MMA Review: #441: UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Benavidez II

-This was one of the more injury-hit cards of 2013 as it lost its top two fights in Carlos Condit vs. Matt Brown (Brown injured his back) and what would’ve been Anthony Pettis’ first Lightweight Title defense against Josh Thomson (Pettis blew his knee out). Zuffa scrambled and managed to get a solid replacement main event – moving Demetrious Johnson’s Flyweight Title defense against Joseph Benavidez from the TUF 18 Finale that took place a couple of weeks before this show (review coming soon!) – but I mean, while it was still a decent card, before the changes it looked like possibly the best one they’d put on Fox thus far. Injuries suck.

UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Benavidez II

12/14/13
Sacramento, California

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Lightweight Fight: Joe Lauzon vs Mac Danzig

This one got bumped to the main card when Condit/Brown was scrapped, and I don’t think anyone was really complaining as Joe Lauzon is usually one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC even if he hadn’t looked very good in his previous fight – a loss to Michael Johnson. Danzig meanwhile was desperate for a win following losses to Takanori Gomi and Melvin Guillard. My pick? Lauzon via RECKLESS AGGRESSION.

First round and they circle, both men throwing out punches that don’t quite land. Right hand from Lauzon sets up a clinch and from there he takes Mac down, landing in half-guard. Danzig’s got no sponsors on his shorts here which looks so weird. Lauzon tries to pass into full mount, but Danzig blocks it. Another attempt is successful and Lauzon rears up to land an elbow. He looks to drop into an armbar and goes to his back in an attempt to finish, but Mac shows some excellent defense and he escapes into Lauzon’s guard. Really impressive sub defense. Lauzon uses a full butterfly guard to look for a sweep, and then he throws up an armbar from his guard, but Danzig postures free. Lauzon transitions into a triangle attempt and from there he rolls for an oma plata, but Mac avoids and they come back to their feet in the clinch. Two minutes to go and they muscle for position before Lauzon separates with an elbow. Right hand sets up the clinch again for Danzig and he works a couple of knees to the body, but Lauzon turns him around again and forces him back into the fence. Takedown attempt from Danzig but Lauzon defends and stays upright. Nice trip from Lauzon and he plants Danzig on his back in guard. Nice hard elbows from Lauzon connect from the top. Round ends with Lauzon in the dominant position. Lauzon’s round as Danzig was forced to defend throughout.

Second round and Lauzon has quite the swelling on the left side of his head. Good leg kick to open the round for Mac. Couple of jabs follow as he tries to back Lauzon up. Couple of nice combinations land for Mac but Lauzon clinches. Hard elbow lands inside the clinch for Danzig. Danzig is getting the better of the striking from inside the clinch. Lauzon manages to fire back with a knee and they break. Good jab from Danzig. Crowd are booing and I have zero idea why as this is a perfectly decent fight. Danzig is really beginning to put some good strikes together. Back into the clinch and Mac muscles Lauzon into the fence. They exchange knees and short punches and uppercuts inside the clinch but Lauzon blocks a trip and winds up on top in guard. Couple of seriously nasty elbows get through for Lauzon and Danzig is busted wide open, blood absolutely pouring all over his face. Mac tries to fire back with elbows of his own, but they don’t land with the same impact as Lauzon’s and he passes into half-guard where he continues to drop elbows as well as land some short knees to Danzig’s body. Danzig manages to get butterfly guard back, but Lauzon postures up to drop a heavy right hand down into side mount. Full mount from Lauzon with ten seconds to go and he attempts the armbar again, but Mac survives the round. Closer round to begin but Lauzon dominated it late on so I have him up 20-18 going into the third.

