Mixed Martial Arts

Benavidez, Johnson have eyes on UFC's first flyweight title

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Associated Press
7/24/2012 7:42:24 PM
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TORONTO -- Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious (Mighty Mouse) Johnson will be looking to join an exclusive group Sept. 22.

The two will battle for the first-ever flyweight championship at UFC 152 at the Air Canada Centre. The winner will not only be the 125-pound champion but also become just the eighth first-time division titleholder in the sport's history.

"This is huge," Benavidez said during a news conference Tuesday at the historic Massey Hall. "It's an honour to get into the UFC and to be a champion is also a dream but to be the first-ever only happens one time.

"I'm looking to be the George Washington of flyweight champions. Can't wait to come out here and put on a show."

This will mark Johnson's second title bout. Johnson (15-2-1) lost the bantamweight title (135 pounds) to Dominick Cruz on Oct. 1, 2011.

"It means the world to me to fight for another UFC title," he said. "I wasn't so lucky at 135 but I'm going to bust my butt in the gym to try and get the 125 title.

"To be able to it here in Canada, my first time in Canada, it's awesome."

The 27-year-old Benavidez (16-2) and Johnson, 25, qualified for the title bout by downing Yasuhiro Urushitani and Ian McCall in respective semifinal matchups.

The co-main event will be a middleweight showdown between title contenders Michael (The Count) Bisping and Brian (All American) Stann. Recently, the outspoken Bisping said his bout with Stann was the real main event in Toronto because he didn't believe fans were interested in the flyweight championship fight.

"It was pretty silly when I heard it but it's Michael Bisping," Benavidez said, Bisping seated beside him. "Everyone pretty much expects something ridiculous to come out of his mouth.

"It's not going to change the fact we're the top two guys in the world and we're going to go out and make history that night. To everyone that supports us, thanks and we love you. Everyone that doesn't, including Bisping, I think you soon will and you'll be excited for this. It's going to be great. Glad to have you on the card as a co-main, buddy."

Still, Bisping couldn't resist having the last word.

"Sorry, did you say something?" he said playfully to Benavidez. "No one cares about the flyweights."

Bisping, a 33-year-old native of Manchester, England, is coming off a controversial loss to Chael Sonnen in January. But Bisping (23-4) feels a win over Stann (12-4) should secure him a title shot against champion Anderson Silva.

"I want to fight for the title, I want to fight Anderson Silva but you can't look past Brian Stann," Bisping said. "He's an incredible fighter so for me right now I'm not even thinking about the title, I'm fighting Brian Stann and I've got my hands full with that.

"This is me versus Brian Stann, this isn't England versus America. This is an individual sport, there are no tanks, missiles or guns involved in this, this is mano-a-mano, individual versus individual and Sept. 22 I'm going to individually beat the crap out of him."

Stann is a former U.S. Marine captain who was awarded the Silver Star in March 2006 serving in Iraq. While the former linebacker at Navy praised Bisping's long and distinguished career, Stann, 31, also realizes what's on the line for him.

"I'm sure when (Bisping) first heard this was the fight he was going to get he was probably a little disappointed because he knows he wants that shot at a title and you never know when it's going to come again," Stann said. "This is dangerous fight for him. He knows I'm not an easy opponent, he knows I'm a guy who is capable of beating him.

"This is a huge fight for me . . . and to fight a guy like Michael Bisping, let's face it he's a much bigger star in the UFC than I am. This is an incredible opportunity for me. I'm not interested in just fighting in the UFC to sign autographs and wear weird T-shirts. I want to fight the best guys in the world so when I am done with this sport I know exactly where I stood. I don't want easy fights."

And given Stann's military background, Bisping is thankful to be facing him on neutral ground.

"Obviously he is a very well decorated war veteran and Americans, rightly so, are very very patriotic people and that's fantastic," said Bisping. "But I think if the fight was to take place in Texas I probably would be shot on the way out.

"I'm glad to be here in Canada, part of the Commonwealth, long live the Queen and looking forward to kicking (butt)."

Bisping's gift of the gab and penchant for saying whatever is on his mind was evident Tuesday, but Stann, for one, wasn't fazed.

"When you've had to look a mother in the eyes and tell her why you couldn't bring her son home it makes this all a heck of a lot easier," he said. "This is just a fist fight.

"It's something I'm really good at, it's something I love doing but none of these antics are going to matter to me."

UFC 152 will also feature the return of B.J. (The Prodigy) Penn against highly regarded Canadian welterweight Rory (Ares) MacDonald. The 23-year-old MacDonald (13-1) is originally from Kelowna, B.C., but currently lives in Montreal and trains with good friend Georges St-Pierre, the current welterweight champion who twice has defeated Penn.

"He (Penn) is upset because Georges whooped him but I'm going to hurt him even worse," MacDonald said of Penn, who didn't attend Tuesday's news conference due to family commitments.

Penn is a former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion with a career 16-8-2 record. But the 33-year-old American is coming out of retirement to face MacDonald, who has won three straight since a loss to interim UFC welterweight champion Carlos Condit.

"Of course he's dangerous," MacDonald said of Penn. "I don't really like to worry about what other guys are good at.

"I just think I'm going to beat them everywhere and I think that about everyone in my division. I feel like anywhere the fight goes I'm going to be the best in the world in that position."

Once again MacDonald was asked if he'd ever square off against St-Pierre (22-2) and once again he emphatically said he wouldn't.

"Georges has seniority at our gym, he's a friend of mine and we're training partners," MacDonald said. "When he passes the torch I will be the one to carry it from there on in."

UFC 152 will mark the sport's 10th appearance in Canada and second in Toronto. Last weekend, the UFC made its debut in Calgary to lacklustre reviews as the sellout gathering booed the main event.

Afterwards, UFC president Dana White said the Calgary show "sucked."

That won't be an issue in Toronto, Stann said.

"Come Sept. 22 I'm going to draw a line in the sand and I'm going to say, 'Mike, cross it,' " Stann said. "He's the kind of guy I know will step to it and we're going to get after it.

"I'll tell you right now, folks, you may have complained about certain fights that were on the card this past weekend but you won't complain about ours."

Joseph Benavidez  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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