Two of the best flyweights in the world will meet this Friday night (March 2, 2012) as Joseph Benavidez takes on Yasuhiro Urushitani in the co-main event of UFC on FX 2 in Sydney, Australia.
Benavidez has finally been released from his bantamweight purgatory after having suffered his lone two career losses to current champion Dominick Cruz. He's been stuck as the number two or three ranked 135 pounder in the world and with a fresh title at flyweight up for grabs, he's cutting down for the first time in his career to try and claim UFC gold.
Yasuhiro Urushitani, on the other hand, has been competing at flyweight his entire career. He hit a hot streak and became the Shooto 123 pound champion in 2010 and defended his title before being invited into the inaugural UFC flyweight tournament. With nearly 30 professional fights, he brings the most experience into this tournament by a landslide.
Will Benavidez finally reach his potential now that the flyweight division has arrived? Can Urushitani utilize his experience to his advantage and play spoiler? What's the key to victory for both talented flyweights on Friday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 15-2 overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Miguel Torres (WEC 47), Eddie Wineland (UFC on Versus 5), Rani Yahya (WEC 45)
Key Losses: Dominick Cruz 2x (WEC 42, WEC 50)
How he got here: Joseph Benavidez was a state champion wrestler in high school and made a smooth transition into mixed martial arts, where his athleticism, wrestling and speed helped him crush his opposition. After a large amount of unsanctioned fights as well as competing at local shows, the compact combatant signed up with Urijah Faber and Team Alpha Male, who helped him become a force in the WEC.
Upon his WEC arrival in late 2008, Benavidez soundly won his first two fights including former title challenger Jeff Curran before he suffered his first career loss to Dominick Cruz. He would bounce back in terrific fashion, stopping both Rani Yahya and former champion Miguel Torres to earn another shot at Cruz, this time with the bantamweight title on the line.
The Team Alpha Male fighter would drop a split decision to Cruz in a close fight where he held his own in the striking department, and would be relegated to MMA purgatory. Since the loss, he defeated Wagnney Fabiano and then has gone 2-0 in the UFC, although it seemed like the promotion was just keeping him busy and out of the way.
With the debut of the flyweight division, new life has been breathed into Benavidez's career and he gets a shot to become the inaugural UFC 125 pound champion in the flyweight tournament.
How he gets it done: Benavidez has terrific wrestling and vastly improved stand-up skills. He was putting some time in with the Alpha Male muay thai coach and he had been working with Sean Tompkins, which was really taking his striking to a new level. It shows in his last fight against the powerful Eddie Wineland where Benavidez utilized terrific footwork and rocked the former WEC champion on several occasions.
He is very quick and while he doesn't have a huge reach, it's now much more natural at flyweight where there won't be many big opponents at all for him. Size will no longer be a disadvantage for him.
Wrestling could also be very important for Benavidez as he's explosive, powerful and is very good at utilizing his elbows in ground and pound on the canvas. Who can forget the canyon he opened up on Miguel Torres' forehead before choking him out? Benavidez has an extremely potent guillotine choke so Urushitani has better be vigilant.
Record: 19-4-6 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: John Dodson (GCM Demolition), Mamoru Yamaguchi (Shooto: Back to our Roots 5), Yuki Shoujou (Shooto Legacy 3)
Key Losses: Yuki Shoujou (Shooto Tradition 3), Mamoru Yamaguchi (Shooto: Year End 2003)
How he got here: Yasuhiro Urushitani has been competing as flyweight for over 11 years now, and all but one of his bouts have occurred in Japan. He was a staple of the Shooto 123 pound division where he started his career and then left the promotion for the UFC as the defending champion.
Urushitani was not much of a finisher in his first 24 fights, only stopping two of them and drawing on multiple occasions, but along the way he was able to hand defeats to several notable lighter weight fighters like The Ultimate Fighter 14 winner John Dodson and Mamoru Yamaguchi.
Something clicked for him after a 2008 submission loss to Yuki Shoujou and Urushitani has been a force ever since, winning five straight and scoring knockout victories in three of them, including avenging his loss to Shoujou and not only capturing the Shooto title but defending it as well.
When the UFC announced the addition of the flyweight class, Urushitani was an obvious choice for the championship tournament.
How he gets it done: Urushitani has some terrific skills in both his balance with his judo background and his stand-up, which features some strong technical boxing.
The key for Urushitani is to avoid being taken down by Benavidez so he can focus on striking with him. He'll have to be ready to utilize a quick sprawl and his ability to remain upright will be incredibly important for him.
While he has been mixing in some kicks to his boxing game, I would not recommend he try them against Benavidez as he could definitely be taken down by the Team Alpha Male fighter.
He absolutely must employ the "sprawl and brawl" style and try not to get too repetitive with his punching combinations if he wants to be victorious against someone as talented as Benavidez.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is the location and the debut of Benavidez at flyweight. Urushitani, while he hasn't left Japan other than one fight in South Korea, will at least be competing in a familiar time zone when he steps into the cage in Sydney, Australia. Benavidez will be traveling to the other side of the world to compete and that could affect his performance.
The other factor of course, is that Urushitani has been competing at flyweight his entire career, while Benavidez has been trying to pack on muscle to his tiny frame to hang with the best bantamweights in the world for the past few years. While I don't expect his cardio to be affected much for a three round fight, this inaugural weight cut coupled with the location of the bout could give the Japanese fighter a slight edge depending on how Benavidez reacts.
Bottom Line: This should be a very interesting match-up. Urushitani has a strong base in judo which helps him remain standing against nearly all of his opponents. If he can employ those same tactics against Benavidez, the bout will definitely become more competitive. The battle between Benavidez's wrestling and Urushitani's judo balance will be very compelling. Also, Benavidez has some vastly improved stand-up, so he might even be the better striker heading into this fight. He's also eight years younger than the Japanese striker, so that could be in his favor as well. I'm expecting a very fun and competitive bout, no matter how long it lasts.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FX 2? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!