Third round and they trade strikes to begin with neither man really gaining an advantage. Nice straight right from Danzig sets up a leg kick, but he takes an eye poke on his way back. Big John McCarthy calls time and it turns out it was apparently an accidental headbutt. They quickly restart with Danzig throwing a combo. Couple more combos land for Danzig but Lauzon clips him with an elbow and follows with a trip to guard. Nice ground-and-pound again from Lauzon and he passes into side mount and looks to set up the mounted crucifix. Hard elbows land for Lauzon from the position but Danzig manages to free himself. Lauzon switches to mount instead and opens up with some brutal elbows, forcing Mac to cover up. Looks like Lauzon’s setting up for a mounted triangle, or possibly an armbar. Indeed he goes for the armbar, but misses it again and that allows Danzig to get into top position in Joe’s guard. Lauzon rolls and Danzig grabs a front facelock, but Lauzon quickly reverses that and gets a takedown back into Danzig’s half-guard. Lot of blood coming from Mac’s face now. Lauzon into side mount now and he ends the fight with some more elbows. Got to be a 30-27 shutout for Lauzon.

Judges have it 30-27 all round for Joe Lauzon. No surprises there. Fight wasn’t quite up to the usual Joe Lauzon standard but to be fair that’s an insanely high standard so it certainly doesn’t mean it was bad or anything! Danzig actually fought well but took a LOT of damage when he was on the bottom which basically made the difference in the end. He’s since retired which is a fair decision I think as he wasn’t really going to be challenging for a title any time soon and he’s had plenty of UFC success so why end up pushing yourself to the point where you’re banged up for life ala Chris Leben?

Featherweight Fight: Chad Mendes vs Nik Lentz

After rolling over three solid opponents (Eiji Mitsuoka, Diego Nunes and Hacran Dias) since dropping to 145lbs, Lentz was clearly due a step up in competition and he was certainly greeted with one here in the form of the consensus #2 Featherweight in the world, Team Alpha Male’s Mendes, who was coming off an impressive knockout win over Clay Guida. Despite Lentz’s good run I couldn’t see him getting past Mendes, who appeared to be a better wrestler and striker, Lentz’s strongest areas.

Fight begins and they circle with Lentz glancing on an early combo. He comes in again but walks into a short left hand that buckles his legs, and Mendes charges in looking for the finish. Big uppercut lands for Mendes but Lentz shoots. Mendes stuffs it and backs up and then tags Lentz with a couple more punches. Lentz tries to fire back, but he doesn’t look quite right still and circles out to recover. Both men continue to swing punches and it looks like Mendes has a big speed advantage, tagging Lentz again. Nice takedown follows and Mendes lands on top in Lentz’s guard. Good job from Lentz to use the butterfly guard and he works back up to his feet and separates. Combo lands for Mendes. Low kick from Lentz is countered by a right by Mendes that lands clean again. Lentz shoots but Mendes easily stuffs it. Combo from Lentz but Mendes ducks under and hits another takedown to guard. Arm-in guillotine attempt from Lentz but Mendes works free. Good job again by Lentz to use the butterfly guard to disrupt Mendes’ posture, but Mendes remains in top position. Lentz works back up, but eats a left uppercut on his way out. Good leg kick from Lentz but Mendes hits another takedown off it. Mendes ends the round on top. Clear-cut 10-9 for Mendes who dominated in all areas.

2nd round and Joe Rogan mentions that Mendes looked tired between rounds. Good leg kick opens the round for him though and he avoids an early combo from Lentz. Couple more hard leg kicks connect for Mendes. Some stiff jabs follow. Lentz still seems to be struggling with the speed advantage of Mendes. Right hand lands for him and he follows with a takedown, this time landing in side mount. Lentz quickly gets back to guard though and escapes to his feet. Good right hand from Lentz backs Mendes up a little. He replies with another takedown to guard. Mendes does very little from the top, just holding Lentz down, and after a few moments Lentz hits a reversal and pops up to his feet. Left hook glances for Mendes. Another takedown follows and Joe Rogan’s outright saying that Mendes is using a lay-and-pray gameplan now. Round ends there. 10-9 Mendes.

