The UFC finally returns to big FOX with a damaged card, but one still intriguing nevertheless. It's almost Team Alpha Male versus The World and truly puts to the test whether Duane Ludwig has had an impact on the team to the point where they can finally claim a UFC title.
Is Urijah Faber ready to take another step towards a bantamweight title shot? Does Chad Mendes have what's required to give Jose Aldo (or Ricardo Lamas) a run for their money? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.
What: UFC on Fox 9: Johnson vs. Benavidez
Where: Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, Calif.
When: Saturday, the one-fight Facebook card starts at 4:30 p.m. ET, the six-fight Fox Sports 1 card starts at 5 p.m. and the four-fight main card starts on FOX at 8 p.m.
For all the improvement I believe Benavidez has made, I'm not sure there's enough ground to cover the distance between he and Johnson. It's true Benavidez is the better power puncher, but that's nothing he hasn't seen before. Benavidez cannot thump like John Dodson. And while Benavidez is a superb scrambler, Johnson writes the book on the matter. Long story short, Benavidez is a sensational fighter with incredible ability. But with a guy like Johnson who can adjust on the fly - a guy who is difficult to build momentum on - I'm not sure where Benavidez can get ahead.
By far, this is the most intriguing fight on the card. Ultimately, I side with Faber. He's faced heavy punchers before and found a way around it. I deeply admire McDonald's skill, but I'm not sure what he can add at this point to really get Faber off of his game. Obviously a guy like McDonald who can thump like he can makes life difficult for anyone. For now, though, Faber deserves to be respected as the favorite for his ability to mix it up en route to a decision or a potential stoppage.
This is my second-favorite fight on the card. I favor Mendes now and before, but Lentz talks a game that makes you rethink it. Here's the deal. I want to believe him. I'd love to believe him. But as much as he undermines Mendes' experience and ability, he's done more at this weight class than Lentz. Mendes is the favorite for a reason. Until Lentz proves otherwise, this is Mendes' fight to lose.
I like Danzig, but I have a hard time seeing how he can slow down Lauzon's offense enough to separate it. That is, in terms of pure striking, Danzig has enough to hang with Lauzon. And on the floor in just pure jiu-jitsu terms, Danzig is a black belt who even in MMA contexts can avoid Lauzon's subs. But what Lauzon does is attack you with one dimension of the game to get you thinking about the other and switches between them until he catches you slipping. I have my doubts Danzig can stand up to that kind of speed chess game.
From the preliminary card: