Joseph Benavidez has never suffered back-to-back losses. | Photo: Sherdog.com
UFC 172 marks the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s second stout offering in as many weeks and should be eagerly anticipated by most fight fans.
The event, which takes place on Saturday at Baltimore Arena, is stacked from top to bottom. Honestly, the only thing missing from this card is a catchweight showdown between Avon Barksdale and Jimmy McNulty. I have Avon in that one, by the way.
In real life, we will be treated to a main event nearly as compelling when Jon Jones takes on Glover Teixeira in a light heavyweight title tilt. Prior to that marquee matchup, the UFC’s Baltimore debut will showcase multiple intelligent pairings, none more intriguing than Joseph Benavidez’s flyweight clash with Tim Elliott.
Benavidez enters the fight on the heels of a crushing defeat at the hands of Demetrious Johnson. “Mighty Mouse” brought a swift and spectacular end to their Dec. 14 rematch at UFC on Fox 9, catching the Team Alpha Male product with a sweet right hook that put Benavidez on the deck and left him susceptible to the fight-ending ground-and-pound that followed.
Prior to that loss, Benavidez had won seven of his last eight, with his only defeat in that span coming via split decision to Johnson in their first encounter back in 2012. For my money, Benavidez is still the second-best flyweight in the world, though I doubt that opinion provides much consolation for an athlete this skilled and fit.
The good news: He still has time to make another run at the title. That process starts with Elliott, a scrappy competitor who currently owns a 2-2 UFC record. However, I think that statistic belies the 27-year-old’s true caliber, as he gave both John Dodson and Ali Bagautinov excellent fights before coming up short on the judges’ scorecards.
Both of these flyweights need to win this fight in order to get back on track, Benavidez to show he is still a serious threat to anyone in the division and Elliott to avoid becoming the owner of a sub-.500 promotional record. This compelling 125-pound altercation is but one reason to watch the UFC 172 undercard. Here are four more:
Jessamyn Duke is a fighter with great upside.
While she only owns three pro bouts to her credit, “The Gun” appears to be doing all the right things to improve her abilities, moving in with UFC bantamweight queen Ronda Rousey and veteran competitor Shayna Baszler following her time on “The Ultimate Fighter 18.”
Standing 5-foot-11, Duke should be a handful for anybody once she learns how to maximize the benefits of her height and length in the interest of keeping power punchers out of range. Duke showed some nice skills during her time on “The Ultimate Fighter,” and she put them to good use at the live finale, lighting up Peggy Morgan with crisp punches and threatening with submission attempts en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Duke will next face fellow unbeaten talent Bethe Correira. Which of these bantamweights will move to 2-0 in the Octagon?
As far as I am concerned, Gomi is on a three-fight winning streak, because he was robbed blind in that insane split decision against the always-game Diego Sanchez at UFC on Fuel TV 8. That notwithstanding, Gomi’s resurgence has surprised me as much as anyone. By the time “The Fireball Kid” finally arrived in the UFC, he looked like a shell of his former self, suffering three submission losses in his first four Octagon appearances.
Not one to throw in the towel, Gomi rebounded from the stretch to stop Eiji Mitsuoka and then outpoint Mac Danzig. However, the former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder’s best performance was arguably his meeting with Sanchez. He was mobile and accurate with his counter punching and avoided loading up on a single big shot, instead using superior footwork and hand speed to outfox the American through -- at the very least -- the first two rounds of their bout.
Now paired with Isaac Vallie-Flagg, Gomi no doubt hopes to make a splash in his return to the cage. Is a great performance from the Japanese ace in the cards or will Vallie-Flagg erase the memory of his January loss to Elias Silverio at Gomi’s expense?
It has been a long time coming, but Joe Ellenberger has finally made it to the UFC.
The twin brother of longtime UFC talent Jake Ellenberger, he began his career 10-0 before being diagnosed with a rare acquired blood disease that kept him out of action for nearly two years. Fortunately, Ellenberger found a medication that fought against the disease that was attacking his red blood cells, and he returned to action in 2011, winning four of his next five fights to earn his long-awaited shot in the UFC.
Ellenberger was recently thrown a curveball in his Octagon debut, as he will be forced to contend with late replacement Vagner Rocha, who steps up on short notice to replace Yancy Medeiros. Rocha was released by the UFC in 2012 after a knockout loss to “The Ultimate Fighter 12” winner Jonathan Brookins, but the Brazilian has since won four straight fights, finishing three of his conquered foes by submission.
Will Ellenberger’s difficult journey pay off with a victory in his Octagon debut or is Rocha more likely to spoil his coming-out party?
THE SPANIARD’S LAST CALL
We should get this out of the way right up front: Danny Castillo got robbed against Edson Barboza. He did not win that fight, but he definitely did not lose it, either. There was one appropriate way to score that bout, and it was a draw. Instead, two of the three cageside judges scored Castillo’s monster first round a 10-9, resulting in a majority decision win for Barboza.
In spite of the loss, Castillo has still won five of his last seven and has proved consistently that he is not one to be taken lightly at 155 pounds. He will now lock up with Charlie Brenneman, a fellow wrestler who returned to the UFC at 155 pounds in January at 155 pounds after exiting the promotion as a welterweight in 2012. Unfortunately for Brenneman, his reemergence in the Octagon did not go as planned, and he was submitted by newcomer Beneil Dariush less than two minutes into their UFC Fight Night 35 clash.
I am really interested to see which of these men can control the grappling in this bout. Castillo holds more power in his hands, but that could easily be negated if Brenneman can put him on his back, a la his win over Rick Story in 2011.
Back-to-back defeats are not a good look for anyone hoping to stick around in the deep waters of the UFC lightweight division. Which of these 155-pound talents will right his ship and get back in the win column?