Coming off of a highly successful event in Australia which featured arguably the greatest heavyweight fight ever seen, the UFC is traveling to Sacramento for one of its largest free television events of the year. The main event features a rematch of the inaugural flyweight title match between current (and so far only) champion Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez. The co-main event is a bantamweight bout between Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald that could have major title implications. The main card took a large hit when it was revealed just a few days ago that Matt Brown suffered a back injury and was forced to pull out of his match with Carlos Condit. It was the favorite to win FOTN, but even without that bout on the card (or the originally schedule lightweight title tilt of Anthony Pettis and Josh Thomson), it promises to be a night full of competition and excitement.
Now that we've gotten the fairly standard and somewhat boring introduction out of the way, lets get to the meat and potatoes of the article.
(C) Demetrious Johnson (18-2-1) vs. Joseph Benavidez (19-3), Flyweight
The first time that these two fought the match had pretty much everything that you could look for in a match. Awesome grappling exchanges, solid striking, and some near finishes. And yet somehow the crowd was booing the match. Alas, it is likely that fans will never truly appreciate the talents and abilities of the smaller fighter, but the UFC is going to continue to give the fans their title fights for free... and I'm all for it. Johnson and Benavidez are clearly the #1 and #2 fighters in the division and there will be little if any doubt who is the best in the division after this bout. And as good as the first bout was I actually expect this one to be better. Both have exhibited improvement in their games since then which indicates that this fight should be taken to another level.
Johnson has been dubbed with the title of the fastest fighter in MMA and it is a well deserved title. But while the casual fan can easily notice his speed, it is his technical striking, beautiful footwork, and high fight IQ that have put the belt around his waist. He shows improvement with every fight that he is in. Don't believe me? Look at the difference between his fights with Ian McCall. McCall damn near finished him the first time around and looked like he was stuck in the mud in their next bout. The amount of time that passed between those bouts... 3 months. This guy is a true student of the game. His title defenses have been steadily more impressive as well. He weathered some knockdowns early in his fight with John Dodson to take the last few rounds without controversy and wore down John Moraga before submitting him in the fifth round. He doesn't possess KO power and never will, but he will likely outland his opponent with a punches in bunches style and a nice mix of kicks. He also has a solid wrestling background. He has been overpowered at times in this department, but if his opponent isn't using solid technique, he will easily outgrapple them.
Benavidez has often been considered to be one of the best fighters in the UFC to never have held a title. He came up short in his bid against Dominick Cruz in the WEC as well in the first encounter with Johnson. Similar to Johnson, Benavidez original background started with wrestling and he has done a solid job of utilizing it in his time in the WEC/UFC. There were times in the first match with Johnson that he showed his power with both his striking (he rocked Johnson) and his wrestling. But he was outlanded by Johnson who showed better technicality in his striking. Since then though, Benavidez has won his last 2 fights by KO/TKO in impressive manner as Team Alpha Male's new head coach Duane Ludwig has produced results for numerous fighters in his camp. The big change? Better technicality in the striking department. Benavidez had power before and now he is simply accentuating it. He also is the owner of one of the most vaunted guillotine chokes in the game, but it should be noted that Johnson was able to work his way out of a very deep one in their last encounter.
It is often said that hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work hard. That didn't necessarily happen last time. It was more along the lines of intelligently working hard beating hard working talent. Benavidez has been looking smarter in the Octagon lately, and I include his improved striking in there as well. I also expect Johnson to be an improved fighter though. So which was to go? For all of his quickness, Johnson has gotten caught at times (see Benavidez, Dodson) and I expect it to happen again in this fight. But I expect it to end the fight this time. Benavidez by KO 3rd Round
Urijah Faber (29-6) vs. Michael McDonald (16-2), Bantamweight
Considering this is another lighter weight class, I don't think enough of the audience will truly appreciate how awesome this co-main event is going to be. This match truly represents the old guard trying to maintain their spot at the top of the division against the young gun trying to stake his claim at the top. This is going to be fun.
