The co-main event of UFC Minneapolis highlights a likely title eliminator rematch at 125lbs between longtime top contender Jussier Formiga and former two-time title challenger Joseph Benavidez. While the fight itself is compelling and holds massive implications in the title picture, it’s the impact it has on the existence of the division itself that’s undoubtedly the top storyline.
Both Formiga and Benavidez have shared the cage with current double champion Henry Cejudo, with Benavidez picking up a split decision in 2016 after the pair coached season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter, while Formiga dropped a split decision against Cejudo in 2015, coincidentally enough at The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 2 Finale. While that’s an optimistic sign for whoever wins, being that they’ve had competitive outings with the champion, the situation with Cejudo as the simultaneous bantamweight champion will likely mean they get put on the back burner, as Cejudo defending the bantamweight belt will likely draw more promotional attention, especially if it’s against popular fan-favorites Aljamain Sterling or Petr Yan. Pair that with another critical flyweight bout between surging contender Alexandre Pantoja and all-action brawler Deiveson Figueredo in July at UFC 240, and all of the sudden, this fight may not be the title eliminator we think.
A post shared by Joseph Benavidez (@joejitsu) on Apr 10, 2019 at 6:39pm PDT
Ever since joining the UFC in 2012, Jussier Formiga has been amongst the highest ranked flyweights on the roster, getting close to title contention but always falling short in the biggest fights in key moments. In his first fight with Benavidez in 2012, he was finished in the first round via a vicious knee to the body and follow up punches. Since then, Formiga has gone 8-2 in his last 10 fights, with his only losses coming to Cejudo and former title challenger Ray Borg, both by decision. Formiga is now the number one contender and is riding high on a four-fight winning streak in the best form of his entire career, coming off of the two best performances of his career, defeating then-number one contender Sergio Pettis back in October and more recently defeating then-undefeated Deiveson Figueredo back in March. A natural Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, Formiga is best known for his dominant control once the fight hits the mat, more specifically his pension for gaining back control and using his most deadly weapon, his rear naked choke from back mount. Against Benavidez, expect him to attempt to turn this into a grappling match sooner rather than later.
No matter what was said between us before this battle I gained so much respect for Henry after our fight! Watching his performances and seeing what he’s done for this division (the one that I’ve been fighting for since it’s beginning) I have only gained more respect! Henry – other weight classes will be there but ours is still not certain. We have the power now more then ever to keep it moving forward and bring the respect it/we deserve! We represented for the flyweights that whole TUF season and delivered in our fight! (One of the hardest of my life and I know you feel the same) and we also did that on Saturday in Brooklyn! I want that belt, I was the first person to ever fight for that belt and I know the competitor in you wants to try to avenge the loss to me on your record! But like you said it is bigger then us … if you believe that to be true then this is the only option to keep this division moving forward, for all the current contenders, up and comers and the thousands dreaming right now of becoming the UFC Flyweight Champion. @henry_cejudo
A post shared by Joseph Benavidez (@joejitsu) on Jan 21, 2019 at 4:18pm PST
Joseph Benavidez is considered one of the best fighters in UFC history to have never won a belt. The longtime flyweight staple has been ranked amongst the top ever since the division’s conception in 2011. However, despite all of Benavidez’s success in the division, he always had his kryptonite in the form of Demetrious Johnson. Now, with Johnson wielding his trade over in the East, Benavidez once again has a chance to gain some momentum, and once again make a serious run at the flyweight title. With the exception of a very controversial decision to Sergio Pettis last June, Benavidez has been a nearly unstoppable force at flyweight in recent memory. The two losses to Johnson and the loss to Pettis are the only fights he’s lost at 125. While a natural wrestler, Benavidez has become increasingly more capable with his striking as of late, finishing Alex Perez with punches in the first round back in November and winning a dominant decision over Dustin Ortiz in January. Against an elite grappler like Formiga, it seems likely that Benavidez will want to keep the fight standing, where he still has a distinct advantage against Formiga.
While the fight is intriguing, being a rematch and, essentially, the equivalent of an interim title fight at 125, it’s interesting to look at what impact a great performance by either fighter will actually have on what decision the UFC makes regarding the flyweight title, and division as a whole. With the promotion dropping fighters from the division like flies, (*crickets*) it’s worth asking the question if the UFC actually keeps the division around, how will they make it more “marketable”? The issues the promotion cites as the problems for the division is that it lacks “marketability.” This is, in part, due to the long and dominant reign of Demetrious Johnson, but also due to the lack of meaningful contenders the division actually produced. There were points when guys like Chris Cariaso and the aforementioned Ray Borg fought for the title with modest winning streaks but nothing incredibly spectacular, and then they would subsequently get absolutely dominated by Johnson. Meanwhile, at lightweight, Tony Ferguson has won 12 straight bouts and is still in question to get the next title shot. The landscape of the division has obviously shifted since Henry Cejudo captured the belt, but even with him “saving” the division against TJ Dillashaw, he is seemingly more content with sustaining his bantamweight title reign, even if it comes at the expense of the division where he dug his claws.
You can call me the king of cringe but in that same breath know that I’m also the KING of Combat Sports 👑 • Olympic Champion 🥇 the youngest in U.S. history in 2008 • Two-division UFC World Champion 🤫 • Youngest @usawrestling Hall of Fame Inductee in history 🇺🇸 • Did I mention world’s most eligible bachelor? #TripleC #EmbraceTheCringe #KingOfCringe #KingOfCombat #SonOfAGold #GoldDigger
A post shared by Henry Cejudo (@henry_cejudo) on Jun 23, 2019 at 1:37pm PDT
Which brings us to this bout. Let’s look at it from five scenarios. Let’s say Benavidez wins via finish or a dominant decision. He already holds a win over Cejudo; in theory, at least, a finish should make him a shoo-in for the next fight with Cejudo, right? What about a Formiga finish, Cejudo holds a close win against him. Would Cejudo be willing to run that back, given the competitive nature of the first fight? What about a close decision for either man? Does that disqualify either one from a title shot, does it mean the Pantoja-Figueredo winner gets it next or does the UFC finally just close the division altogether?
And perhaps the scariest result for the flyweight division, a decision for either man in an underwhelming fight. That may just be the only excuse Dana White feels he needs to say, “See, the division is boring and unexciting.” Obviously, that’s not true, as are no generalizations, but we’ve seen the UFC kingpin make rash decisions based off of one lone performance before, just ask Tyron Woodley after UFC 214.
I’m confident that we’ll see a great fight on Saturday night, and, in theory at least, have a new undisputed number one flyweight contender on Sunday morning. But if the past is any indication, injustice may rear its ugly head once more. Either way, let’s just pray perpetually that we get a great fight.
Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro