Can’t quite seem to care about Saturday’s inaugural Flyweight title fight? FanSided’s Elton Hobson explains why Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez may be the most important – and exciting – fight of the night.
I started off this article as another run of the mill UFC 152 preview, focusing on the Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez flyweight world title fight.
Honest, I did.
But the more I thought about it, the more I felt a rant coming on. See, this fight (the original main event of UFC 152 pre-Jon Jones image meltdown) is seriously flying under the MMA fan’s radar. And that’s a crying shame for a bunch of reasons – which, lucky for you, I’ll get into right now.
So yes, this will be a preview – but it will also be more than that. It will be an impassioned plea for you to divert your attention, if only for a short while, away from the Jon Jones/Vitor Belfort freak show or the nationalistic chest beating that’s sure to accompany the Stann/Bisping bout.
I get why this fight isn’t a big deal to most fans. I do. Over the last year and change, the UFC has introduced two new weight classes – featherweight and bantamweight – with mixed success. Yes, there has certainly been some great fights (more on that later) but that hasn’t been accompanied by huge PPV buys, solid TV ratings, or massive amounts of fan recognition.
Case in point: Jose Aldo is perhaps a top 3 pound-for-pound fighter in all of MMA. Drop his name in any average, MMA-watching North American sports bar though, and you’ll get more than a few confused looks. I’m not trying to rag on the feather and bantamweights here by any means – they are still relatively new weight classes, and need time to establish themselves in the minds of fans.
My point is that between the introduction of two new weight classes and the increased amount of cards the UFC puts on in the Fox era, I can forgive fans for being able to keep up. This is especially true if you consider that both Aldo and Dominick Cruz were “gifted” their UFC titles. Yes, both these guys were WEC champions and acknowledged #1′s in their respective divisions. But only the most devoted of MMA fans followed the WEC. For everyone else, they were simply told by Dana White one day that these guys were UFC champions.
And yet, we’re about to get ANOTHER UFC world title (and weight division) added to the docket this Saturday night. The initial impulse from the casual MMA fan is likely to shrug your shoulders and go back to talking about how arrogant and phony Jon Jones is.
Yet if you were confused by the introduction of the feather and bantamweights (or just didn’t care) you’re in luck here. This title won’t be “gifted” to anybody – in fact, we’ve already followed the flyweight title tournament (such that it is) for months.
And this Saturday night, the first ever UFC flyweight championship will be awarded in the cage, not bestowed at a press conference. Casual fans can get in at the very start of a title lineage instead of having to play catch-up. And I truly believe this fight playing second fiddle to the Jon Jones show will do wonders for the flyweight’s exposure in their inaugural championship outing.
This flyweight title tournament has already given us a possible “Fight of the Year” contender in the first Ian McCall vs. Demetrious Johnson fight. Their rematch was nearly as good. And on the other side of the bracket, Joseph Benavidez has looked utterly unstoppable.
And therein lies another – possibly the only – reason to care about Saturday’s title fight: it’s going to be awesome. I know, this is MMA, and “anything can happen”, but I don’t think even the most jaded of MMA fans and analysts can look at this fight and think “meh, should be a snoozer”.
I’ve always been a fan of “Mighty Mouse” Demetrious Johnson, Even if he wasn’t one of the most dynamic, exciting guys at bantam/flyweight, I’d still have to give him props for having such a funny (and fitting) name. At only 5’3, Johnson was considered small for the bantamweight division, which is saying something. And yet he compiled a 5-2-1 record at that weight during his WEC/UFC tenure.
What’s more, few fighters have looked as dynamic and well-rounded at the lighter weights than Johnson. Under the tutelage of Matt Hume, Johnson has evolved into the complete fighter. He combines blinding speed, solid standup skills, explosive and fluid wrestling and fight-finishing ability in the submission game. He also is aggressive, smart, and has gas for hours. If you’re an MMA fan, I don’t see how all those things can’t combine into somebody who’s a must watch.
And the hype isn’t any dimmer on Joseph Benavidez – if anything, he’s riding even higher than Johnson. He comes into this fight with a 16-2 record, with both those losses coming to reigning 135-pound champion Dominick Cruz. The Team Alpha Male prospect looked absolutely devastating in his tournament bout against Yasuhiro Urushitani, combing power wrestling, good striking, and relentless pressure in a package that would make mentor Urijah Faber proud.
This will be the “Fight of the Night” at UFC 152. Count on it.
But more than that, it will be the first ever title fight at flyweight. It will be historically significant, no matter who wins or how.
These are the fighters who will be making highlight reels and winning “Fight of the Night” bonuses in the near future. My advice is to get in on the ground floor.