The Biggest Revelations from UFC on FOX 9

Demetrious Johnson in the Hunt for MMA Male Fighter of the Year

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COMMENTARY | The UFC has 9 champions at the moment. Demetrious Johnson and Renan Barao (bantamweight interim title-holder) rank at the bottom in terms of popularity, paydays and respect from the public.

But dramatically knocking out Joseph Benavidez marked a huge step forward in forcing fans, reporters and the UFC to recognize that Johnson is indeed one of the most special fighters in the world. Prior to Saturday night's brilliant performance, "Mighty Mouse" was something of an afterthought among champions; you didn't hear pundits touting him as a potential candidate for 2013 Male Fighter of the Year in MMA. Suddenly a lot of them are. And that well-deserved chorus of Johnson supporters will grow louder in these final two weeks of December because, in my mind, only Chris Weidman would be more deserving of that prestigious honor - and that is assuming the New Yorker topples Anderson Silva once again in their Dec. 28 rematch.


The case for Johnson as Male Fighter of the Year is a strong one: His 3-0 campaign cements him as the most active and winningest UFC champion of 2013.

Two of his three title defenses have come by finish, quickly earning the ridiculously speedy flyweight a reputation as both awesome and a crowd-pleaser. Fatter paydays are probably in the 27-year-old's future, as is a jump up on MMA's pound-for-pay rankings. Respected outlets such as ESPN.com and MMAFighting.com had recently ranked Johnson No.8 on their pound-for-pound lists. I say that with Georges St. Pierre vacating his belt, and with Anderson Silva's loss earlier this year, Johnson deserves to be ranked at least top 5 pound-for-pound in the world (my list places him at No. 4, behind Jose Aldo, Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez). Again, I'm considering what the fighters did in 2013 as basis for this ranking - not purely on their historical accomplishments.


On Second Thought - Johnson Does Have KO Power

It's just a hunch, but I don't think Joseph Benavidez (whom I've had the privilege to train with on a number of occasions) held much respect for Johnson's punching power. After all, Benavidez time and again took Johnson's best punches in their first scrap and held up just fine. Statistically speaking, Johnson's hands were not something to be feared. The last time the Washington state had knocked out an opponent, prior to Saturday night, was nearly four years ago. In five bouts at flyweight, leading up to Saturday night, Johnson had been 5-0 but had not knocked anyone out. Benavidez, by contrast, had also fought five times at flyweight - winning by KO or TKO three times. That prompted most MMA journalists to hail Benavidez as the bigger puncher.


Johnson normally is fleet afoot, swiftly dancing about the cage, scoring with punches and then getting out of harm's way. But during the knockout sequence Johnson daringly stood in the pocket and traded right hands with Benavidez. The blow of Johnson, owner of the game's fastest hands, reached its target first. This is what can happen when slick "mobile" fighters decide to sit on their punches and generate maximum power. The result is Demetrious Johnson's first KO as a flyweight, which immediately puts his future opponents on notice. People often rave about Johnson's blazing speed. But there's a lot more to fear about him now than just his speed.

But I must say this about Johnson's fast-twitch fabulousness: Have you ever seen a fighter unload four punches faster than Johnson did once Benavidez hit the canvas? Me neither.


The Best Current Fighter To Never Win a UFC Title?

The answer to that question just might be Urijah Faber. Sacramento's favorite fighting son is 0-2 in UFC title bouts and winless in his past five world title fights if you include his career at the now-defunct World Extreme Cagefighting. Nonetheless, Faber completely annihilated No. 3 ranked bantamweight Michael McDonald on Saturday and Twitter was suddenly aflutter with journalists grasping for the right superlatives to describe Faber's most dominant showing in years. I remember one journalist even suggesting that the Urijah Faber we witnessed Saturday beats Renan Barao or Dominick Cruz in a rematch.

Faber was super-busy in 2014, racking up 4 wins and three finishes. What's next for "The California Kid"? My guess is yet another crack at the UFC strap, meaning we will find out if the new and improved incarnation of Faber under coach Duane "Bang" Ludwig is stellar enough -- finally -- to shake off the label of "best current fighter to never win a UFC title."


By the way, Team Alpha Male has enjoyed a statistical resurgence under standup ace Duane Ludwig in 2013, as has been keenly noted thanks to the fine work of FightMetric statistician Reen Kuhn, who refers to the phenomenon as "The Bang Effect." The Sacramento-based camp, previously renowned for its top-notch, head-hunting wrestlers, entered Saturday night with an amazing 14-1 record under Ludwig inside the octagon. Faber and Mendes prevailed in their tussles, Benavidez and Danny Castillo lost, but an impressive 16-3 stint under Ludwig. That could still be enough to earn the Coloradan his first-ever 2013 MMA Coach of the Year. We'll see.


Frank "Da Tank" Curreri, a world-class Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt with over 230 grappling wins in live competition, lives in Las Vegas and has been covering UFC for the past 11 years. He has worked for UFC and as a news journalist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, The Salt Lake Tribune and a FOX news affiliate in Las Vegas.




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