UFC on Fox 9: Johnson vs. Benavidez II Breakdown

December 13, 2013

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UFC on Fox 9: Johnson vs. Benavidez II Breakdown



Alexander Lee – “UFC on Fox 9” airs live on Saturday, December 14.  Preliminary coverage begins on the UFC’s official YouTube and Facebook pages at 4:30 PM (EST).  The preliminaries continue on Sportsnet 360 at 5 PM (EST) leading up to the main card at 8 PM (EST).

After Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva put on a live production of “Pacific Rim” last week, there couldn’t be a better time for us to take a step away from that disaster site and check in on the little guys.  Saturday’s card features only one bout being contested at a weight higher than 155 (a key welterweight bout between Matt Brown and Carlos Condit was cancelled due to an injury).  A free card like this is just what the UFC needs to give their lightweights, featherweights, bantamweights and flyweights exposure while also establishing who is ready to be featured on PPV.  A stacked line-up filled with non-stop action doesn’t hurt either.

 

Preliminary Thoughts

Though the UFC has only offered a lone online preliminary on their last two cards, they’ve used the slot to showcase promising talent that most fans likely aren’t familiar with.  For example, The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale saw Ryan Benoit face off with Josh Sampo.  Benoit had been on a tear competing for the Legacy Fighting Championship promotion, while Sampo had been the best unsigned flyweight talent not named Sergio Pettis.

Last Friday’s UFC Fight Night 33 online prelim featured the debut of Alex Garcia, the latest welterweight monster to hail from the Tristar Gym in Montréal.  He made quick work of late replacement Ben Wall, more than justifying the hype that has surrounded him.

The trend continues this Saturday when Darren Uyenoyama (2-1 UFC, 8-4) meets Alp Okzilic (0-0 UFC, 8-1).  This will be Uyenoyama’s third fight at 125 in the UFC.  He split his last two meetings with Phil Harris and Joseph Benavidez.  Okzilic is riding a 3 fight win streak, including a 30 second thrashing of WEC/UFC veteran Antonio Banuelos.  His debut signals another nation joining the UFC fold; Garcia was the first Dominican and now Okzilic is the first Turk.  Those who can find the time to log on for one fight will be rewarded by the UFC’s wise decision to fill the spot with fighters who could be future contenders.

 

*****

Eight lightweights duke it out on the preliminary card meaning there could be a lot of fluctuation when the dust settles in the UFC’s deepest division:

Danny Castillo (6-2 UFC, 16-5) faces Edson Barboza (6-1 UFC, 12-1), which should give the Alpha Male product unpleasant flashbacks to his meeting with Anthony Njokuani back in December of 2011.  Barboza presents many of the same problems: rangy kickboxing, one punch knockout power and top shelf athleticism.  He’s also more adept on the ground than Njokuani.  Castillo eked out a split decision against Njokuani and he’ll need to pull another rabbit out of a hat if he wants to get past Barboza.

Bobby Green (2-0 UFC, 21-5) and Pat Healy (0-2 UFC [1 NC], 29-17) are two of Strikeforce’s most esteemed imports working to establish themselves in the UFC.  They’ll have to climb over each other to reach their goals.  Green has quietly put together a 6 fight win streak, capped off with a bizarre TKO of James Krause via body shot/groin kick that only made his standing even murkier.

Healy can relate.  For all intents and purposes, his victory over Jim Miller made him a top 10 fighter, but after it was overturned due to a positive marijuana test and then a subsequent loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov, he became the most highly touted UFC competitor without an official win in the UFC.  Both men need this one badly: for Green it would be the biggest name on his resume by far; for Healy, it would be some much needed stability after a rocky start.

Abel Trujillo (1-1 [1 NC] UFC, 10-5) and Roger Bowling (0-1 [1 NC] UFC, 11-4 [1 NC]) are getting a chance to roll back their August encounter that ended with controversial illegal knee that caused a no-contest.  Neither man was satisfied or contrite after, with Trujillo claiming innocence and Bowling furious that there was such a cheap finish to a fight he might have been winning.  The gentlemen get a chance to settle their dispute in the only reasonable way society allows: with face punches.

Cody McKenzie (3-3 UFC, 14-3) returns to the lightweight division to battle Sam Stout (8-8 UFC, 19-9-1).  It’s unclear whether this is a permanent move for the charismatic Alaskan or if McKenzie has comfortably settled into the role of a laid back professional who will fight anybody.  That he took on #1 contender Chad Mendes in his first featherweight fight suggests the latter.  Stout suffered a submission loss in an exciting contest with James Krause, keeping him stuck at .500 for his UFC career.  He picked up his 6th Fight of the Night award for that effort and McKenzie is exactly the kind of opponent who could help him earn a 7th.

 

One to watch:

Flyweight Bout: Scott Jorgensen (3-3 UFC, 14-7) v. Zach Makovsky (0-0 UFC, 16-4)

It seems silly that Makovsky, affectionately known as “Fun Size”, waited until this year to make a permanent move down to 125.  The decision was truly better late than never.

His desire to stay at bantamweight was understandable, given the success he was able to achieve in that division.  He was Bellator’s first bantamweight champion, though thanks to that organization’s insistence that only tournament winners get title shots, Makovsky was only able to log one unsuccessful title defence.  After being released, Makovsky hit the ground running by making the logical transition to flyweight.  He has won his first two flyweight fights, claimed a title in the Resurrection Fighting Alliance, and now (due to an unfortunate injury to Jorgensen’s original opponents, Ian McCall then John Dodson) gets a long awaited appearance in the octagon.

