The co-main event of the evening is also the first ever UFC flyweight championship match, where Joseph Benavidez will take on Demetrious Johnson.
Striking: This is a very competitive match in all areas. In the striking game, Benavidez has better combinations, but Johnson has better speed. Benavidez is the kind of fighter who often uses the threat of a takedown as a way to keep his opponent from landing many strikes. Eddie Wineland in particular was very hesitant to throw strikes against Benavidez, and when he did, was often too far to the outside to land them. When Benavidez attacks, he often will throw combinations and mix up strikes to the body and head. He has very good overhand punches, and puts good power behind his punches for a flyweight, as Yasuhiro Urushitani found out the hard way. Meanwhile, Johnson isn’t quite as good technically as Benavidez, and doesn’t have as much power, but has excellent speed. Johnson is fully capable of rushing an opponent, landing a few strikes, and then getting out of striking range before his opponent can even react. He will also attack with a flurry of strikes and quickly transition to a takedown attempt, a good way to catch his opponent unprepared. In this fight, I’ll give a slight striking advantage to Benavidez.
Wrestling: Both fighters are good, but not great, wrestlers. It’s a little difficult to get a handle on how good they really are, because both fighters have spent most of their respective careers fighting opponents who are bigger than them. An example is Dominick Cruz, who fought Johnson once and Benavidez twice, and towered over both of them. And they both had plenty of success taking down Miguel Torres, but that doesn’t say much. The difference between these two is that Johnson tends to shoot for double-leg takedowns, while Benavidez has more of a tendency to grab a single leg, and work methodically for the takedown. I’ll give Benavidez an advantage here, because he doesn’t have a history of being taken down in the flyweight division, while Johnson does, as Johnson was taken down a few times by Ian McCall. (I fully acknowledge that McCall is a much better wrestler than Yasuhiro Urushitani.) But again, it’s a slight advantage, and both fighters are such good scramblers that I don’t think any one takedown is going to matter all that much in the long run.
Submissions: Both fighters have good skill on the ground. Johnson in particular is extremely hard to hold down, and very good at disrupting his opponent’s base to either land a sweep or get back to his feet. Johnson does have six submission wins on his record, but the only one that happened against an opponent with even a decent record was his guillotine choke victory against Damacio Page. Meanwhile, Benavidez has a few wins by guillotine choke, including wins over Wagnney Fabiano and Miguel Torres in the WEC. But as I said above, both fighters are such good scramblers, and both have a great awareness of what they’re doing on the ground. More importantly, both easily have the conditioning to fight hard for five rounds without fading. I’ll be very surprised if either man is tapping out in this fight.
Prediction: Joseph Benavidez by decision. But this is a much more competitive fight than a lot of people think. I’m picking Benavidez because of slight technical advantages, but in a flyweight match that’s likely to go the distance, between fighters with similar skill sets, is Benavidez really that much better than Johnson? I really don’t see where he is, and that’s coming from somebody who really likes Benavidez. I anticipate a 48-47 or 49-46 type of decision in favor of Benavidez, but Johnson has serious upset potential.