Two of the best non-champion flyweights in the world took center stage last night (Feb. 2, 2013) as Joseph Benavidez battled Ian McCall in the opening bout of the UFC 156 main card in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Both men were coming off close decision losses to current division title holder Demetrious Johnson and both men were looking to potentially earn a rematch at the crown.
But it would be Benavidez who would walk away with his hand held high. So how'd he knock off "Uncle Creepy?"
Benavidez came out swinging, stuffing a McCall takedown attempt early and cracking him with an elbow, some solid low kicks and going over the top whenever McCall got too close for comfort with both left and right hooks. He blasted McCall with a very good left hand that stunned him at about the 90 second mark, but couldn't pour it on.
It felt like every time McCall got aggressive with his striking, Benavidez was ready to counter with a heavy right hand over the top, repeatedly landing with power and mixing up his attacks well, willing to step in with inside leg kicks and the right hand.
Benavidez went back to work, really trying to knock off McCall's head in the second round, but McCall's timing was better, occasionally catching kicks and throwing knees on the inside. With about 70 seconds left in the round, the Team Alpha Male fighter dove for a takedown but McCall stepped right over it, taking top position and dropping some pretty heavy ground and pound with hammer fists and right hands. Even when Benavidez got to his feet, McCall didn't relent, landing heavy knees to the legs and body to tie up the score.
Whatever momentum McCall started the third round with was quickly halted by a huge right hand from Benavidez in the opening exchange, rocking him and forcing a smile once they'd created separation. McCall tried to clinch and get takedowns, but Benavidez shut them down and would land big shots every time he'd exit a close situation.
McCall did score a takedown, but he was a bit overzealous, immediately passing to side control and Benavidez was able to explode back to his feet and go right back to work, trading blows all the way until the final horn.
When it was all said and done, the judges awarded Benavidez the first and third rounds unanimously with a 29-28 decision across the board.
For Ian McCall, this was simply a case of not getting the fight where he wanted it. "Uncle Creepy" is at his best when he's in the clinch blasting his opponents with elbows, knees and dirty boxing or on the ground attacking with submissions and ground and pound. While he wasn't completely helpless out in the open or in the cage center trading strikes, that's simply not his biggest strength right now and Benavidez was able to get the better of nearly every single exchange on the feet. McCall scored a potential round-winning takedown in the third round but in his quest to gain a dominant position and immediately pass guard, he gave Benavidez just enough space to scramble back to his feet and he was never able to take the fight to the canvas again.
Despite being 0-2-1 since signing with the UFC, McCall deserves to face the best opponents possible. He's held his own against both Benavidez and Johnson, just barely coming up short. Bouts against the likes of John Dodson, Chris Cariaso or a rematch against Jussier da Silva would all make sense.
For Joseph Benavidez, he did a terrific job of forcing McCall to fight his fight, keeping the bout on the feet and with plenty of free space to roam, lunge in with attacks and counter the Team Oyama fighter's aggression with heavy right hands and ferocious leg and body kicks. Benavidez's striking looked sharp and every time the fight entered close quarters, he'd always make sure to exit with damage, throwing either a kick, elbow or punch during the separation. His only mistake was an ill-advised takedown attempt which gave McCall control for the final 70 seconds of the second round. Other than that, he was in pretty good shape throughout the bout, rocking "Uncle Creepy" on a couple occasions but unable to put him away.
With the flyweight division so thin, Benavidez might have earned himself another title shot with his performance. If he needs another win, he could fight current top contenders John Moraga, John Lineker or Louis Gaudinot.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Did Benavidez do enough to earn another shot at Demetrious Johnson for the title? What could McCall have done to change the outcome of the fight?