Photo by Ken Pishna via MMA Weekly.
Impressively, Loveland proved he was a game opponent early by immediately picking himself back up off the mat as Benavidez pressed for takedowns. The shorter Benavidez had trouble connecting his strikes early, allowing Loveland to use his reach to counter nicely. Benavidez continued to press forward despite the opposition, landing his own leg kicks and punches, but Loveland continued to assault the former contender with counters as he backed away.
The second was as close to call as the first round. Benavidez shot early and often with Loveland defending well. At one point, Loveland defended with a nice transition to a kimura that allowed him to get back to his feet quickly. Benavidez may have not been successful in the takedown game, but he did manage to out strike Loveland for most of the round, evading Loveland's diminishing offense and throwing combinations.
Benavidez secured the third round after a bevy of striking exchanges that saw both Loveland and the former contender landing their share of blows. Benavidez gained a couple of takedowns during the exchanges, although Loveland was able to regain his feet after every attempt. Great scrap, but the judges gave it to Joseph Benavidez on all scorecards, 30-27. Much closer fight than the score indicates.
Joseph Benavidez def. Ian Loveland via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Benavidez impressed in his most recent appearance as he submitted Wagnney Fabiano in the second round of action at WEC 52. He had previously fought for the WEC Bantamweight title in August, losing via split decision to current UFC Bantamweight kingpin Dominick Cruz. The loss was his second to Cruz in one year's time.
Loveland made his UFC debut at The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale in December, winning an unanimous decision over vaunted striker Tyler Toner. The Team Quest product used his background in wrestling to subdue Toner's proven striking prowess, lending some credence to the notion that Team Quest may be shedding the reputation as being past their prime among MMA's camps worldwide. Loveland came into this contest riding a seven-fight winning streak, including an impressive fifth round head kick knockout of Douglas Evans in January.
Results after the fold...