Wednesday, January 18, 2012

So you really wanna know who the favorite in the UFC Flyweight Tournament is?

I’m not going to throw people under the bus by naming names, but one site’s breakdown of the UFC Flyweight Tournament that I read recently was an absolute embarrassment. I think one out of the six or so contributors actually knew who Yasuhiro Urushitani was, and only one or two more knew who Ian McCall was. How can you give an honest prediction for a favorite if you don’t know jack about two of the guys in the field!? Every other reputable site I know at least gives a mention to this rapidly growing division every now and then, and you don’t even have the decency to look up some fights on YouTube to gain some kind of knowledge of two top stars in the weight class? *Deep Breath, Exhale* As an MMA fan, (aspiring) journalist and avid supporter of getting Flyweights to the big stage, I was embarrassed and slightly appalled that they would even release something like that. I kept thinking I could do it better myself…so I did! Without further ado, here is my breakdown for the upcoming Flyweight Tournament:

Yasuhiro Urushitani – For those who don’t know, Urushitani is/was Shooto’s 123lb champion. He looks to finally be hitting his stride recently, winning five in a row, the last two being impressive stoppage wins due to strikes. And that is Urushitani’s strength: striking. He is very quick, uses a lot of movement, and is a solid counterpuncher. From what I’ve seen, he also knows how to mix up his strikes efficiently (his best weapon in a win over fellow Japanese flyweight standout Mamoru Yamaguchi was his kicks to the body).

Ian McCall – There’s two Ian McCalls most fans are familiar with. The one who became a name on Dominick Cruz’s resume during a largely unimpressive 1-2 run in the WEC, or the Ian McCall who became a man possessed since dropping to 125lbs and joining Tachi Palace Fights. The difference is staggering. In 2011 alone, McCall defeated previous #1 flyweight Jussier “Formiga,” top prospect Dustin Ortiz, and captured gold and solidified his status as top dog in the 125lb division with a win over then TPF champion and top-ranked flyweight Darrell Montague. He has done so with a combination of aggressive, powerful striking, a relentless ground-and-pound attack, and solid submission and takedown defense.

Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson – Mighty Mouse was the last person to challenge bantamweight kingpin Dominick Cruz. Although he made it exciting, he never put the champ in any serious danger. Still, the Mouse was a legitimate top-of-the-food-chain 135lber, with wins over Nick Pace, Damacio Page, “Kid” Yamamoto, and Miguel Torres. Johnson did so by combining wrestling technique, his natural gift of above-average quickness and agility, and his ever improving boxing and stand-up skills to secure his status as a top contender.

Joseph Benavidez – Benavidez is pegged as the favorite by many in this tournament, and why not? He’s already established himself as the best bantamweight not named Dominick Cruz. On the feet, he has good technique, quickness, and just the right amount of power. On the ground, he is good enough to “eat black belts” as he once said. The one they call “Joe-B Wan Kenobi” (I love that nickname) lived up to that by submitting highly-touted BJJ black belt Wagnney Fabiano by the patented Alpha Male guillotine choke. Oh, his aggressive and powerful top game and slick takedowns don’t hurt either. Just look at his resume, and highlight reel for that matter, at 135 and you’ll get the picture.

How it will pan out – The two bouts to start this four man tourney are Urushitani vs. Benavidez and Johnson vs. McCall. The only way I see Urushitani beating Benavidez is if he can defend takedowns like Chuck Liddell in his prime, get on his bike on the feet and pick apart Benavidez from range and with “get in and get out” combinations (think Lyoto Machida). Leg kicks to slow him down would be a great idea. However, I just think that Benavidez will be too relentless and too well-rounded for Urushitani. I think Benavidez will take him down and bash him on the ground or hit him with crisp combinations on the feet, which will lead to either a 2nd or 3rd round submission or a one-sided unanimous decision. Mighty Mouse vs. Uncle Creepy is a lot harder to call. On the feet, I give the speed advantage to Johnson, the power to McCall, and their technique is about even. Push. Mighty Mouse has great wrestling technique and agility, but McCall has the more powerful ground attack and excellent defensive grappling. Submissions are about even, so once again, it’s a push. I believe that the edge will come down to the intangibles, specifically, Ian McCall’s mindset. If he comes in with the desire and confidence he had in Tachi, I believe he will rise to the occasion and pull one out against Mighty Mouse. If he comes in nervous with the proverbial “Octagon jitters,” well…see Jason Miller vs. Michael Bisping. However, McCall may have had the best year for any fighter besides Johnny Bones, and I think his dominance in TPF will give him the boost of confidence he needs to seize the moment and take out Johnson by a hard-fought and exciting UD. As for the finals, let’s wait for them to be set before I make that prediction. Most sports fans can’t wait for the Superbowl in the winter. This tournament, my friends, is my Superbowl. I’m already counting down the days on my calendar.

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