Elite Flyweights Joseph Benavidez (#2 ranked flyweight) and Jussier Formiga (#6 ranked flyweight) collide in a pivotal contender bout on the main card of Wednesday's UFC Fight Night: Teixeira vs. Bader from Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The marquee attraction is a Light Heavyweight tilt pitting the offensively potent Glover Teixeira vs. athletic wrestler Ryan Bader while perennial top Middleweight Yushin Okami meets grappling virtuoso Ronaldo Souza in the co-main. The featured lineup kicks off on Fox Sports 1 at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Brazilian Jussier Formiga (15-2) elevated himself as the world's alpha flyweight before Tachi Palace Fights managed to lure in a surprisingly prestigious collection of little guys. He relinquished his lofty ranking to Ian McCall, who defeated Formiga by decision and, in turn, was booted off the throne by Demetrious Johnson when the UFC added the 125-pound class. Now, with the vast majority of the top flyweight talent under the UFC's roof, the results of match ups like this will re-chisel the division's hierarchy of contenders.
Perched just beneath "Mighty Mouse" on that totem pole is Team Alpha Male's Joseph Benavidez (18-3), a longstanding contender at Bantamweight who eagerly dove into the flyweight class as soon as it was unveiled. As it stands, the only flaws on his record are literally championship caliber: his first two losses were to 135-pound champion Dominick Cruz, both by decision (the second was a split), and his last came at the hands of Johnson in the finals of the UFC's tournament to crown a new flyweight king.
Much like his Team Alpha Male featherweight counterpart, Chad Mendes, I can't recall any non-championship fights or even finite moments in which Benavidez was threatened, in trouble or anything but in complete control. He's epitomized sheer domination in non-title fights and proved to be game and competitive in his title bids despite coming up short.
That history commands the most lopsided betting odds on the card for "Joe-B-Wan Kenobi" and tasks Formiga with being the first and only contender to crack the proverbial code. When faced with such a daunting task, the first and most essential ingredient is having a complete game with little to no weaknesses in order to appoint the most sensible and effective strategy. And that ingredient is noticeably amiss from the Formiga mixture as the Brazilian is known for his extraordinary grappling and transitions -- not his striking or wrestling.
At the apex level of MMA, this limited skillset is the veritable kiss of death. The atypical singular specialists who've stayed afloat atop various weight classes are still at least adequate in the secondary departments or have the means to narrow the fight down to their preferred realm. Formiga's striking and wrestling is altogether average: he'll be at a considerable disadvantage on the feet and absent of the much needed respite that formidable wrestling usually provides under those circumstances.
The standard striker vs. grappler match up is ominous enough when the grappler is merely burdened with penetrating a superior striker's perimeter to work his wrestling acumen. However, even if he can close the distance, the fun is just beginning for Formiga, who is then charged with putting one of the most athletic and imposing wrestlers -- at both bantamweight and flyweight -- on his back just to finally be in a position to implement his strength.
Obviously, this match up is unfavorable for the Nova Uniao rep. To unlock the value of his stellar submissions and scrambling, his opponent must be down on the canvas and connected. And, unless he's entangled with Cruz or Johnson, the only time we see Joseph Benavidez on the canvas and connected to his opponent is when he's reshaping Miguel Torres' forehead into the likeness of a meteor crash site, falling back to cruelly wrench a vicelike guillotine choke on grappling standout Wagnney Fabiano or just beating the snot out of whomever en route to a dominant decision.
This might be overkill, but Benavidez is no stranger to black-belt-level or extraordinary submissionists either: Jeff Curran (decision), Rani Yahya (TKO), Darren Uyenoyama (TKO) and Torres (guillotine) all fit that bill and are strewn about his win column.
With the on-paper basics covered, let's talk specifics, as Formiga isn't nearly as inept as this probably makes him out to be. The Brazilian is a frenzied aggressor who presses his opponent relentless while unloading a wild and fierce collection of kickboxing techniques. Though far from technically polished, Formiga has enough of a grasp to wield threatening stand up -- at least enough to steer his opponent's attention from defending his barrage of strikes instead of his takedown attempts.
Formiga is a solid Judo player and also has capabilities with traditional single- and double-leg takedowns, but his unrelenting tenacity and willpower provide the most fuel for his takedown game. He's also the sort that will dive on any limb within reach and glue himself to it in order to force a grappling match, and often transitions from one chaotic pursuit to another until he's successful. He's rightfully heralded as a master of achieving back control and often establishes that position on account of his unorthodox frenzy of pressure.
Benavidez will approach this whirling dervish with his signature wrestle-boxing style, which consists of unusually wide and looping hooks, but ones that pack momentous wallop when they connect. Benavidez has developed his own unique boxing style and, while it's worked well, it's far from flawless. His chin can be dangerously exposed because his punches are unfurled from the chest or even waist level, but the substantial power of both his takedowns and punches make stepping into his wheelhouse to land counterstrikes a less than appealing option.
Regardless, the wide and loose characteristics of Benavidez's striking could be exploited by Formiga, who'll throw everything but the kitchen sink at him while in constant hot pursuit. Additionally, because Formiga will chase after his foe so boldly and recklessly, lowering levels for a monster takedown might be too appealing to pass on if Benavidez's wrestling instincts take over and, though he'd prefer to be on top, Formiga will be more effective from guard than on his feet.
What seals the deal for me is that, even if Formiga can achieve the Herculean task of grounding him, Benavidez has a great chance to survive on the ground. While there are holes to be found in Joe's striking, Formiga is yet to boast a single win via strikes.
Overall, we have monumental advantages for Benavidez in striking, wrestling and top-flight experience, and only a moderate advantage for Formiga in submission grappling. Being such a massive underdog and fighting in front of his fellow countrymen will only increase his already sizzling determination, so I expect a valiant and respectable effort from Formiga, but I just don't think he has the horsepower to win this one.
My Prediction: Joseph Benavidez by TKO.