Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson: Pretty fly guys

NEIL SPRINGER, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:09 AM ET

TORONTO - The last time Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious (Mighty Mouse) Johnson were in the Air Canada Centre, they shared a special evening at a Coldplay concert.

The two fighters, who were joined by Brian Stann and Michael Bisping during a July press tour to promote UFC 152 in Toronto, took in the British pop group’s show at the ACC once their media obligations were behind them.

“It was actually a double-date,” Benavidez joked at the UFC 152 pre-fight press conference Thursday. “Bisping had a date, too. So we double-dated. For everyone’s information, it wasn’t just me and Demetrious.

“We had the opportunity to go to a Coldplay concert and they said we’d sit together. I was like, ‘I don’t hate the guy. I can do that.’ It was a good time. I’m not ashamed. Coldplay was awesome live — so take that.”

The UFC’s top flyweights will return to the home of the Maple Leafs on Saturday, only this time they’ll be looking to take each other’s heads off, not enjoy a few pop songs.

Benavidez and Johnson will battle to crown the UFC’s inaugural 125-pound champion in the co-main event of UFC 152. The show will be headlined by a light-heavyweight title scrap between Jon Jones and Vitor Belfort, while Bisping and Stann will clash in a bout of middleweight contenders.

Benavidez admitted that while Coldplay belted out their soft, melodic tunes, he envisioned brutalizing his opponent.

“As strange as it is, it was actually a bit inspirational to be in there because we’re in the same arena, the Air Canada Centre,” Benavidez began. “Here was this crowd going nuts over this act in the middle (of the venue) and I was just thinking that come two months we’re going to be in the middle, putting on a show and fans will be going crazy for us. Yeah, people won’t be crying and (brandishing) lighters, but that many people (are going to be in attendance).

“At times I would just look at Demetrious and imagine fighting him in front of all these people. Even though we were at Coldplay, I was still thinking about taking him out. Not going to lie.”

Despite being on friendly terms with Benavidez outside the octagon, Johnson said he will hold nothing back once the cage door shuts.

“It’s not going to affect anything at all,” Johnson said. “We know it’s a business. We’re both trying to make history and put on a great show for the Canadian fans.”

There is a lot at stake for both fighters.

Not only does a victory mean a spot in the history books as the promotion’s first flyweight champion, the winner instantly becomes the face of the UFC’s newest division. With that comes the responsibility of drumming up as much interest as possible with MMA fans.

Though bouts in the lighter weight classes rarely disappoint in terms of action, they can often be a tougher sell with casual followers and pay-per-view consumers, who are naturally drawn to heavyweights.

Johnson said UFC 152 is the perfect stage to cement the flyweight division as one of the most exciting in MMA.

“Having the best two fighters in the 125-pound division fighting each other will show the world that the flyweight division is the toughest challenge,” Johnson said. “You have Joseph Benavidez, who has reached the pinnacle of the 135-pound class and I’ve done the same thing. Now we’re here fighting at our natural weight class. We’re going to fight and be able to show our natural abilities against guys who are our size, instead of fighting guys who are bigger.

“It’s definitely going to be a tough challenge on Saturday night. It’s just going to cement how awesome our flyweight division is and how more exciting fights are going to come.”

Though the flyweights made their first UFC appearance at UFC on FX 2 in March, UFC 152 marks the first time a 125-pound bout has been featured on pay-per-view.

Benavidez said this weekend marks the division’s true introduction to fans.

“It means a lot going out there and proving something, mainly just because the division is new and most people haven’t been introduced to it,” Benavidez said. “This is the big introduction. It definitely means a lot and it’s great that it’s in Canada ... It’s great that Jones and Belfort are on the card because that means it brings more viewers. I know 100% we’re going to deliver.

“So it’s definitely important to go out there and put on a great fight. With time it’s going to continue to be great. So I’m not worried about the legacy of the flyweights. Like I said, I know 100% every fight is going to deliver.”

GOOD-NATURED STRANGLING

Michael (The Count) Bisping and Joseph Benavidez have buried the hatchet — and all it took was some good-natured strangling.

The British middleweight launched the first salvo two months ago when he claimed “no one cares about little flyweights” in reference to Benavidez’s 125-pound championship bout against Demetrious Johnson at UFC 152 Saturday at the Air Canada Centre. The two have exchanged barbs since with Benavidez recently stating he hits harder than Bisping, whose punching power is often criticized.

That last comment didn’t sit well with the 185-pound contender, who responded he would strangle Benavidez when the two crossed paths in Toronto. As it turns out, Bisping is a man of his word.

“The strangling that you’re talking about has already taken place,” Bisping said at the UFC 152 pre-fight news conference Thursday. “We have photographic evidence on Joseph’s phone. I strangled him. We’ve settled our differences. He apologized.

“He’s turned down a fight with my son,” Bisping continued, getting in another shot. “We’re good now. He knows his place. He’s one of the little guys, I’m one of the big guys.”

“You’re an average-sized guy — way to go,” Benavidez responded. “I said, ‘You said you were going to choke me, how about you do it?’ He wasn’t very strong. I wasn’t impressed.”


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