Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.
MMA fans didn't exactly know what they were getting when Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez squared off in September 2012.(Getty Images).
Let's try this again. It went by so fast the first time, and surrounded by extraordinary circumstances, that it was underappreciated. How does history fly under the radar? When Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez meet inside the octagon at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif., on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, Fox), the UFC flyweight championship will be on the line. Again. But unlike their fight a little over a year ago, the first 125-pound title bout in the promotion's history, this one will not be overshadowed by another championship clash. And this time UFC fans will be more used to seeing the 125-pounders operate at the speed of light. The 27-year-old Johnson (18-2-1 overall, 6-1-1 in the UFC) became champion on Sept. 22, 2012, winning a split decision over Benavidez in the co-main event of UFC 152, the event in Toronto that was most remembered for light heavyweight champ Jon Jones's return after the UFC 151 cancelation fiasco. "Mighty Mouse" stands at No. 8 in the SI.com pound-for-pound fighter rankings and No. 7 in the UFC's media-voted tally. His last title defense was a dominant one. Back in late July, he outwrestled John Moraga for the better part of five rounds, and even while clearly up on the judges' scorecards, Johnson risked his positioning by going for a submission. He got it, finishing the challenger with an armbar with a little over a minute left in the final round. Benavidez (19-3, 6-1 UFC), No. 2 on the SI.com flyweight list and also behind only the champ in the UFC rankings, earned this shot at the belt with a first-round knockout of Jussier da Silva in September. It was the 29-year-old's second straight KO and third in his last four wins. (Maybe he can play off of that fistic power in updating his nickname from "Joe B-Wan Kenobi"?) He's lost only to champions -- Johnson and bantamweight belt holder Dominick Cruz (twice) -- and the first bout with "Mighty Mouse" was so, so close. In addition to the Fox network telecast of the four-fight main card, six prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (5 p.m. ET) and the card's other bout will stream on the UFC's Facebook and YouTube pages (4:30 p.m.).
Booooo! Hey, you two: Slow down so we can see what you're doing! The first part of that is an actual quote, if you'll allow me to go onomatopoeaic on you and write out the puzzling sound I heard while sitting at cageside during the co-main event of UFC 152. The rest of it is my fabrication, a vain attempt to understand, explain or rationalize what fans might have been thinking when they booed Johnson and Benavidez. The first flyweight title bout in UFC history was playing out as if on a DVR stuck in fast-forward, with fists and feet flying, collisions and near-misses and hands-on combat turning into a whirling eight-cornered square dance.
Yet it wasn't good enough for many in the crowd. There were some cheers, to be sure, but appreciation was not what echoed most resoundingly. Afterward, Dana White was furious. It was actually a bit comical (not to him) when the UFC poobah showed up at the postfight press conference with a message for any dissatisfied customers: "If you didn't like the flyweight fight, please, I'm begging you, don't ever buy another UFC pay-per-view again. I don't want your money. You're a moron. You don't like fighting. You don't appreciate talent." Saturday's fight is not on a PPV; it's the marquee event of a free fight night on the Fox network. (Perhaps White has learned that the customer is always right.) But even cageside ticket holders probably will make a good noise this time. By now, with the 125-pounders having been around for a bit, we're more accustomed to watching mixed martial arts at warp speed. And it doesn't hurt that Benavidez is a KO artist. He's fought and won three times in the 14 months since the first meeting with Johnson. Two of the victories were swarming finishes. "Mighty Mouse" has defended the belt twice, producing a Fight of the Night decision win and a Submission of the Night.
*Official weights announced at Friday's weigh-in (7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)
Other Numbers To Count On
18: Percentage of strikes landed by Joseph Benavidez in the first meeting, compared to 49 percent for Demetrious Johnson. The champ's number was typical, as he's landed at a 51-percent clip over his UFC career. But Benavidez had an unusually hard time finding his target; his UFC career percentage is 31 percent.
0: Takedowns on seven attempts by Benavidez in the first fight. Johnson was 5 of 10, with all of his takedowns (and attempts) coming in Rounds 4 and 5, the so-called championship rounds.
2: Submission attempts by Benavidez, to none by Johnson. Neither guillotine choke had the finishing touch, obviously.
Johnson becomes champion (by beating Benavidez)
Speed kills. Or enables one to avoid being killed. In this case, "killed" just means knocked out; we're not talking bloodsport here. And the guy with the speed is Johnson. Benavidez is fast, too, but he's like one of those other sprinters in the Olympic 100. They're all bolts of lightning, but they can't move like Bolt, Usain. If Johnson had the power of Benavidez, this might be a short fight. But it's the challenger who has the power, and "Mighty Mouse" will utilize those fast hands and feet to try to keep him off balance. And the champ will use his explosive wrestling chops to try to keep the challenger off his feet. Benavidez will benefit from having been in with Johnson before. You simply cannot prepare yourself in the gym for that speed. Now that he has the knowledge, the question is whether he can put it to use. Can he close the distance? Cut off the cage?
Johnson is the slight favorite, with a -130 money line (bet $100 to win $76.92) to Benavidez's +100 (bet $100 to win $110).
All of the numbers from the first fight were slanted Johnson's way, and there's nothing to suggest that he can't put on an encore performance. But the thing about Benavidez is that, unlike the champ, he doesn't need to outshine you for 25 minutes to beat you. Joseph needs only one second to go his way. I think it will this time. He's knocked out his last two opponents, tough guys both, and I think his time as champion has come. Benavidez by KO.
Demetrious Johnson was 5 of 10 on takedowns in the first fight, with all of them coming in Rounds 4 and 5. (Getty Images)
The Tweet Beat
Join the conversation about Johnson vs. Benavidez on Twitter. Track the hashtags #JohnsonBenavidez and #UFConFox9 to see who's tweeting what about Saturday's fight.
· Preliminary card (5 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): Court McGee vs. Ryan LaFlare, welterweight; Danny Castillo vs. Edson Barboza, lightweight; Bobby Green vs. Pat Healy, lightweight; Scott Jorgensen vs. Zach Makovsky, flyweight; Sam Stout vs. Cody McKenzie, lightweight; and Abel Trujillo vs. Roger Bowling, lightweight.
· Online prelim (4:30 p.m. ET, UFC's Facebook/YouTube pages): Darren Uyenoyama vs. Alptekin Ozkilic, flyweight.
· Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the main-card telecast on the Fox network as well as prelims on Fox Sports 1, Facebook, and YouTube. An hour-long postfight show begins at 11 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 2.
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