There are a number of reasons I like mixed martial arts more than boxing. One of them is the relative clarity with weight classes. It’s hard to get excited about a boxer who is merely a champion at a certain weight class in a certain promotion. It seems that, in boxing, if you want to really be somebody, you need to at least either be an undisputed champion, or be a champion in multiple weight classes. For me, it really departs from what being a champion is. I feel that, if a fighter is called a champion, he should be one of a very select few given the distinction of being a champion in his sport.
I’m not at all opposed to the UFC introducing the flyweight division at 125 pounds. There are clearly a few fighters at bantamweight who could fit in better at flyweight, and there seems to be at least some talent in the sport to support the weight class. At the same time, I hope this is the last weight class the UFC introduces. I don’t want them to introduce any smaller weight classes (going below 125 would really be pushing the limit for me), and I don’t want to see the talent in MMA diluted any more.
But the flyweight division is here, and the first flyweight fight to take place in the UFC will feature former WEC bantamweight challenger Joseph Benavidez taking on Shooto veteran Yasuhiro Urushitani. Benavidez was a very good bantamweight fighter. He has very good wrestling, but he’s a well-rounded MMA fighter. He can strike, and he’s capable of submissions as well. He lost to Dominick Cruz twice, but gave the champion two very competitive fights despite an enormous height disadvantage.
On top of the skill set he brings to the table, Benavidez has a very strong record. He’s beaten former champion Miguel Torres, Eddie Wineland, Wagnney Fabiano, and Rani Yahya. In fact, his two losses to Cruz, the best fighter at 135 pounds, are Benavidez’s only two career professional MMA losses. He has a great team behind him, training at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento. He’s often ranked as the #2 fighter in the bantamweight division in MMA, and it’s hard to argue against that.
So I know all about Joseph Benavidez. But I’d be lying if I said I knew all about Yasuhiro Urushitani. Urushitani has fought the vast majority of his career in Shooto, and while there are a few extremely hardcore MMA fans and writers out there who I’m sure have watched a lot of Shooto events, I am definitely not one of them. So, to evaluate Urushitani, there are a few approaches I can take.
The first is to simply look at Urushitani’s record, which might look somewhat bizarre at 19-4-6. Six draws? That’s one of the quirks of Japanese MMA. While promotions like PRIDE forced judges to choose a winner when fights went to decision, a number of Japanese promotions instruct judges to only award decisions to fighters who are clearly, hands down better than their opponent. As a result, draws are much more frequent in Japanese MMA than in North American MMA. Regardless, Urushitani’s record can’t match the 15-2 of Benavidez.
But since Shooto, along with Tachi Palace Fights, is a major promotion in MMA as far as flyweight fighting is concerned, is it possible that Urushitani has secretly been taking on, and beating, world-class opposition? A look at Sherdog’s rankings suggests that he might have. Urushitani himself is ranked #3 in the world at flyweight, and he’s defeated #4 Mamoru Yamaguchi, #6 Shinichi Kojima, #7 Yuki Shojo, and #9 Kiyotaka Shimizu. Then again, Louis Gaudinot is ranked at #8, and while SILVA is not a ranking system, Gaudinot’s SILVA of -30.96 suggests that the flyweight division is exceptionally thin.
SILVA PREDICTION: JOSEPH BENAVIDEZ (75.10) OVER YASUHIRO URUSHITANI (44.58)
Ultimately, Urushitani may have beaten much of the stiffest competition at 125 pounds, but given the shallow nature of that weight class, it’s impossible to have the same accomplishments as a world-class bantamweight fighter. And since Urushitani has lost four times and fought to a draw six times at flyweight, every indicator points to this being Joseph Benavidez’s fight to lose. I don’t know that Benavidez should be the overwhelming favorite he’s listed at, but he looks like more than a solid pick to advance to the first ever UFC flyweight championship match.