Third and final round and they exchange kicks to begin with Lentz backing Mendes up a little. Good body kick lands for Lentz. He’s backing Mendes up some more now but isn’t really landing anything cleanly. Right hand from Lentz drops Mendes for a second but it looked more like he was off balance and he pops right back up. Good jab from Mendes but Lentz lands with a body kick. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Lentz. Another body kick sets up a left hook for him. Combination follows. Body kick lands for Mendes. Quick exchange sees Lentz poked in the eye and Big John McCarthy calls time, but he recovers quickly and they restart with Lentz landing another combo. Kick is caught and Mendes gets a takedown, but Lentz quickly pops up. Body kick from Lentz but Mendes gets another takedown. Elevator sweep from Lentz pushes him off, but he drops back into top position. Another reversal allows Lentz to his feet. Right hand lands for Mendes. Lentz continues to push forward but he walks into a flying knee that drops him. Guillotine attempt from Mendes and he takes top position, but Lentz manages to avoid it, although he’s still on the bottom. Mendes continues to try to get the guillotine locked up, but he can’t quite manage it and the round ends with him landing a right hand as they stand. 10-10 round in my eyes as Lentz had more offense but Mendes had the more significant offense. 30-28 for Mendes overall.

Judges have it 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for Chad Mendes. This was a pretty dull fight actually as Mendes seemed content to do just about enough to win after a fast start, but you can give him a bit of a free pass as apparently he was sick as a dog coming in and his cardio was really suffering for it. I think he’s still the biggest threat to Jose Aldo overall and despite a weaker outing here I think he’s worth another title shot at this point. Lentz tried, but just didn’t have the speed and athleticism to deal with Mendes, and that’s a problem that’ll haunt him every time he tries to step up to the very elite level I think.

Bantamweight Fight: Urijah Faber vs Michael McDonald

Massive fight for the Bantamweight division here as this was practically a fight to decide the de facto #1 contender, as at this point the long-awaited unification match between Renan Barao and Dominick Cruz was booked for UFC 169. Both men had looked great in 2013 – Faber reeling off three wins in a row over tough competition in Ivan Menjivar, Scott Jorgensen and Iuri Alcantara, while McDonald had looked good in an unsuccessful title shot against Barao before absolutely destroying the tough veteran Brad Pickett in August. Tricky fight to pick but I was going with the experience and cleaner style of Faber to take out the younger, more wild and explosive McDonald.

Monster crowd pop for Faber as you’d expect given the show is in Sacramento. McDonald gets a LOT of boos which can’t be nice for the dude as I don’t think he’s ever been booed before.

Round One and Faber throws a head kick and then quickly follows with a single leg to guard. Good right from the top for Urijah and the crowd are chanting loudly for him as McDonald stays active from his back and looks to trap the left arm. Looks like Mayday’s setting up for a triangle choke. Good body punches land for Faber and he frees the arm. Good short elbows and punches land for Faber. Action slows down a little as McDonald does a good job of tying Urijah up from the bottom, but he’s less active with his hips at this point. Lot of short punches land for Faber but Herb Dean calls a stand up. Two minutes to go and Faber shows a lot of movement, clipping McDonald with an overhand right. Good right to the body counters a low kick for Urijah too. Big knee from McDonald but Faber catches the leg and counters with a left hook to the body. Nice right hand from Urijah counters a McDonald combo. Nice right hand lands for Faber. Round ends with a left from Faber. 10-9 Faber in an impressive round for him.

Round Two and McDonald opens with a long left hand that pegs Faber back a little. Inside leg kick from Urijah. Takedown attempt from Faber is shrugged off by McDonald. McDonald blocks a head kick. Short left lands for McDonald. Left hook answers for Faber but he follows with a low blow and Herb calls time to let McDonald recover. Didn’t look low to me but hey. They restart quickly and Faber lands a HARD RIGHT TO THE TEMPLE that staggers McDonald! Urijah pushes forward and lands a big front kick to the jaw, but McDonald seems a little recovered and fires back. Good job by Faber in not getting too wild looking for the finish actually. Couple of front kicks to the body land for Faber. McDonald looks recovered now. Faber seems to have the timing down though and lands with a left hand. Good low kick from McDonald and he avoids the takedown too. Faber continues to push forward, but he takes a head kick. McDonald looks to follow it up, but walks into a CRUSHING RIGHT HOOK that drops him to his knees! This time Urijah OPENS UP and sends him crashing all over the cage with HEAVY SHOTS, and as McDonald tries to scramble he LOCKS UP A GUILLOTINE and takes full mount with it, forcing him to tap out. Cue a MONSTER POP from the crowd and quite rightfully so.

