll see from Benavidez, but rather what Johnson can make this fight into. I am confident that he is the better fighter at this point, and barring a lucky strike landing or some massive leap in striking skill from Benavidez, I believe Johnson is going to dominate him when they rematch in the main event on FOX.
Coming into this fight, Johnson is still regarded as only a very slight favorite to keep his Flyweight belt. After this fight, don't be surprised to see Johnson viewed as one of the brightest talents UFC has to offer and among the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world.