Headlining UFC 192’s preliminary card is a fantastic flyweight matchup between #1 ranked Joseph Benavidez and #14 ranked Ali Bagautinov. Benavidez has long been considered one of the best fighters in the world at both 125 and 135 pounds, while Bagautinov is making his return after a lengthy suspension for failing a post-fight drug test at UFC 174. Joseph Benavidez (22-4 MMA, 9-2 UFC, -340 favorite) As I mentioned above, Benavidez has been a perennial top contender at both 135 and 125 pounds. He has only lost to two men in his entire career, current UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson and former UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz. That alone tells you how good he has been for his 26-fight career. Benavidez is currently in a tough position because he has already lost to Johnson twice, and their last contest ended with Benavidez getting brutally knocked out in the first round. He will likely have to win at least a few more fights before the UFC would consider giving him another chance against Johnson. That is not an envious position to be in because Benavidez is likely the second best fighter in the division and has beaten everyone else the UFC has put in front of him. He has notable wins over Ian McCall, John Moraga, Jussier Formiga, Miguel Torres, and Eddie Wineland. As a member of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California, Benavidez gets to train daily alongside fellow UFC stars Urijah Faber, T.J. Dillashaw, Chad Mendes, and Cody Garbrandt. Getting that kind of elite training will only benefit a fighter’s game. The 31-year old is a well-rounded fighter that excels in every aspect of mixed martial arts. Fighting out of a southpaw stance, he features fast, looping hooks to the head and body of his opponent. He has knockout power in both hands but is prone to getting countered down the middle because of the wide nature of his punches. Benavidez would benefit by tightening up his boxing game, but he is still a very effective striker. He often follows up his punching combinations with strong kicks to his opponent’s head and body. Benavidez is also known for his excellent conditioning and fast pace. Not to rely solely on his striking, Benavidez is also one of the best grapplers in the division. He features a solid wrestling attack, including a strong double-leg that he can hit in open space and against the cage. From top position he is a slick passer and has a nasty array of chokes, especially his trademark guillotine. Benavidez’s defensive wrestling is good, but not great because he is still one of the smaller fighters in the division. That may be an area where Bagautinov will look to exploit on Saturday night. Ali Bagautinov (13-3 MMA, 3-1 UFC, +280 underdog) Bagautinov makes his return to the Octagon after a 16 month layoff that was caused by him failing a post-fight drug test for EPO, which is a performance enhancing drug that increases the user’s red blood cell count. The failed test occurred after Bagautinov’s title fight against Demetrious Johnson at UFC 174, which he lost by unanimous decision. Prior to that fight the Dagestani had won his first three UFC fights in impressive fashion, including wins over John Lineker and Tim Elliott. Among other accolades, he is an International Master of Sports in Sambo and Freestyle Wrestling. Prior to his start in the UFC, Bagautinov compiled a 12-2 record while fighting in Russia. Nine of his thirteen wins have come via finish. The 30-year old is a well-rounded fighter that can do a bit of everything. His combat sambo background is evident in his takedowns and suplexes, which are a strong aspect of his game. His wrestling is very good, but he has struggled with holding his opponents down and sustaining meaningful offense while on the ground. Bagautinov does have a solid submission game, both offensively and defensively, but he is more known for his power punching. While his punches come fast and hard, he fights at a slow pace and tends to wait on his opponents too much in an effort to counter their strikes with punching combinations. This often results in Bagautinov having lengthy periods of inactivity on the feet, especially if his opponent is not willing to play his game. It will be interesting to see if his game has changed since his suspension and subsequent layoff. There is often a noticeable decline in a fighter’s effectiveness after they get caught using performance enhancing drugs, so that is something to look for in this fight. Thoughts I believe Benavidez is the superior fighter in this matchup, but I can see some areas where Bagautinov could have some success, particularly with his wrestling and right hand. Benavidez is a little small for the division and may have trouble if he finds himself with Bagautinov on top of him. Additionally, Benavidez’s wide, looping punches leave him open to counters straight down the middle, which is how Demetrious Johnson knocked him out. Bagautinov throws a solid straight right hand and may look to take advantage of that weakness. Besides those two points, I believe Benavidez has a sizeable edge in just about every other area. He is the better striker, fights at a much faster pace, and has the better offensive submission game. Additionally, he also has solid wrestling and power in his hands. Bagautinov will likely have to capitalize on one of the two areas I mentioned if he is to win this fight. However, all signs point to Benavidez outworking the Dagestan native for a decision, or perhaps finding a finish along the way. The Prediction: Joseph Benavidez defeats Ali Bagautinov by unanimous decision
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