This was an awesome showing from Faber – probably his best inside the UFC in fact, eclipsing his 2011 win over Brian Bowles. He completely dominated McDonald in all areas, getting his timing down perfectly on the feet and once he had him badly hurt he put him away with some sick killer instinct. In a way it’s a pity that Jose Aldo and Renan Barao exist because if they didn’t Urijah would probably be like a legendary UFC champion by now, but I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles, dude. Tremendous fight at any rate, making up for the two slower ones beforehand on this card.

UFC World Flyweight Title: Demetrious Johnson vs Joseph Benavidez

Well, with a division as thin (for the time being) as Flyweight, this rematch – between the two men who fought in the inaugural title fight – was inevitable. Since that first fight, which had gone to a split decision in favour of Johnson (although I’d scored it for Benavidez personally…), both men had looked fantastic – Johnson successfully defending his title against John Dodson and John Moraga, while Benavidez had brutally knocked out both Darren Uyenoyama and Jussier Formiga as well as decisioning Ian McCall. Despite Johnson managing to win the previous fight I was going for Benavidez here, as he’d shown significant improvements in his striking since hooking up with Duane Ludwig and as the Dodson fight showed, Johnson is still very hittable.

Crowd give a massive almost-Faber-level pop for Benavidez as it’s his hometown too, while poor Mighty Mouse gets viciously booed for the most part. Staredown is pretty cool too although I have to question using the huge Big John McCarthy to ref a fight between two of the smallest guys on the roster.

Round One and Benavidez opens with a quick low kick. Combo backs Johnson up a little but doesn’t land. Glancing right from Mighty Mouse. Lot of movement from the champion early on. Right hand glances for Benavidez. Single leg attempt from Johnson but Benavidez defends it well. Combo misses for the challenger but he’s pegging Johnson back a bit. Good leg kick from Benavidez. Benavidez is just about coming up short on his punches due to Mighty Mouse’s movement and speed. Head kick glances for the challenger. Good movement from Johnson to avoid a rush and then he CRUSHES BENAVIDEZ WITH A RIGHT HAND! Holy shit. Benavidez goes down HARD and Mighty Mouse KILLS HIM DEAD with some brutal hammer fists before Big John can step in. WOW.

Absolutely unbelievable stuff. I mean, if you’d picked the LEAST LIKELY result to happen here you probably would’ve said Johnson via knockout, as not only are finishes from the guy pretty rare (his armbar on John Moraga was his first finish since 2010…) but he’d never shown any semblance of punching power before and I can’t remember him even dropping anyone, let alone turning the lights out on a dude like Benavidez. Finish was reminiscent in fact of John Dodson’s brutal TUF knockout of Johnny Bedford in that Johnson was able to land a lot of hammer fists on the already-unconscious Benavidez simply due to being so much faster than the referee! One of the best knockouts of 2013 I’d say. Mighty Mouse with knockout power is a scary thing and if he can continue fighting like he has this year then he might catch on as a star yet. We can only hope! Poor Benavidez meanwhile is now basically in the Rich Franklin territory, which is never good for anyone really.

-Show wraps up there with a breakdown of the night’s action and a plug for the upcoming Weidman vs. Silva PPV. YOUUUU AND MEEEE!~!

Final Thoughts….

This one wasn’t looking good after those opening two fights as Lauzon/Danzig was disappointing for what I was expecting and Mendes/Lentz was outright dull, but things really turned around with those last two fights, in particular the main event as I certainly wasn’t expecting a highlight reel knockout in the first round! Not as good as the two Fox shows in the first half of 2013 then, but I think it was better than Fox 8 just because it didn’t have the abortion that was Ellenberger vs. MacDonald. Thumbs just about up for this one.

Best Fight: Faber vs. McDonald
Worst Fight: Mendes vs. Lentz

Overall Rating: ***1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com