Right fighters in flyweight finale
Joseph Benavidez versus Demetrious Johnson was the flyweight fight tabbed as the inevitable UFC 125-pound tournament final. And though Ian McCall tried his best to prevent it, Benavidez-Johnson is the fight we'll get.
A packed calendar and avalanche of injuries likely means the first UFC flyweight title fight will happen sooner than later, which shouldn't elicit complaints from anyone. Thus far, flyweights have produced as advertised, delivering high-paced, expertly skilled, tactical, emotional MMA.
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Benavidez is the odds-on favorite (as he should be based on his stellar record at bantamweight and the way he tore apart Yasuhiro Urushitani in March) and his combination of speed, power and grappling ability makes him among the best packaged fighters in MMA.
But don't make the mistake of dismissing Johnson because of it. Mighty Mouse's quick-burst style and wrestling are proven commodities at this stage, too. He is capable of besting Benavidez in these areas, and could even win a scramble or two.
Yet over the course of the 25-minute fight, chances are much better that Benavidez hurts Johnson than the alternative. Punching power, that's Benavidez's clear advantage against Johnson, and was among the most sensible arguments why he came to the tournament favored to win it all.
Before turning our full attention to what's happening later this year, let's first recap Friday's UFC offering on FX, headlined, of course, by Johnson's points win against McCall.
The main card thankfully delivered quality MMA following a less-than- stellar stretch on the uninspired undercard.
UFC on FX 3 grades
The UFC has something special in Erick Silva, an explosive 27-year-old Brazilian mangler cut from the same cloth as Jose "Pele" Landi-Jons and Wanderlei Silva. Silva made a point against Charlie Brenneman. Strong wrestlers, of which there are several at the top of the welterweight division, are not his kyrptonite, at least not judging from how well Silva (14-2) handled Brenneman. Silva avoided takedowns, swarmed on offense and finished with a classic rear-naked choke -- leading many, including myself, wishing to see him return soon.
Former WEC champion Eddie Wineland was crisp from the outset against Scott Jorgensen, leading a piston of a right hand to close the show late in Round 2. Wineland (19-8) repeatedly connected with punches, especially his right, while fending off Jorgensen's takedowns and regaining his footing without any real problem. Wineland, 27, fought through a bad cut from a Jorgensen shot early in the second, not that he minds shedding blood, to hammer home the important victory. All in all, his best effort against a tough competitor.
Demetrious Johnson, also known as "Mighty Mouse," improved off his performance against Ian McCall in March, which is why he, not his tough competitor, advanced to the flyweight finals against Joseph Benavidez. Johnson, 25, showed a sense of purpose in his approach. He didn't simply move at McCall with speed, as he so often did in the first encounter. He mixed up angles, dropped levels and rarely moved straight ahead, which allowed him to dictate range and timing, preventing McCall from ducking under and taking turns fighting from the top. Most people will peg Benavidez as the favorite to beat Johnson (15-2-1), but I have a hard time imagining a lopsided result when they meet later this year.
Ian McCall (11-3) failed to rough up Johnson the way he wanted, although he fought with spirit and had some moments over the three-round fight. So, McCall's return to the UFC reads 0-1-1, but he's done much better for himself than that might suggest. The 27-year-old budding fan favorite was full of emotion, but it didn't translate to success. Because he was unable to put Johnson down, a major focus of his game plan was nullified. McCall found himself reaching on the feet, leading to him getting countered and dropped. Despite bowing out before the finals, it's clear McCall is a player at 125 pounds.
A sneaky short right from Mike Pyle sealed the deal against Josh Neer late in Round 1. The strike came against the run of play, as Neer appeared to be gaining momentum. Pyle wished to wrestle in the early going, and he did, using his strong ground work to score points. His craftiness lured Neer forward later in the round when Pyle wobbled around the cage, apparently hurt. In fact, he was not. Pyle was fine and he got what he wanted: Neer moving forward, striking and open. That's when Pyle, 36, dropped the tidy shot on Neer's chin. Victory means Pyle (23-8) has life in a deep welterweight pool. He needs the one thing he's never had: a signature win.
Josh Neer's streak of six straight ended when Pyle drove that right hand into the 29-year-old Iowan's jaw. He's an exciting fighter, but nonetheless flawed for lack of defense. Neer (33-11) just gets hit too much, and it doesn't take a big shot to put him away. He may hang around the UFC 170-pound division for a while, but I think we've seen the extent of how far he can climb up the promotion's championship ladder.
Charlie Brenneman, 31, didn't wilt under Erick Silva's pressure, he simply didn't have an answer for it. Takedowns were shut down, and that was that. The wrestler is hit and miss, having split his last six fights. That storybook result against Rick Story is now a distant memory. If Brenneman (15-4) can't do his thing on the floor, he's probably not going to win, especially against entities as dangerous as Silva.
As intense and tough as they come, Scott Jorgensen (13-6) finds himself scuffling. After a lopsided decision loss to Renan Barao, Jorgensen looked out of his class against Wineland. A lack of head movement, the inability to finish a takedown and overextending on strikes all made a difference in his two-round defeat on Friday. It's not quite time to put Jorgensen's name in "gatekeeper" territory, but the 29-year-old sure doesn't look like a top-of-the-food-chain bantamweight anymore.
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