The flyweights open up the main card as only flyweights can do this May 23, 2015 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Match Up
Flyweight Joseph Benavidez -650 vs. John Moraga +475
3 Things You Should Know
1. Benavidez might have conquered the flyweight world if it wasn't for Demetrious Johnson.
Benavidez is part of that hyperspace where gatekeepers and champions meet. These people aren't separated by bad chins, the inability to circle left, or cocaine hit and run habits. They're separated by chance. Think Dan Marino.
This seems to be Joe's destiny. He's 30 years old, and it's unlikely he gets a title shot at any point unless Johnson gets dethroned and Benavidez keeps winning. He's fulfilling his end of this parallel universe, beating Dustin Ortiz and Tim Elliot in his last two.
2. John Moraga would have never conquered flyweight, but his status is important for the division regardless.
Gatekeepers get a bad rap. As John Cusack reminded us in Con Air, "the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons". I'd argue that a similar principle underlines gatekeepers and weight divisions; the lesser the quality of the gatekeepers, the lesser the quality of the division. Moraga is a solid fighter with a blue collar dynamism that always seems underappreciated. He scored two wins out of four whole fights last year in recent succession, over Willie Gates and Justin Scoggins.
3. While the outcome is predictable, the odds hardly reflect the mechanics of their violent interaction.
Benavidez is the exact same fighter he's been since wowing us in the WEC. More or less. Yes, Benavidez has polished his game, but I feel like part of the lack of progression, aside from just rotten luck, is that many of the flaws that once existed still exist. It's like he's double downed on what he was good at, leaving behind what made him vulnerable; which is fair since he's never been a deeply flawed fighter.
Benavidez is kind of the predecessor to TJ Dillashaw's efficient switch striking. I always felt like Joe was better than Faber at selling his variety of strikes. Dillashaw expanded that into its own language, but guys like Benavidez helped find the syntax. He's still spectacular with his interval striking; picking spots, without ever being too stationary or inactive. And he does so in multiple stances. I've always felt like Benavidez was at home most in his southpaw stance chambering a straight left. Pop in both hands makes him a constant threat, as do the vindictive high kicks he throws to punctuate his combinations.
Moraga is your token jack of all trade types, but unlike most of these "types", he has a white collar understanding of MMA. He's just not a good enough athlete to take his strafing right hand, solid wrestling pedigree, and complimentary submission chops to turn himself into something more dangerous. Moraga can probably survive awhile on the feet, but he's not likely to catch Joseph with anything. The more likely scenario is the obvious one that the oddsmakers picked up on; Benavidez is just a stronger, faster version of Moraga. More deliberate? Perhaps not, but this is Joseph's fight to lose.
Joseph Benavidez by Guillotine, round 3.