Mixed Martial Arts

Benavidez, Johnson aim to become UFC's first flyweight champ

Justin Boone, TSN.ca
9/21/2012 7:29:22 PM
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For the first time in UFC history, a featherweight champion will be crowned at UFC 152 on Saturday night.

After battling their way through the semifinals, Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson will now collide, with the winner emerging at the top of the 125-pound weight class.

"Me and Joseph are going to show you that the flyweight division is here to stay in the UFC," said Johnson after the weigh-ins on Friday afternoon.

Benavidez earned his berth in the finals with a second round technical knockout over Yasuhiro Urushitani at UFC on FX 2 in March, while Johnson fought to a draw with Ian McCall on the same card, before punching his ticket with a unanimous decision win over McCall at UFC on FX 3 in June.

"It was frustrating to wait since February for this fight because DJ had a draw against McCall but it was just extra time to get better," stated Benavidez. "Most fighters train when they are fighting, I train to get better all the time. You get better as a fighter when you don't have a fight but you [are] in the gym – and you'll see the best version of me yet on Saturday."

Johnson (15-2-1) has competed for a UFC title once before, falling to bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz by unanimous decision last October.

Benavidez's (16-2) last loss was also dealt to him by Cruz, via split decision, when the two fought for the WEC bantamweight championship in August 2010.

"I've worked so hard for this and just the fact that it's coming true is so amazing right now," admitted Benavidez. "I'm soaking it all in. I can't wait to give you guys a night to remember."

"The main goal in my career is to be the UFC champion. I would take that however it comes - but to be the first UFC champion is extra special," said Benavidez.

"If I wasn't a fighter, and I was just a fan, I would be a fan of DJ. He's got a great all-action style and I love watching him. My coaches have broken his style down and we got a plan to beat him. My eye is on the prize but I am planning a long reign."

The winner of the four-man flyweight tournament will instantly become the UFC's smallest champion, with 26-year-old Johnson standing at 5'3 and 28-year-old Benavidez an inch taller at 5'4.

"I first walked into Matt Hume's gym after seeing Rashad Evans on the Ultimate Fighter (season two, 2006) and I said 'I saw this guy who is a wrestler, like me, doing well, and I think I want to try it'," explained Johnson. 

"I had no idea I was too small for the smallest UFC division back then, but as they kept adding more and more smaller classes, I started to believe I would fight at 125lbs in the UFC."

Johnson and Benavidez were originally slated to meet in the main event this weekend, but once UFC 151 was cancelled, the promotion moved light heavyweight champion Jon Jones onto the marquee of UFC 152.

This will mark the eighth time that a new title has been awarded in the UFC, but unfortunately for the flyweight contenders, the addition of Jones' bout with Vitor Belfort has drawn attention away from their history-making fight.

While many are predicting Jones to easily dismiss Belfort in the main event, the featherweight title bout has the potential to be a much more exciting affair.

"Fighting a guy like Joseph Benavidez is an honour, he's a great competitor and I'm sure we're going to put on a great show for the Canadian fans," predicted Johnson.

In general, fighters at the lighter weights have a higher level of stamina and, as Johnson and Benavidez showed in their semifinal bouts, they aren't afraid to push the pace. The pair are currently the favourite among oddsmakers to win Fight of the Night.

"I'm so thankful for this opportunity to fight at my real weight, having an amazing opponent like Demetrious and we're going to bring out the best in each other and just make it a night to remember for everybody," said Benavidez.

"This is where I belong," said Johnson. "This is where I can perform to the best of my abilities. I want to be remembered as the George Washington of the 125-pound division, the first, the guy who was first in line and everyone else followed. All the hard work is worth that piece of the history books."

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