I want to see Joseph Benavidez get another crack at Mighty Mouse. That’s not a match-up that’s high in demand, but I have my reasons. There first fight was extremely close. The second fight ended in the most unexpected manner possible (short of Demetrious Johnson flying off the cage like Vega and decapitating Benavidez...you know what I’m saying). A one shot kill courtesy of the champ. Here’s how unlikely that finish was:
· In 22 career fights spanning 7 ½ years, Benavidez had never been finished much less knocked out. His 3 career losses had come by decision, two of which were splits in championship fights.
· Prior to the second Benavidez fight, Johnson’s last knockout occurred on February 10, 2010 when he was still competing at the regional level. In 11 WEC/UFC appearances, he had never recorded a single knockout.
The narrative of the rematch was clear cut: Johnson should use his uncanny speed and mobility to outpoint Benavidez, while Benavidez should wait for his opportunity to land a power punch. There are few fighters in the lighter weight classes as adept at stopping his opponents as Benavidez. Two minutes in, the narrative got torn up, burnt to ashes and cast out into the wind.
Johnson dropped Benavidez with a hellacious right hand that robbed the Alpha Male challenger of his senses before he’d even touched the mat. It was the hardest, most perfect punch that Johnson had landed and probably ever will land in his life. The guy who never knocks people out just put down the guy who never gets knocked out. Two minutes and eight seconds was the official time. The fastest KO in UFC flyweight history.
And yet I want to see them go at it again.
None of this is to say that Johnson’s punch was a fluke or that the first fight was some sort of robbery and that Benavidez should be the champ. Johnson won both fights fair and square. The result of their rematch was countless hours of training and study combined with the champ’s incredible fight night instincts. That was no lucky punch. But it would be a situation that would be difficult to replicate. Were they to fight 99 more times, I wouldn’t bet on a Mighty Mouse knockout happening again. Not just because of the stated reasons, but because of what Benavidez undoubtedly could learn from this second loss. Make no mistake; there is always something to be learned from losing, even a shockingly abrupt setback such as this one.
The real issue for me is that the UFC (and, admittedly, most fans) has established this pattern where you get two cracks at the champ and that’s it. Couldn’t get the job done? Time to change weight classes, find work in another organization or retire buddy. Even though fighters like Benavidez, Urijah Faber and even Junior dos Santos (who actually completed a trilogy) are the consensus #2 fighters in their respective weight classes, they are somehow almost completely out of the running for a title shot in the near future.
I should clarify that I understand that the UFC isn’t against trilogies; more logically, they’re against trilogies where one of the fighters has proven to be superior. To me, that feels like they’re killing off contenders too quickly.
Imagine if Juan Manuel Márquez had never got his third and fourth fights with Manny Pacquiao? Yes, I’m aware there are stark differences. The Márquez/Pacquiao series took course over an eight year stretch. Despite Pacquiao going 2-0-1, the first three fights were all open to interpretation. And a fifth meeting between the two would do bigger box office than three (maybe more) combined Faber/Barão match-ups. I get that.
But what if they had never booked that 4th meeting? The boxing community would have been robbed of what was one of the sport’s most exciting and relevant moments of the year when Márquez put Pacquiao down on his face. My point is that when you put the best with the best, only good things can happen. I’d much rather see rematch after rematch than fighters who are not ready for the top spot being shoehorned into title matches. At the present moment, is there anyone who thinks John Moraga is a better fighter than Joseph Benavidez?
Does it ever need to end? If the champ keeps winning and top contender is able to hold onto his spot, how many times can you mash those action figures together? 3 times? 4? 7? Luckily, these situations tend to sort themselves out as the talent cycle naturally creates new contenders. Though that’s not always the case as we saw with Michael McDonald (who is already dangerously close to contender limbo), Ian McCall and Phil Davis (in his first contender fight against Rashad Evans). Sometimes the next generation isn’t ready, so why should the UFC be in such a hurry to usher out the current one?
