This Wednesday (Sept. 4, 2013), two highly ranked Flyweights will face off with possible title implications on the line when Joseph Benavidez and Jussier Formiga square off on the main card of UFC Fight Night 28 from Jornalista Felipe Drumond Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Both Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 125-pound talents bring gaudy records to the Octagon with only five combined losses between them. They're also on the winning track. Benavidez knocked out Darren Uyenoyama at UFC on Fox 7, while Formiga won a decision over Chris Cariaso at UFC on FX 8. The two foes have only lost to the best talent in the weight class, and they're both looking to fight toward a shot at champion Demetrious Johnson.
Benavidez will travel to uncharted waters for this bout. He's never fought in Brazil before and the crowd will be loud and boisterous in its support for Formiga. However, the recent addition of head striking coach Duane Ludwig to Benavidez' Team Alpha Male has been paying big dividends. Benavidez, like his teammates Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes, has been exhibiting a sharpened striking game to go with his already powerful wrestling and grappling.
That combination of skills will be a tough task for Formiga, a submission specialist who has never knocked anyone out in his entire mixed martial arts career.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Joseph Benavidez vs. Jussier Formiga:
Record: 18-3 overall, 5-1 UFC
Key Wins: Ian McCall (UFC 156), Eddie Wineland (UFC Live 5)
Key Losses: Demetrious Johnson (UFC 152), Dominick Cruz (WEC 42, WEC 50)
Keys to Victory: Benavidez is an extremely polished Flyweight possessing an extensive background in World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC). He's fought some of the best in the world not only at Flyweight, but Bantamweight as well, where he faced off with current UFC champion Dominick Cruz twice.
Although he lost by decision both times, that is a huge indicator of Benavidez' heart and skill.
Benavidez possesses an extremely tough takedown game that, when mixed with his lethal arsenal of chokes, can dominate most of the UFC Flyweight division. Lately, he's been learning quickly under the tutelage of his new striking coach Ludwig, and that's rounding out his game quite effectively.
To win against Formiga, he'll have to push the pace by getting in his opponent's face with various strikes. Formiga has never been touted for his striking ability, having never finished off a single opponent via (technical) knockout. That simple fact is going to give Benavidez a ton of confidence to implement his gameplan.
The fight may be in Brazil, but Benavidez is no stranger to big name fights with a ton on the line. Formiga, on the other hand, has been mostly plying his trade in Brazil, racking up wins against lesser-known competition. Benavidez' edge in high-pressure situations will be crucial this Wednesday night.
Record: 15-2 overall, 1-1 UFC
Key Wins: Chris Cariaso (UFC on FX 8)
Key Losses: John Dodson (UFC on FX 5), Ian McCall (Tachi Palace Fights 8)
Keys to Victory: Formiga has an uphill battle when he steps in to the Octagon on Sept. 4, 2013. The Brazilian submission whiz is no stranger to the ground game, having tapped out an impressive seven foes throughout his career.
On paper, he's on a roll with six victories in his last seven fights.
However, all is not perfect, as Formiga fell brutally short in his bid to gain a Flyweight title shot at UFC on FX 5. Losing to former title challenger John Dodson via technical knockout, the squandered opportunity could be forgotten should he get past Benavidez.
That will be no easy task because Benavidez has never been finished during his career. Formiga has eight decision wins to his name, but to win one against Benavidez, he'll have to be incredibly sharp in all aspects of mixed martial arts (MMA). If he's able to avoid Benavidez' power shots and takedowns, he could gain an advantage on the ground with his Brazilian jiu-jitsu pedigree.
Grappling can't really be considered a weakness for Benavidez, but if Formiga has an advantage, it's there.
The only true advantage Formiga has here is the Brazilian crowd. They'll be giving him electrifying support, but the high-level experience of Benavidez likely means he won't be shaken mentally. Formiga will need to have shored up his striking skills considerably to even put up a fight on the feet, and it's a glaring deficiency that could results in a quick loss for Formiga.
Bottom Line From Belo Horizonte: The bottom line here is the experience of Benavidez thanks to his big fights in the past. While he didn't always come out on top in those bouts, the experience alone gives him a wealth of knowledge. That's a huge leg up on his competition Formiga, who failed in the two biggest fights of his career.
That's not to say he isn't a very talented fighter, because he is. But it just isn't going to be as simple as walking into the Octagon and submitting Benavidez. If Formiga plans to edge out a decision, his standup will have to be on a completely new level. That's hard to achieve in such a short time, and he may be a bit too one-dimensional to take Benavidez out.
Team Alpha Male is on an absolute tear since acquiring Ludwig as their coach, sitting with an undefeated (11-0) combined record. Is this the fight that finally adds a blemish to "Bang's" coaching track record? You can bet Formiga will be looking for the submission on Wednesday, but to get one, he'll truly have to pull off something special.
These resilient Flyweights will put it all on the line for a chance at future gold. Can Formiga upset the surging Benavidez? Tell us your pick in the comments below!