Having already vented my historical perspective on the significance of the UFC's new flyweight division in the Johnson vs. McCall Dissection, we'll move along a little quicker here.
Yasuhiro Urushitani (19-4-6) is the current Shooto bantamweight (123-pounds) champion. A southpaw, Urushitani has a solid Judo base that he employs to stay on his feet and crunch foes with his wicked set of hands. He's been embedded somewhere in the top-ten rankings for several years -- Sherdog.com currently has him third -- and has faced quite a few other perennially ranked flyweight fighters.
The win that will be most recognized in the states is a unanimous decision over our latest TUF champion, the lightning quick John Dodson, back in 2004. Urushitani twice tangled with Shinichi "BJ" Kojima, who used to be a bit higher but now stands in the sixth spot, and drew on both occasions. He split results in two bouts with the afro-popping Shooto champion Mamoru Yamaguchi, who is now rated the fourth best flyweight in the world. Urushitani is the most experienced competitor in the tournament: now 35-years-old, he's punched in over a decade's worth of MMA with just under thirty fights. Of his 19 wins, 14 came by decision with 5 TKOs left over.
More UFC on FX 2 Dissections
Joseph Benavidez (15-2) is a short, fire-hydrant-shaped fighter whose only career losses were dealt by bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz (both decisions). Repping Team Alpha Male, Benavidez exudes their signature style with relentless aggression, fast-paced wrestling and an overwhelming top game.
His first big-stage appearance was in Dream; a single stint at the 2008 Lightweight Grand Prix show where he tidied up Junya Kudo with a first-round guillotine (another Team Alpha Male trademark). Benavidez then signed with the WEC where he tacked on decision wins over Danny Martinez and Jeff Curran before meeting Cruz for the first time, followed by two electric stoppages (Rani Yahya by TKO, Miguel Torres by guillotine after peeling his scalp back with elbows) leading into his second collision with Cruz.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Even though Urushitani has been rather prone to decisions, he still has seriously dangerous and effective striking.
Speed is an essential ingredient with all four of the flyweight participants but, rather than with footwork and wrestling prowess, Urushitani's speed shines through in his striking onslaught. Mostly a boxer, he's a killer counter puncher with short and quick punches. He strikes well with both hands, he has excellent accuracy and he's a gifted in-fighter. His best punches are his lead-right hook (below), his straight left and the rapidly released whirlwind of blows he counters with.
Since his win over Dodson was in Dodson's first pro MMA fight, Urushitani is yet to face a wrestler of Benavidez's caliber. Bearing that in mind, his takedown defense has been stellar thus far and his clinch is rock-solid.
The unshakable base of a strong Judoka is evident in the balance Urushitani has in the stand up department. This allows him to plant his feet and generate good power in his striking without being susceptible to takedowns.
His timing on the feet is impeccable, he can flow out smooth sequences of stiff punches and he has a knack for finding the tiniest of holes to plunge his fists into.
As shown in the first gif and to the right, his hands are not his only weapons -- just his best. Urushitani has brutal knees in the clinch and he often uses them to thwart opponents who keep pressing him back. His kicks are unleashed quickly and ferociously yet, as with all of his striking ensemble, Urushitani is pretty judicious and composed with his offense, waiting for the ideal time and position to unload.
While the monstrous travel and time change could be a concern, he's always been a 125er and won't suffer from the cut in the slightest.
From a fundamental standpoint, Benavidez's striking isn't the type to be gracing any instructional videos, but he's cleaned it up over the years and makes it work.
Of course, his wrestling and agility is so burdensome that it opens up a lot of avenues for his striking, and he's smart about threatening with his takedown presence. To the left, as Loveland charges in with a right, Benavidez drops levels to mimic a takedown attempt but gives him a mouthful of overhand right instead.
The same ploy applies here: when Benavidez closes distance, he sinks down like he's about to glue himself to Loveland's hips, but then shifts gears and comes up high with a looping right hook.
While the tactic has proved to be consistently effective and he's never been finished with strikes, it's worth noting that his chin and entire head is ripe for an uppercut or a knee directly up the middle here. The gamble for the defender is that if the strike misses or doesn't land with enough impact to slow him, Benavidez will be in the ideal scenario to launch a takedown.
Eddie Wineland, a boxing specialist just like Urushitani, started to key on his tendencies and blast a straight right hand through his defense (left). Even if Benavidez's striking is a bit rudimentary, he throws with enough ferocity to attract your full attention and will always revert back to power-doubles to keep the defender guessing. Look no farther than his merciless shellacking of Torres for how devastating his ground-and-pound can be. Benavidez drilled a hole in Torres' mullet that was gushing blood before lacing on a guillotine to finish.
Urushitani is a worthwhile prospect for this tournament and an undoubtedly game opponent. Unfortunately, I think his striking-centric style and pairing with Benavidez gives him the rockiest path through the brackets. If Benavidez underestimates his striking, gets too confident or spends too much time jousting on the feet, he's playing with fire and asking for the upset.
I'm thinking that, after years of having an uncertain future as a tiny bantamweight who'd already lost to the champ twice, Benavidez is viewing this fight as a potential resurrection and won't take any chances. He has the opportunity to go from being stuck in limbo in the wrong weight class to on the verge of becoming champion in the right one. Urushitani is also the only flyweight participant with a singular specialty (striking) and I expect Benavidez to be fully aware and devour him with takedowns and top control.
My Prediction: Joseph Benavidez by top-control TKO due to elbows.
Urushitani gifs via Damn Severn
Benavidez gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com
All flyweight ranking references from Sherdog.com