Allow me to discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of a few other trilogy fights where one fighter is already down two sets:
· Urijah Faber (6-3 UFC, 8-3 WEC, 30-7) v. Renan Barão (7-0 UFC, 2-0 WEC, 32-1 [1 NC])
The most immediate and obvious choice. Even if you believe that Barão was on his way to a decisive finish of Faber, the early stoppage was as bad as we’ve seen in a championship bout. Faber’s lack of success in title fights is well documented, but even his most dogged detractors would have to admit that he got a raw deal here. He looked amazing in his previous fights and he’d rightly earned another crack at UFC gold. The continued misfortune of Dominick Cruz only made Sean Shelby’s decision easier.
The situation reminded me of Ken Shamrock/Tito Ortiz II, where the second fight ended in what Shamrock perceived to be an early stoppage. That match was headed down a similarly bad path. In truth, Shamrock had even less of a case for a rematch than Faber and most would assume that Ortiz had his number no matter how many times they fought. Still, the powers that be deigned them worthy of an immediate rematch that took place on Spike TV. It should be noted that UFC had heavily invested in the second fight, including coaching stints on The Ultimate Fighter, so it made good sense for them to continue a feud that still had plenty of juice left.
I don’t see why Faber can’t get one more shot on one of the UFC’s many free fight cards. It’s not like quality main events are falling from the sky. If you recall, both Faber/Barão meetings have been the result of injuries to Cruz. It would be nice to see them face off one more time away from the shadow of the ex-champ.
From a competitive standpoint, this might be the least appealing rematch. Make whatever excuses you want, Weidman clobbered Silva and took his belt. The second fight was tough to watch for obvious reasons. I haven’t viewed a replay of the finish since that night. I don’t plan to.
So why am I listing it? I’m a huge Weidman fan and I don’t even care about the preposterous "he’s never truly beaten a dedicated Anderson Silva before" argument. At this stage in their careers, Weidman is the better fighter. It’s hardly worth discussing.
No, the reason I bring this up is because it would still draw enormous bank. Silva/Weidman I brought in approximately 500,000 buys, while the sequel reportedly cracked a million (with a healthy assist from Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey). I think it’s fair to say that a third fight could fall somewhere in between. That would be a boon for the UFC, who are currently struggling to convince the public that they still have plenty of viable PPV stars. I mean, if Dana White keeps saying Rousey is the biggest star he’s ever had, it has to be true, right? Speaking of which...
· Miesha Tate (0-2 UFC, 13-5) v. Ronda Rousey (2-0 UFC, 8-0)
How weird is it that Tate is winless in the UFC, yet still regarded as one of the top challengers? I’m not disputing it as we all know that you can’t take wins and losses at face value in combat sports. It just looks funny is all.
This is almost as tough a sell as Silva/Weidman because Rousey’s wins have been so definitive. Exciting, yes, but definitive. I know for me, personally, I could watch these two fight a dozen times. There is such an explosive mix of personalities and styles and a genuine animosity between the two that there is so much for fans of all pedigrees to sink their teeth into.
I am in no way suggesting that Tate get a rematch anytime soon, only that she not be ushered into the "could-a-been" category so quickly. Let’s say she has a Belfort-esque run of dominant finishes over top ten fighters. You don’t need much of an excuse to convince people to watch these two go at it again. I’d hate for the UFC to put off another fight between these two just because we’ve seen it before
· Benson Henderson (8-1 UFC, 5-1 WEC, 20-3) v. Anthony Pettis (4-1 UFC, 5-1 WEC, 17-2)
As with Tate and Rousey, these two have only had one match in the UFC so it is relatively fresh. Other than the ninja kick, I’d wager there’s a large portion of fans who have never seen the entirety of their first meeting, which is a shame since that was a brilliant encounter.
The result of the second fight was as shocking as the Benavidez/Johnson finish. Henderson had only been submitted once before and he’d made a habit of using his incredible smarts and flexibility to escape holds in ways nobody had seen before. That would explain why the UFC 164 crowd was stunned to see him get caught by a lightning quick Pettis armbar.
Somehow, the 25 minutes they spent together in the WEC cage did more to cement Pettis as a champion in my eyes than the 4 minute submission in their rematch. I felt like Pettis was the better man both times, but that it wasn’t out of the question for Henderson to someday figure out his rival. After all, he’d done it to pretty much everybody else.
So what do you all think? Did I leave any matches out? Am I completely crazy? Are these fights unpalatable at this point? Will they ever be marketable? I’d love to hear your thoughts.