That’s right boys and girls, it’s time for another Yuletide edition of the Downes Side. I’m aware that MMA fans come from all different backgrounds, but whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I think we can all agree that Wham! has the power to transcend all denominations and seasons.
If you’re looking for pairings just as awe inspiring as Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael, look not further than UFC on FOX 9. Live from the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson defends his flyweight title against Joseph Benavidez. Johnson won a close split decision in their first meeting, but MMA is a lot like when your Cousin Eddie stops by for Christmas dinner -- anything can happen. The co-main event of the night has title implications as perennial contender and #2 ranked bantamweight Urijah Faber hopes for another shot if he can beat #3 ranked bantamweight Michael “Mayday” McDonald.
Joe Lauzon (22-9) vs Mac Danzig (22-11-1)
The main card begins in the lightweight division with two fighters trying to end prolonged losing streaks. Both Joe Lauzon and Mac Danzig have lost three of their four fights and another one here could be a worse present than that grandma who always gives you a pair of socks (wool, ugh!). A jiu-jitsu ace whose style always makes fights exciting, Lauzon’s aggressiveness sometimes borders on recklessness. Winner of the sixth season of The Ultimate Fighter, Mac Danzig is another all-around fighter with five career knockouts and 10 wins by submission.
Neither one of these fighters are exactly world class strikers, but you’d have to give a slight edge to Danzig, who has better defense capabilities. Lauzon has better submission skills, but it’s unsure if he has the wrestling to bring the fight to the mat. With such an evenly-matched fight, intangibles can make the difference. Having said that, the edge goes to Joe Lauzon. Why? He has the “it” factor. His last outing may have been a lackluster performance, but J-Lau normally rises to the occasion. Danzig will eventually wilt under Lauzon’s pressure and make a mistake. One mistake is all Lauzon will need to take this by submission in the third round.
Chad Mendes (15-1) vs Nik Lentz (26-5-2 1NC)
We drop down to featherweight for the first of three fights with title implications. After suffering the lone loss of his career against champion Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes has been money in the 145-lb division. He’s knocked out his last four opponents, including Clay Guida, who'd never been KOd until he met Mendes in August. Not to be outdone, Nik Lentz has been on a roll of his own since dropping to featherweight. Undefeated at his new weight class, fighting “The Carny” this past year has been about as smart as riding the Mind Scrambler after too much funnel cake.
Carnies may rank up next to Santa Claus in terms of their beloved status in society, but Mendes might have to change his nickname to Scrooge. Lentz has had some success, but fighting Mendes is a huge step up in competition from his previous opponents. Simply put, Mendes exceeds Lentz in every category. He’s a better athlete, better wrestler and now he’s a powerful boxer. This fight will play out like the aforementioned Guida/Mendes match. Lentz will press his opponent against the fence and smother him in the opening round. Come round two, though, that strategy will fail. Mendes has the power to end the fight with one punch and that’s exactly what he’ll do in the early stages of the second.
Urijah Faber (29-6) vs Michael McDonald (16-2)
We drop down to bantamweight for Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald. Always at the top of the division, Faber has won three straight since losing an interim title shot to Renan Barao. Faber softens up his opponents with a mix of boxing and wrestling, and then seals the deal with submissions. At only 22 years old, McDonald has already made a big impression in the division, his only UFC loss coming at the hands of -- you guessed it -- pesky interim king Renan Barao. Dangerous from any position, many consider him to have the greatest knockout power in the division.
Maybe A Fool Believes that this will be a boring fight, but no one with a brain thinks so. This is another extremely close matchup. Faber has capable striking, but he often makes tactical errors. McDonald is much more dynamic in his standup and strings combinations better. With regards to wrestling, Faber excels both defensively and offensively while McDonald is a bit more one-dimensional. "The California Kid" will pressure "Mayday" McDonald and keep him on his heels for the majority of the fight. This will allow Faber to get inside and take the fight to the ground. McDonald has great jiu-jitsu, but he won’t be able to get around Faber’s top game. Faber via unanimous decision.
Demetrious Johnson (18-2-1) Joseph Benavidez (19-3)
Time for the main event! The flyweight division may still be young, but Demetrious Johnson has taken it by storm. Not only has he scored the most takedowns, he’s also landed more strikes than anyone else. He defends his title for the third time after an exciting fifth-round finish of John Moraga in July. Joseph Benavidez didn’t waste any time earning another chance at the title after taking three straight, including knockout wins over Jussier da Silva and Darren Uyenoyama.
"Mighty Mouse" has looked great in his last few fights, but I fail to understand why people feel that he has the entire division on lockdown. With the exception of his rematch against Ian McCall, Johnson has looked vulnerable in all of his bouts at 125. He presents many difficulties for opponents, but he’s shown gaps in striking defense and his ability to hold opponents down after the takedown. In their first fight, Benavidez was always just slightly slower to the punch. Johnson got the jump on him, but now I think that he has the timing and countering ability to win. He’ll connect with a counter right and take the wind out of Johnson’s sails. He bought himself an early Christmas present already, but he gets a better one when he’s crowned UFC flyweight champion. Benavidez via UD.
That wraps up another Griswold approved edition of the Downes Side. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes. Also, don’t forget to list your own predictions, thoughts, gift ideas or favorite holiday songs on the page here. And don’t you dare mention that Taylor Swift abomination.
The Downes Side: UFC on FOX 9 Predictions
UFC/WEC veteran Dan Downes talks strategy and predictions for UFC on FOX 9, taking place Saturday, December 14.