Faber is the biggest star to enter the UFC as a result of the WEC crossover and has done everything that the UFC expected him to do... except win a title. Faber rattled off 6 straight wins in title matches once he entered the WEC. Since his title defense against Mike Thomas Brown in November 2008, he has lost 5 straight title matches. The good news from that? He hasn't lost a fight that didn't have a title on the line. Faber has an extensive grappling background and will have the advantage on the ground on this fight. He uses his wrestling to get a favorable position to sink in a choke as 14 of his 16 submission wins have come via guillotine or RNC. He is also very strong at bantamweight and has not been outgrappled yet since his drop there. He hasn't exhibited one-punch KO power, but has solid striking that rarely permits a major blow to be landed on him either.
McDonald is only 22 years old but has already received a title shot in the UFC. A well deserved one too as he proved by looking more competitive against Renan Barao than anyone else has in the Octagon. Though it was a setback, McDonald came back looking more impressive than ever brutalizing Brad Pickett in the first round before securing an awesome triangle choke, showing that there is more to his game than just awesome striking. But wow... how awesome is that striking! His kickboxing background is well exhibited every time he steps in the Octagon and he is a more patient striker than people realize. He doesn't always go for the finishing blow, often waiting for the appropriate time to pull the trigger for the kill. Once he does pull the trigger its hard to find someone in the weight class that hits harder.
Faber will want this fight on the ground and McDonald will want to stand. So the winner of this one is going to be who can best implement their game plan. Faber has a lot more experience and never loses non-title fights. But McDonald showed a lot of improvement last time out and seems to have learned a lot from his experience in the Octagon with Barao. He also showed solid submission defense in that bout and I think that will be the biggest difference. McDonald by Decision
This match holds great importance in the division as it is plausible that the winner of this match could receive the next title shot against Jose Aldo. In other words, keep your eyes on this one as well.
Mendes has been considered by most to be the 2nd best featherweight in the world for quite a while now. So why isn't he fighting Aldo on Super Bowl weekend? He came up short in his attempt to take the title from Aldo two years ago due to a devastating KO where his face met Aldo's knee. Since then he has been on an absolute tear. Mendes has always possessed swarming wrestling he honed at Cal Poly in college and picked up the majority of his wins via decision using that. But he has accentuated that by adding devastating strikes under the tutelage of Duane Ludwig and has finished all four of his opponents since that time by KO/TKO, three of them within a round and the fourth was Clay Guida whom had never previously been stopped by strikes. As with all Team Alpha Male fighters he possesses solid chokes but has preferred to keep fights standing as of late.
Lentz had lost two in a row (three if you count the submission loss to Charles Oliveira that was later changed to a No Contest) at the beginning of 2012. He decided to drop to featherweight and has looked extremely impressive since. He tore through Eiji Mitsuoka, dominated former Top 10 fighter Diego Nunes for all three rounds, and did the same to Hacran Dias before withstanding a last round rally from Dias. Lentz was a fairly strong lightweight and that strength is accentuated even more at featherweight. His base is wrestling, which he did at the University of Minnesota. Fans have often complained his control and grinding style is quite boring (and I won't really argue with them), but it has brought him great success thus far. He's also shown improvement in his Brazilian jiu-jitsu as of late, but is far from a Demian Maia threat on the ground.
Mendes is heavily favored and Lentz realizes that a win here could vault him to the top of the contenders list so he has plenty of motivation. So does Mendes though. Aldo has largely dismissed him as a potential opponent due to already beating him. With this match being on live TV, I expect Mendes will want to not just win, but make a statement and win in style. Mendes by TKO 2nd Round
Lauzon is a massive fan favorite due to his tendency to get involved in crowd pleasing affairs. Though his last fight against Michael Johnson is a poor example of that penchant, just about any other fight he has participated in under the UFC banner will work. He is tied for the UFC record with 12 post fight awards to illustrate that. Perhaps an even better indication is his fight with Jim Miller where he poured buckets of blood and never gave in before dropping the decision. Lauzon will keep coming until he can't come no more. His bread and butter is his submission game which he has used to accumulate 18 of his victories. But his striking game is nothing to sleep on as he can KO a foe (see Jens Pulver) or use it to set up a submission (see Melvin Guillard). Another note worth mentioning is that he has never won a fight that has gone to decision.
