At UFC 225, the world will see the return of Joseph Benavidez to the octagon for the first time since 2016. He is coming off six straight wins, and had everything – including an icon of a wife – but an ACL tear to his knee disrupted any further progress and prevented him from fighting at all in 2017. How good he proves to be on his return, and how fight-sharp he is after a long absence, will be the key factor in this fight. Meanwhile, Benavidez’ opponent Sergio Pettis has fought three times since that injury was sustained. While Pettis will have superior readiness, he faces Benavidez on the back of a loss to Henry Cejudo at UFC 218, which bodes poorly in the context of UFC 225.
UFC 225: Benavidez v Pettis – the tale of the tape
Cejudo fights provide an indication
In fact, Cejudo is something of a yardstick for predicting this fight, given that Cejudo was the most recent man to lose against Benavidez. That noted, Pettis lost by unanimous decision in his fight with Cejudo, whereas Benavidez (as reported on MMA Fighting) only managed to beat Cejudo via a hotly debated split decision. It is this that leads bookmakers and bettors alike to fancy Benavidez on the night. This is reflected empirically by the current odds on Betway, which (as of 13 April 2018) price Sergio Pettis as a 7/4 outsider for a win. Based on that figure, Pettis is not a massive outsider but the bookmakers clearly think this it’s Benavidez’ fight to lose. On a more practical level, it is hard to see him getting outworked on the ground once the fight gets to the floor. Benavidez is also the more well-rounded of the two in terms of categorical ability and, for those backing a specific win method, the smart money lies in a unanimous decision win for Benavidez.
At a base level, former Bantamweight Benavidez’ last six victories imply that he is not entirely reliant on fitness to prevail. Prior to the split decision win against Cejudo, Benavidez’ unique brand of patience inside the octagon was reflected in four straight wins via unanimous decision, in which he controlled the match and used his reputation for good groundwork to his advantage. Tellingly, however, his last defeat (albeit back in December 2013) came via a single punch from Demetrious Johnson. Ultimately it is in Pettis’ best interests to try to beat Benavidez at his own game, wearing him down and forcing him to fight when not at 100% fitness, before finding the opportune strike as Johnson did. Regardless of his underdog status, Pettis is clearly not one to back down from a challenge, and many believe that he deserves full credit for taking on a tough fight when there was no apparent need to.
Benavidez is 6-0 since losing to Demetrious Johnson via KO in December 2013.
Wearing down for the win
If Pettis is to win via KO, it will almost certainly be in the last round. In his last fight, he was hitting Cejudo with some good shots before being taken down and dominated on the ground. In this fight, the same could easily happen if he does not fight smarter. As such, the longer Pettis can stay on his feet, the better his chances of victory. In another stipulation that could affect the way this fight unfolds, the bout will be fought at 125 pounds, as reported by Bloody Elbow. Thus, in contradiction to current odds, all the physical attributes go in favor of Pettis. He is two inches taller than the 5’4 Benavidez, and also has a three-inch reach advantage, as well as being nine years younger. In practice, the above stipulation also means Benavidez boasts a lot more experience, but energy counts for a lot at 125 pounds, giving Pettis a real boost with the odds seemingly stacked against him.
Ultimately, this fight will most likely hinge on how effectively and how often Benavidez can take Pettis down. If Pettis can resist, then he stands a decent chance in a fight that few are giving him much hope in. After being dominated by Cejudo, he will be determined to put on a different performance, and show he is the best of the Pettis brothers and, with two contrasting styles set to be showcased at UFC 225, this match will be looked upon as an important one in terms of which styles become fashionable within the Flyweight division in the coming years.