July 24, 2012
Fight to be the firstBenavidez and Johnson hungry for title
By NEIL SPRINGER, Special to QMI Agency
Only eight fighters know what it’s like to win an inaugural UFC championship belt.
Ken Shamrock (superfight), Mark Coleman (heavyweight), Frank Shamrock (light-heavyweight), Dave Menne (middleweight), Pat Miletich (welterweight), Jens Pulver (lightweight), Jose Aldo (featherweight) and Dominick Cruz (bantamweight) have all succeeded in having their names etched in the history books as the first of their kind.
At UFC 152 in Toronto on Sept. 22, Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez will battle to be the ninth fighter on the list, as the winner of the two are set to be crowned the first-ever UFC flyweight champion.
“This is huge,” Benavidez said at a pre-fight news conference Tuesday. “It’s amazing to be here on this card. I’m looking forward to fighting here in Canada.
“Of course, it’s for the UFC (125-pound) title ... it’s amazing to be the first one, also.
“I’m looking to be the George Washington of UFC flyweight champions. I can’t wait to come out here and put on a show.”
The bout marks Johnson’s second attempt at UFC gold, as he dropped a unanimous decision to bantamweight champion Cruz in October.
“I agree with Joseph,” Johnson began. “It means the world to me to fight for another UFC title. I wasn’t so lucky the first time at 135 (pounds), but I’m going to bust my butt in the gym for the 125 title. To be able to do it here in Canada — my first time fighting in Canada — it’s awesome.”
To earn their spot in the championship match, Benavidez and Johnson took part in a four-man tournament that kicked off at UFC on FX 2 in Sydney, Australia, on March 3.
Benavidez punched his ticket to the finals with an impressive second-round TKO victory over Yasuhiro Urushitani. But the tourney hit a bump in the road after Johnson was awarded a majority decision over Ian McCall.
It was later revealed the head of the Combat Sports Authority of New South Wales tallied the scorecards wrong. Judge Sal D’Amato had awarded McCall a 10-8 for almost finishing Johnson with ground-and-pound in the third, but it was written down as 10-9.
Had the scores been recorded correctly, the bout would have been ruled a draw and the fighters would have competed in an overtime fourth round. Since both athletes had already left the cage when the oversight was discovered, the only option was to book an immediate rematch.
Johnson eliminated all controversy the second time around, defeating McCall via unanimous decision three months later.
Despite finally getting over a tough hurdle, Johnson said it’s too early to start celebrating.
“Joseph, he’s dangerous everywhere,” Johnson said. “He’s finished guys, he’s knocked guys out and he’s submitted guys. I believe I have the ability to negate all those things and use my skill set to take it to him Sept. 22.”
Benavidez admitted Johnson’s speed will be tough to deal with.
“DJ is definitely going to be the fastest fighter I’ve ever fought,” Benavidez said. “He’s the fastest fighter in the UFC. I’ve never really fought anyone faster than me.
“I think I have the timing and power to negate that. I’ve just always been impressed with him all the way around — the way his fluid striking mixes in with his takedowns. It’s going to be a great fight.”
Of course, not everyone is as excited about the 125-pound championship bout. Namely, middleweight Michael Bisping, who meets Brian Stann in the UFC 152 co-main event. During a recent appearance of Fuel TV, Bisping claimed “no one cares about little flyweights.”
Bisping knew he wasn’t leaving yesterday’s event without having to answer for his comments.
“I’m just happy they’re fighting; this is going to be an amazing title fight,” Bisping said. “I expected this.”
Benavidez said he takes everything Bisping says with a grain of salt.
“It was ridiculous when I first heard it,” the Team Alpha Male fighter began. “Bisping, everyone pretty much expects something ridiculous to come out of his mouth. That’s pretty much what he does.”
“Listen, when you were a glint in your dad’s eye, I was kicking ass in the UFC,” Bisping countered.
“It’s not going to change the fact that we’re the top two guys in the world,” Benavidez responded. “We’re going after history that night and everyone supports us.
“Enjoy being in the co-main event.”
Following the media event, Bisping told QMI Agency that he and Stann are the true headliners.
“Regardless of what the midgets said at the press conference, me and Brian Stann are the main event,” Bisping said. “We’re the ones that are going to sell this card. It’s going to be a hell of a fight.”
Though UFC 152 is still two months away, the card is starting to take shape.
— Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson
— Michael Bisping vs. Brian Stann
— Rory MacDonald vs. B.J. Penn
— Evan Dunham vs. T.J. Grant
— Vinny Magalhaes vs. Igor Pokrajac
— Marcus Brimage vs. Jim Hettes
UFC 152 takes place at the Air Canada Centre Sept. 22. Ticket go on sale to the general public Friday, but UFC Fight Club members can pick up seats Wednesday, while UFC newsletter subscribers have access Thursday.