Danzig isn't exactly ancient, but he is an extremely savvy and tough fighter. My most lasting impression of him is when Efrain Escudero sank a DEEP heel hook on him which he was able to wiggle free from and win the fight despite his ankle swelling to twice its normal size by the end. The problem is that is his only win in his last four fights. Danzig has been in the game for 12 years at this point and its possible the wear and tear is catching up to him as he doesn't seem to possess the same physical abilities he once had. For example, we all know a chin can erode and Danzig suffered one of the most brutal KO's I've ever seen in his last bout. Yes, it was Melvin Guillard who delivered that KO and Melvin is probably the most powerful puncher in the division... but the end result still had me scared for Danzig. Aside from that, Danzig has a good at everything but great at nothing game. He can still pull off a submission or even a KO though.
Both fighters are in desperate need of a win here. Lauzon may get cut with a loss and its a virtual guarantee that Danzig will. Lauzon will come out on fire here though. His back is against the wall and I'm positive he wants to make up for his lackluster performance against Johnson. Remember what he did to Guillard when he was underestimated? Or to Gabe Ruediger after Ruediger talked trash? Or even Jens Pulver. Lauzon was motivated then. He is motivated now. Lauzon by Submission 1st Round
Entering this year, LaFlare had not competed in a match since 2010 due to a slew of injuries. Now that he is finally recovered, he is looking for his fourth win of the year and his third in the UFC. LaFlare played lacrosse in college in addition to developing his MMA base in wrestling. He has used that effectively, landing 11 takedowns in his two UFC bouts, which were largely grinding affairs. He did show solid standup in his last fight with Santiago Ponzinibbio landing a solid knockdown late in the fight but was unable to put him away. He has also shown great cardio in his bouts going strong to the final bell in both and owns a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Though he has yet to finish a fight in the UFC, none of his previous fights before entering the Octagon had gone to decision with 4 KO/TKO's and 3 submissions.
McGee's biggest strengths are his toughness (never been finished in his career), stamina, and punches in bunches style that wears down his opponents. He has only had one match out of seven in which he failed to land more than 50 significant strikes to his opponent and that match (his debut) was ended in the second round. His base is also in wrestling, having done so in high school, and largely uses it in reverse to keep the fight standing with excellent takedown defense. He seems to have found a home at welterweight after initially entering the UFC at middleweight, but was outmuscled by larger opponents such as Costa Philippou and Nick Ring. Having moved down, that no longer seems to be a problem, though oddly enough his takedown percentage has actually dropped since the move. Though he does prefer to keep the fight standing, he is more than capable on the ground, owning a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and 7 submission victories as well.
LaFlare has been getting a lot of hype as an up-and-comer in the division and I won't say he doesn't deserve any attention. But McGee should continue to make noise in his new division and pepper LaFlare with continual shots and earn a victory. McGee by Decision
In many respects it feels as though Barboza has become a forgotten man since Jamie Varner derailed the hype train he was riding last year. Since that loss he has won twice in brutal fashion, knocking down Lucas Martins with a brutal counter left before forcing him to submit due to strikes and then had Rafaello Oliveira finished with devastating leg kicks, the second time he has done that in his career. He has shown good takedown defense throughout his career with a solid sprawl, but has also shown to be in trouble once he is on the ground as largely illustrated by Varner's game plan to floor Barboza (as well as the rest of the MMA world with surprise) and snatch the victory. Barboza is still just 27 and young enough that his best days are still ahead of him.