Whether it was McCall, Dodson or Makovsky, the matchmakers clearly have no intention of giving Jorgensen an easy fight in his flyweight debut.  The one-time bantamweight title contender has elite wrestling and a steady chin that will serve him well and possibly earn him a future UFC title shot.  By cutting to 125, Jorgensen immediately becomes one of the division’s strongest fighters.  Makovsky cannot afford to stand in front of him, lest he fall victim to one of Jorgensen’s whippet quick takedowns.  Both men employ wrestling in their strategy, but Jorgensen has a clear advantage in the grappling department.  Outside of that, the two are evenly matched and this should be a good, close fight.

 

The Main Card

 

Lightweight Bout: Joe Lauzon (9-6 UFC, 22-9) v. Mac Danzig (5-7 UFC, 21-11-1)

Lauzon always seems to find a way onto the main card and he makes the most of his opportunities when he’s there.  His dogged determination when it comes to absorbing damage and bonus hunting makes him one of the best lead-off men in the game today.  Lauzon will be hungry for a win, having dropped 3 of his last 4 including a disappointing loss to Michael Johnson in front of a supportive Boston crowd.

Danzig is also in the midst of a 1-3 slump but like Lauzon, he maintains job security with a crowd pleasing approach.  Still, neither man can afford to take another L here.  These two always bring it regardless of the circumstances, so just imagine how intense it will be this time around with this possibly being the loser’s last appearance inside the octagon.

 

Featherweight Bout: Chad Mendes (6-1 UFC, 15-1) v. Nik Lentz (8-2-1 [1 NC] UFC, 24-5-2 [1 NC])

The UFC’s refusal to grant Mendes a featherweight championship rematch is mystifying.  Because the knockout loss to José Aldo has been included in so many video packages and montages, you would think that Mendes got smoked in that fight.  The truth is that the first round was close, Aldo used a blatant cage grab to stay upright and Mendes made one sloppy mistake that cost him everything.  That is not to say that Aldo wouldn’t have eventually triumphed, but to discount Mendes as a threat because of 4:59 seconds of mostly even action is ludicrous.  It might take an unprecedented fifth consecutive knockout victory for Mendes to land that coveted rematch.

That said, this is by no means a showcase fight for Mendes.  Lentz doesn’t get enough respect.  He got a bad reputation as a “boring” grinder even as he was undefeated in his first 6 UFC fights, including a split decision win over Tyson Griffin.  His next three appearances saw him earn 2 Fight of the Night awards, but he was left empty handed in the win column.  His relentless, pressuring style has translated beautifully to featherweight.  He is 3-0 at 145 and his last two wins came against Diego Nunes and Hacran Dias who had a combined record of 39-4-1 at the time they faced Lentz.  Nik Lentz is good.  If he can pull off the upset here, he’ll be just as worthy a title challenger as Mendes.

 

Bantamweight Bout: Urijah Faber (5-2 UFC, 29-6) v. Michael McDonald (5-1 UFC, 16-2)

Critics of Faber love are quick to point out that the California Kid seems to get rewarded with title shots at the drop of a hat.  He’s 18-0 in non-title fights and he always works his way through the top 5 of whichever division he is in.  At some point, it’s impossible to book him against anyone else but the best.  To his credit, he doesn’t waste time calling people out, instead choosing to face whoever the UFC puts in front of him.  Usually, this means facing someone who has far more to gain from the match-up than Faber himself.  Enter Michael McDonald.

Calling McDonald an “up-and-comer” seems strange when you consider that he’s already challenged Renan Barão for the bantamweight title.  A submission loss ended a run where McDonald was like a 135 pound freight train.  Any questions about how McDonald would react to his second career setback were answered in resounding fashion when he dominated Brad Pickett before finishing him with a triangle choke in the second round.  It’s become cliché to mention McDonald’s astonishing success relative to his youth (22 years old!), but everything about him screams future world champion.  Can he become the first man to defeat Faber in a non-title fight?

 

Flyweight Championship Bout: Demetrious Johnson (6-1-1 UFC, 18-2-1) v. Joseph Benavidez (6-1 UFC, 19-3)

The names might be the same, but a lot has changed since these two fought for the right to be the inaugural flyweight title.  Benavidez-Johnson I was a dream match-up.  They’d experienced enormous success at bantamweight (Benavidez twice challenged Dominick Cruz for the title, Johnson once) and it was hardly surprising when they ended up in the finals of the four man tournament to crown a new champion.  The match was as closely contested as you would expect, with both men cutting a torrid pace without being wild.  They searched for openings, scored in bunches and then disengaged in preparation for the next charge.  It was a masterful performance and Johnson did enough to win a nail-biter.

This will be Benavidez’s 4th world title shot and like his teammate Faber, these are the only situations in which he has suffered a loss.  Not only that, but both his rematch with Cruz and his first fight with Johnson were both split decisions, meaning he was one scorecard away from being able to add world champion to his illustrious list of accomplishments.  One would think that he can’t afford to go to the distance with an opponent as gifted and as prolific as Johnson; it could be finish or bust for Benavidez.  He’s one of the deadliest lighter weight finishers in MMA history, with 14 wins by KO or submission.  The problem is that catching Johnson cleanly with anything is extraordinarily difficult.

Being the champion of the UFC’s smallest weight class (until the female strawweights are integrated) might not be the most glamorous title, but Johnson has been sensational since winning the belt.  He survived a close call against John Dodson and outclassed John Moraga before submitting him in the fifth round.  That finish went a long way to validating Johnson as not only one of the best fighters at 125, but one of the best pound for pound.  That’s a distinction that can also apply to Benavidez.  The first fight was nearly too close to call and this one is no different.  The only guarantee is that if it’s anything like last time, we should end up with an excellent fight and a worthy champion.

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