As more Bantamweights drop to 125 lbs the UFC's flyweight division has become a center for expansion. Now it looks like Zuffa is helping the process along with the signing of two top flyweight prospects. The UFC announced via Twitter on Wednesday that it has signed Joshua Sampo and Ryan Benoit to fight at the Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale on November 30th.
Josh "The Gremlin" Sampo enters the UFC with a 10-2 record amassed largely on the US regional scene. He has wins over experienced big show vets in Antonio Banuelos and Alexis Vila to his name and his only losses have come to equally experienced competition in Will Campuzano and Mike French. Sampo is a wrestler grappler by nature working out of St. Charles MMA, alongside another top flyweight prospect Alptekin Ozkilic.
Watching what little footage there is to be found of Sampo, he tends to keep range with teeps and leg kicks on the outside where he'll look to brawl his way into the clinch. In general he closes distance well with a good variety of technique and has strong defensive striking, but gets himself off balance a lot in exchanges. Once inside he mixes in double-leg takedowns and trips and has generally decent shot timing. He was a collegiate wrestler at the NAIA level and is currently a high school wrestling coach along with his MMA career, so obviously his wrestling game is his bread and butter. He appears to be rounding it out nicely with Jiu Jitsu however, so it will be interesting to see where he fits in the grappling heavy flyweight division.
His opponent for his first fight in the UFC will be Ryan "Baby Face" Benoit. Benoit is a Janjira Muay Thai product (the same gym that produced Bellator contender David Rickels) and has spent most of his career with Legacy FC. His 7-2 record is spotted with a recent decision loss to Anthony Birchak (in a thrilling MFC fight at 135 lbs) and an early career loss to regional vet Tim Snyder. He has a win over UFC vet Joseph Sandoval, but otherwise very little depth to his record.
Watching his fights, it's easy to see that Benoit possesses rare power at flyweight. Not one of his seven wins has gone past the second round, with six coming by KO/TKO. His grappling and defense need a lot of work, but like many of the more athletic flyweights he scrambles well and has decent submission defense. He also listens well to his corner and doesn't panic under pressure, both things that will serve him well against a top control grappler like Sampo. At just 24 years of age he has time, but he needs to round his game out to compete in the UFC.
For a closer look at Ryan Benoit, here's the link to his fight against Anthony Birchak (it won't tell you much about his strengths as he lost decidedly). Here's Josh Sampo's fight against Alexis Vila to get us familiar with him:
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