Castillo is another member of Team Alpha Male appearing on the card and like his teammates is vaunted for his wrestling which he crafted in high school and college, earning NAIA All-American in 2004. Though not as vaunted for his chokes as his teammates, Castillo might be more versatile overall in the submission game. He is a solid boxer as well, but usually uses his boxing to set up his takedowns, which he is guaranteed to try and do with Barboza. Castillo has a bad tendency to slow down as the fight goes on and needs to make sure his gas tank doesn't hit empty. Otherwise, there isn't an obvious weakness in his game. But then again, he doesn't have a glaring strength (compared to the rest of the field) either.
Castillo is going to get this fight on the ground. He will win a round or two and gas and then Barboza will finish him. Anyone remember the spinning back kick to Terry Etim? Maybe not that awesome, but I think it will be a highlight reel. Barboza by KO 3rd Round
Healy is a longtime veteran of the sport having spent the majority of his career at welterweight. He has found great success at lightweight, turning himself from a journeyman to a standout as a result, losing only to Josh Thomson and Khabib Nurmagomedov while racking up 8 wins. It would be nine, but Healy perfectly exhibited his occasional tendency for mental lapses as his best win against Jim Miller was overturned due to a failed drug test. He is good at getting the fight to the ground (so long as his opponents isn't name Nurmagomedov) and has an ugly yet effective submission game in which over half of his victories have come, many by RNC. Even though his opponents know what is coming, Healy has proven difficult to stop and usually accomplishes his goal. His standup is very basic, largely relying strictly on boxing, but has looked better and better as of late.
Green loves to stand and strike and has a fair amount of power in his hands. However, he is on a 6 fight winning streak in which half of those victories have come by submission showing an improving grappling game, not that he was ever slouch owning a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Despite this improvement, Green rarely looks to take the fight to the ground and is very effective at keeping it standing as well. His striking is well-rounded mixing dangerous kicks (just ask James Krause... poor guy) with solid boxing. Perhaps his best attribute is his fearlessness as shown by not being afraid to go to the ground with well-renowned grappler and grinder Jacob Volkmann and pulling out a beautiful RNC.
This fight is similar to the last fight: Healy will want it on the ground. Green will want it standing. Both of these men have shown great resolve so it is likely to be a fight of wills. I see Healy's determination to get his first official UFC win being the deciding factor. Healy by Submission 2nd Round
Makovsky, a former Bellator bantamweight Champion, is making his UFC debut on short notice against a very tough opponent in Jorgensen. He won't be mistaken for anything other than a wrestler, which he (like many others mentioned on here) did so in college. He also owns a couple of gold medals from the World Grappling Championships. He largely used his quickness to come out on top of scrambles and to outgrapple his opponents to win the Bellator title and though that is likely somewhat negated since his drop to flyweight, he is still faster than most. He has proven the cut hasn't hurt him as he has two solid decision victories, including a 5 rounder less than a month ago showing good stamina.
Jorgensen is a long-time staple in the bantamweight division for the UFC/WEC, receiving a title shot against Dominick Cruz in Dec. 2010. He has fallen on hard times though, dropping 3 of his last 4 which instigated his drop to flyweight. He has earned a reputation as one of the toughest competitors around, having only been KO'd by Eddie Wineland. He is also versed in wrestling, earning 3 Pac-10 titles at Boise St. As opposed to Makovsky, strength is the key to Jorgensen's wrestling as well as vicious GNP. He has been known to slug it out with usually good results due to his solid chin (Wineland fight biggest exception) and good striking defense. He could mix up his striking a bit more to include some kicks or muay thai, but do I really know how good he is at those?
