Rematches are not unusual at the highest levels of mixed martial arts, especially in the lighter divisions. In fact, former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar made a two-year career out of championship rematches. UFC flyweight champ Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson may not be exactly where Edgar was, but come Saturday night at UFC on Fox 9, he will be one step closer to a similar run. Live from the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif., Johnson will face off against home-turf favorite Joseph Benavidez in a rematch of the inaugural UFC flyweight title fight from September 2012.

In their first match-up, Johnson won by split decision in what really should have been a unanimous verdict in his favor. With two judges giving him at least three rounds, it was shocking that the third judge only gave him one round. Although Benavidez put on a great fight and proved why he belongs at the top of the division, Johnson clearly won the fight, executing superior striking and grappling styles. This weekend, it may not be so cut and dry.

Both men have won all of their fights since their last meeting, but, while the champ has been training in a similar fashion as last year with a lot of the same coaches and training partners, Team Alpha Male, home to Benavidez, has undergone some changes, most notably the addition of retired UFC veteran and Muay Thai expert Duane “Bang” Ludwig as their head coach. The Team Alpha Male fighters have certainly been reaping the benefits, going nearly undefeated in 2013 in all of their major fights.

Benavidez bested former title contender Ian McCall after three rounds in his first fight of 2013 and followed that win up with TKOs of Darren Uyenoyama and Jussier “Formiga” da Silva. Johnson has shared similar successes against top-tier competitors John Dodson and John Moraga in his last two outings.

In a long-awaited rematch, Benavidez and Johnson will face off again this Saturday night in what is sure to be one of the most highly anticipated championship fights of 2013.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Johnson – 10, Benavidez – 9

Based purely on their last fight, Johnson would get the clear nod in the striking department. Although Benavidez threw many more significant strikes, Johnson landed almost twice as many. The challenger throws in high volumes, but the champ is much more calculating and precise. Johnson also has better movement.

Even into the championship rounds, Johnson was continuously moving in and out of the pocket, creating a very frustrating striking environment for Benavidez while preserving his own energy. The champ threw more kicks and knees, which he also landed more often. Mighty Mouse’s ability to maneuver laterally with accurate strikes would put him well above Benavidez in this department, but that’s before factoring in the addition of Ludwig to Benavidez’s camp.

Since Ludwig has joined Alpha Male, all of the fighters’ striking games have improved exponentially. In his last fight against Johnson, Benavidez only landed less than 20 percent of his strikes. In his last two fights, he improved that to landing over one-third of his strikes. Granted, his last two fights were against guys that combine for one knockout win in 30 fights, but he is showing signs of improvement.

While it’s easy to toot the Ludwig horn, the fact remains that Johnson’s overall striking style and ability is much more dynamic and accurate than that of Benavidez, giving the champ the nod in the striking category.

Wrestling: Johnson – 10, Benavidez – 9

Whereas Johnson may be only slightly better in the stand-up game, his wrestling ability reaches far beyond anything Benavidez has to offer. Johnson’s amateur wrestling career may not have continued beyond high school, but with 12 takedowns of two-time NCAA Division I All-American John Moraga, he looked like an Olympic gold medalist. Johnson’s takedowns are lightning fast, and he stuffs his opponents’ takedown attempts better than almost any MMA fighter in the world, regardless of weight class.

Team Alpha Male is a camp chock-full of high-level wrestlers, but that was the case even before Ludwig, and Johnson still took Benavidez down five times out of 10 attempts in their last outing. In the clinch, it’s a little more evenly matched, but overall, Benavidez doesn’t hold a candle to the champ in the wrestling department, high school state championship or not.

Submission Grappling: Johnson – 10, Benavidez – 10

In their first outing, Benavidez attempted to submit Johnson when they did hit the mat, but to no avail. Johnson, even when he improved his own position, never really tried to finish on the ground. There is no reason to believe this match will be much different in the submission grappling department, but if it should, the match-up is pretty even.

Together, Johnson and Benavidez combine for 15 total submission victories. Until Johnson’s armbar of Moraga last July, neither had scored a submission since the WEC 52 card over three years ago, when both men choked out their respective opponents by guillotine.

Both of these guys are dynamic grapplers, but not experts in the submission department. They stick to simple, effective techniques that can be positioned into using their wrestling prowess. Either man has the ability to submit an opponent, but both are so good at submission defense that it becomes a moot point in this contest.

Stamina: Johnson – 10, Benavidez – 9

Johnson is a freak of nature when it comes to conditioning. He literally almost never looks winded, and he pushes the pace in every fight, right up until the final bell. His accuracy in striking allows him to throw a lower volume of punches, but he lands more often than his opponents. He is very good at conserving energy, and at the end of five rounds, he almost always looks as though he has a few more in him.

Benavidez is a stellar athlete with equally awesome conditioning, but his fighting style of constantly pressing and throwing a high volume of attacks tends to empty his tank much quicker than the champ. In their last fight, Johnson, by the end fifth round, ecstatically threw his hands into the air with little effort, but Benavidez could barely get his to rest on the top of his head. In between rounds, the challenger looked a bit winded.

Johnson showed better stamina the first time, and there’s no reason to think anything different for the rematch.

Speed: Johnson – 10, Benavidez – 9

As with stamina, the champ holds the upper hand in speed, and it’s not just speed in the delivery of strikes. Johnson is quicker with his takedown shots, his footwork and his head movement. From the clinch or bottom position on the ground, his speed and explosiveness can turn the tables in the blink of an eye. If Benavidez is going to have any chance in this fight, he will need to deal with the amazing quickness that the champ brings to the Octagon.


The addition of Duane Ludwig to Team Alpha Male is a huge x-factor in this fight. Although he is primarily known for his Muay Thai expertise, the guy has trained for nine UFC, seven Strikeforce and five King of the Cage events, not including all of the teammates he helped train for the biggest promotions in the world. In 35 pro MMA matches, Ludwig has only been to a decision six times, and that doesn’t even include all of his kickboxing matches. So, he definitely knows how to bring the fight, win or lose. Since his appointment as the head coach, outside of a couple hiccups, the Alpha Male guys have been rolling through opponents, and Benavidez is no exception. Come Saturday night, more than anything else, Johnson needs to be prepared for a new level of striking from Benavidez. That improvement could prove to be the game changer.

Total: Johnson – 50, Benavidez – 46

Verdict: In the first meeting of these flyweight powerhouses, Johnson won decisively, regardless of what judge Richard Bertrand thinks he saw. The biggest difference in the rematch is the new coach that Benavidez has in his corner. The influence of Ludwig’s presence was evident in his last two outings. That all being said, the champ hasn’t slowed down a bit and is already considering a move back to bantamweight, a move that would only be cemented with a win over Benavidez. Johnson is bringing the same amazingly dynamic game into the cage against an ever-improving challenger, and the champ should once again prevail, this time by unanimous decision, to retain his UFC flyweight title.

Photo: Demetrious Johnson (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)