Benavidez tops flyweights in SI.com's March MMA rankings
Big news in the UFC. Well, actually, it's rather small news.
OK, I'll lay off the size wisecracks and simply let you know that with the behemoth fight promotion launching its flyweight tournament at Friday night's UFC on FX event in Sydney, Australia (9 p.m. ET, FX), it's time for SI.com to add the 125-pound weight division to our monthly rankings. Sure, we could wait to see what happens in this weekend's two semifinal bouts, then introduce the crème de la fly crème next month. But like a thrill-a-second mixed martial artist, we're not about to sit back and play it safe. We're just boldly going for it.
So who's No. 1 in our newly minted flyweight rankings? It's someone you'll recognize from our bantamweight Top 3. Joseph Benavidez has long been ranked among the elite 135-pounders, and for good reason. He's 15-2 as a smallish man in that weight class, and both of his losses came against bantam champ Dominick Cruz -- which is to say, Joseph is unbeaten against mortals lacking superhuman prowess. Benavidez faces Yasuhiro Urushitani in one semi Friday night, and in the other, Demetrious Johnson takes on Ian McCall. Then there's the main event, which pits a couple of guys looking to not get pushed out the door of welterweight relevancy, Martin Kampmann and Thiago Alves.
Benavidez is actually one of two new No. 1s this month. The other, as you might expect, is Benson Henderson, who dethroned lightweight champ Frankie Edgar last Saturday night in Tokyo. Nothing will earn you an upgrade in the rankings like having a shiny brass-and-leather belt put around your waist.
Two brand new top dogs? That
The UFC would like to have Dos Santos make the first defense of his belt against Overeem in the main event of UFC 146, expected to take place May 26 in Las Vegas. But nothing has been announced yet, with the new champ still healing from knee surgery. As for Velasquez, he's being penciled in against another ex-champ, Frank Mir. That's what UFC co-owner and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta revealed last month via Twitter, although the date of that heavy-handed clash has yet to be determined.
Jones is indomitable, for sure, but I'm starting to believe Evans when he exudes calm confidence during the buildup to next month's title fight in Atlanta. Rashad is the one guy in this weight class who's immune to the "Bones" mystique, having regularly rolled with the dynamic manchild during their time together in Greg Jackson's training camp. So he won't be a beaten man even before he steps in the cage. As for what will happen once the chain link door closes, well, I don't know if Evans can beat Jones, but he does have the all-around game and mental toughness to give the champ his toughest test yet.
Is Sonnen under a gag order or something? We've heard hardly a peep from him since his rematch with Silva was booked for UFC 147 in Brazil. Maybe Chael has used up all of his good seriocomic material. After all, he's been talking about "The Spider" pretty much since the moment their first bout ended a year and a half ago, and over time he ramped up his rhetoric both in its venom and its persistence to the point where, well, maybe there's nothing left to say. I'm fine with that. Just fight.
Condit's slim win over Diaz at UFC 143 enabled him to leapfrog the surly Californian both in the Dana White Athletic Club's pecking order and SI.com's. Nick falls no farther than to No. 3 here ... at least at this point. If his positive test for pot stands up in a Nevada State Athletic Commission hearing and he's suspended for a year, his status in this ranking will go up in smoke. But as a fighter, he belongs here. Then again, had Jake Ellenberger been more dominant in his win over Diego Sanchez at the recent UFC on Fuel TV event, he would have had a shot at jumping in.
Call it a "Smooth" transition. By beating Edgar last Saturday night, Henderson earned the right to hold up his index finger in a No. 1 signal. Frankie doesn't fall far, because that was a close loss, and Maynard slips down into a No. 3 position that's hotly contested. Jim Miller and his May 5 opponent, Nate Diaz, have their eye not so much on that spot as the top of the weight class, as does Anthony Pettis, especially after Saturday night's sudden, spectacular shin-to-chin knockout of Joe Lauzon. And Gilbert Melendez is still waiting for someone of consequence to step into the Strikeforce cage with him.
For the last few months, Hioki had the No. 3 spot on reputation alone. The former champion of two Japanese promotions, Shooto and Sengoku, wasn't so impressive in his UFC debut in October, winning a disputed judges' decision over George Roop. However, last Saturday in Tokyo we saw the real Hioki. He twisted a tough Bart Palaszewski into knots on the mat for the better part of two of their bout's three rounds, nearly finishing him before settling for an admirable unanimous decision. I don't know that Aldo is shuddering, but at least there's a live challenger emerging.
Opportunity knocks in odd ways. The creation of a UFC flyweight division provided a boost not just for a bunch of 125 pounders but also a certain fighter 10 pounds heavier. With Benavidez having dropped down to the new weight class, that opens a spot in our Top 3 for Barão, who put on an eye-opening performance against Scott Jorgenson at UFC 143. The Brazilian looks like the guy to challenge the survivor of this summer's Cruz-Faber III.
Sometimes a loss feels like a win. That was the case when Johnson put up a feisty fight at bantamweight in October against Dominick Cruz, a performance that didn't earn him a victory but did secure him the No. 2 spot here. McCall's last loss was to "The Dominator," too, and since then he's had his own dominant performances. So let's see how things sort themselves out this weekend.
The Top 3 remains intact, but ... Well, if we had a No. 4 in these rankings, it would have been Frankie Edgar until last weekend. So now the guy standing next to the podium, tapping his toes impatiently, checking his watch and waiting for a spot to open up, has to be Aldo.