This will be Jorgensen's flyweight debut and he isn't exactly getting a cupcake to devour. Makovsky has been one of the best flyweights not in the UFC for a while a could walk out with a W. But he won't. Jorgensen is tough to finish and to strong for Makovsky to handle. He'll grind out the former Bellator champ. Jorgensen by Decision
If there is a fighter more frustratingly maddening than Stout, please spare me from laying my eyes on him. Stout has looked like a title contender at times (he largely made Joe Lauzon look silly at UFC 108) and other times makes you believe he just got called up from the regional circuit and has debut jitters. Stout throws a lot of punches and though he doesn't land a high percentage, he does hit his opponent a lot due to the sheer number of strikes using a variety of punches and kicks to all parts of the body. Though he is called 'Hands of Stone,' he only owns one UFC KO/TKO victory. He prefers to keep it on the feet and usually can do so. He has shown basically zero submission offense, so he isn't a threat on the ground.
McKenzie shows how far a fighter can go if he is really only good at just one thing. He may just have the most devastating guillotine choke in the business, but little else has been exhibited. His striking has improved in his time in the UFC, but not to the point that it truly is UFC caliber. He still looks very stiff and awkward. He does exhibit sound (but not great) striking defense, but maybe thats just me remembering Leonard Garcia's wild throws in his last fight. He hasn't learned how to stop a takedown either.
Its hard not to like McKenzie for his heart... but that will only take you so far and there is a chance that this is the end of the road. Stout doesn't want to go to the ground so it won't go there. He'll pick apart McKenzie with a variety of strikes. Stout by Decision
This is a rematch as the previous match accounted for the No Contest of each of their records. Trujillo accidentally kneed Bowling in the head while he was on the ground. Before that it was a damn good scrap.
Bowling's game plan always consists of coming out swinging and if things aren't going his way he'll try to take it to the ground. He is capable of that as he owns alright takedowns, but he has gotten caught in a few of those exchanges as he often gets caught up in the slugfest and drops his hands and ended up taking a nap. He is a capable boxer, having participated in some amateur matches and has some solid kicks as well. He is certainly talented enough to stick around the UFC for a while, but he needs to begin to implement smart game plans.
Trujillo looked great in his UFC debut against Marcus LeVesseur, looked like a rag doll against Khabib Nurmagomedov, and solid in the first match against Bowling. Trujillo has solid striking and some devastating knees, which actually ended his match against LeVesseur. Though he hasn't implemented it much, he is capable of taking his opponent down, but against a powerful lightweight (see the Nurmagomedov fight) he can be taken to the ground at will.
Bowling has more ability between the two... he just needs to learn to implement a solid game plan. I'm going to guess that he puts in enough strategy to pull out a win and is certainly big and strong enough to put Trujillo out. Bowling by TKO 1st Round
Ozkilic was a 2-time NJCAA wrestling All-American and was a Turkish national Greco Wrestling champion. While that might sound impressive, remember that junior college is... well, junior college and try to recall the last standout Turkish wrestler. Either way, Ozkilic is actually a solid wrestler and is capable of getting the fight to the ground and maintaining solid top control. His striking hasn't ever seemed to be anything special... but he did pick up an impressive TKO victory over Antonio Banuelos in 30 seconds in his last fight. Sign of improvement? Could be and I think it is. He seems to be improving with just about every fight.
Uyenoyama is all about the ground game. He owns a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and won multiple jiu-jitsu tournaments before his conversion to MMA. He isn't very strong, but is very quick and extremely efficient in transitions. His striking is rather rudimentary and won't win him any fights. If he can use it to get the fight to the ground he'll be happy. Some may think he is chinny since Joseph Benavidez blasted him in their last bout, but that has been the only bout that he has lost to KO/TKO and Benavidez hits as hard as any flyweight. He isn't a horrible wrestler, but game isn't exactly UFC caliber.
Ozkilic will have a definitive advantage on the feet and likely will try to keep the fight there as a result. Not sure how exciting this match will be, but I see it going the distance. Ozkilic by Decision
I welcome any comments that label me a genius or an idiot... I expect more of the latter than the former though.