For the second time in just over a year, Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez will face off with the UFC flyweight title on the line, this time as the headliners of the UFC on FOX 9 card Saturday night in Sacramento.
Since their last meeting, neither fighter has lost a fight and both have actually shown marked improvements, which makes this rematch one of the top title fights of 2013.
In addition to Johnson vs. Benavidez 2, UFC on FOX 9 also features a showdown between the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked bantamweights in the world as Urijah Faber takes on Michael McDonald in a pivotal matchup at 135 pounds.
There's also a featherweight fight brewing between Chad Mendes and Nik Lentz, as well as a bout pitting Mac Danzig against Joe Lauzon, who happens to be the fighter tied with Anderson Silva for the most post show bonuses in UFC history, which pretty much guarantees something exciting is going to happen in that bout.
Today's fantasy preview will examine the four main card bouts at UFC on FOX 9 and who is most likely to come out on top this weekend on the stacked card airing from Sacramento.
DEMETRIOUS JOHNSON VS. JOSEPH BENAVIDEZ
It's hard to argue against the logic that these two fighters are the best flyweights in the world, and while this is their second fight, given how much talent is possessed by both Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez it's easy to think we could see this fight three or four times in the next few years. Johnson is the UFC's only flyweight champion, winning the belt by beating Benavidez by split decision last September. Benavidez is undefeated at 125 pounds aside from his lone loss to Johnson. You kind of see where this is going. These two are the best of the best in the flyweight division and this is shaping up to be another instant classic.
The first time around, when Johnson beat Benavidez, there were a few keys to his win. Johnson was by far the more accurate striker, out landing Benavidez 77 to 44 in significant strikes but making his opponent miss was one of the biggest factors of all. Benavidez only landed an abysmal 18 percent of his strikes, and Johnson's elusiveness helped set up the five takedowns he landed in the fight as well.
So where is the difference in the rematch?
Well, Johnson - if you can believe it - is still just as fast, elusive and quick with his takedowns and now has the confidence of two straight title defenses under his belt. Benavidez has been a changed man since losing to Johnson, knocking out two of his last three opponents while also dominating top five fighter Ian McCall along the way as well. Benavidez has benefitted greatly working under coach Duane “Bang” Ludwig and he's stopped obsessing over the title, which is something he admits hindered him the last time around. Still, is that enough to catch up to Johnson, who is remarkable hard to hit much less finish?
Benavidez needs to make sure he doesn't over pursue Johnson, which led to the takedowns and the multitude of missed punches the last time around. The only flyweight that has as much natural one-punch knockout power as Benavidez is John Dodson - and that could be the difference in this fight. Dodson was able to hurt Johnson in their fight in January with power punches that stunned the champion. Unfortunately, Dodson's gas tank wasn't up to par and it came back to bite him as the rounds moved forward. If Benavidez can play a smart, tactical stand up game and not end up chasing after Johnson, he should be able to put together just enough to pull off a decision this time. The key for Johnson is to get him running and then he will look to do the same thing as their last fight and it ends with the title still around his waist.
URIJAH FABER VS. MICHAEL MCDONALD
Both Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald hope that with a win on UFC on FOX 9 a title shot is looming on the horizon. Faber is a perennial contender who has never lost in a non-title bout, so the odds are automatically on his side based on history. Meanwhile, McDonald has looked simply unstoppable outside of his one loss to Renan Barao and he's racked up more finishes than any fighter in the UFC's bantamweight division. Plus, he holds a 87.5 percent finishing rate in his career.
There honestly isn't much separating these two fighters in terms of weaknesses so the winner in this one really needs to focus on his strengths. McDonald is a slick submission artist, but at the heart of it all he's a knockout puncher with possibly the most power in the entire division. Faber is the master of winning scrambles against opponents. If he can get someone dodging and ducking his strikes or takedown attempts, at some point Faber will get them locked up in a bad position where it usually means the end is coming soon.
If this fight gets finished during the course of three rounds, the safer bet is McDonald, who does employ the kind of striking to put anyone's lights out, including Faber. On the other side, Faber's ability to stay tough in every fight he's involved in while attempting to get McDonald to play to his style could make all the difference. It's hard to bet against Faber in his hometown in a non-title fight because he's never lost in that situation, and through a 35 fight career, that's a pretty good average to depend upon. Look for Faber to vary his attacks with inside punches and takedowns to keep McDonald off balance to win a decision. If Faber struggles early and can't get McDonald to back up, it could be a short night for “The California Kid.”
CHAD MENDES VS. NIK LENTZ
Jose Aldo is far and away defined as the best featherweight in the world and the champion at 145 pounds, but if there is a close second it's Chad Mendes. Over his last four fights, Mendes has become a wrecking machine, closing out all of his opponents by knockout or TKO. This is all coming from a fighter a few years ago who was primarily known as a wrestler, and given the fact that he still holds the record for the most takedowns in featherweight history, that's a pedigree he keeps in his back pocket.
On the other side of the Octagon stands Nik Lentz, who is also a wrestler with a grinding style that can wear opponents down to a nub by the end of the fight. Since making his debut in 2009, no fighter has more takedowns in the UFC than Lentz and he averages almost 12 takedown attempts per fight. He's also tough as nails, and while he’s been on the losing end of two doctor-recommended stoppages, he’s never been knocked out.
That might change come Saturday night in Sacramento. Mendes is on another level right now in terms of his skill level and while he will surely have to stave off Lentz's relentless takedown attempts, as the fight wears on his confidence will grow. Mendes was a national runner-up in Division I wrestling, so his grappling is top notch. Expect Mendes to frustrate Lentz by not giving up the takedown and then unleashing his powerful hands in the right combination to put a stop to this fight before the final horn sounds.
JOE LAUZON VS. MAC DANZIG
Joe Lauzon and Mac Danzig will open up the card at UFC on FOX 9 with both fighters desperately in need of consistency after recent setbacks. Lauzon and Danzig both boast a similar 1-3 record in their last four fights and this bout is as important as any they've had in the UFC thus far.
On paper, Danzig has turned into more of a striker lately, looking for combinations with his standup and largely abandoning any kind of wrestling or grappling game. That's not the case for Lauzon, who is a jiu-jitsu fighter at heart who loves a good submission. The fighters are pretty evenly matched, but Lauzon's intangibles make him a virtual lock on this fight card.
Lauzon's scrambles on the ground are unparalleled. He has the ability to lock up a submission from anywhere and he's dangerous no matter whether he's on top or bottom. Danzig's 48.9 percent takedown defense doesn't help much in this fight, so look for Lauzon to dive for ankles, legs or the clinch to drag his opponent to the mat and start fishing for the finish. If Lauzon can get Danzig down early it could be curtains for the former Ultimate Fighter winner, because with little sweat to help slip out of submissions, the grappling game gets awfully tricky during those few minutes.