The upcoming undercard for UFC 172 features the No. 2 flyweight in the world, as Joseph Benavidez looks to get back on track in the division when he faces Timothy Elliott in the featured bout on the prelims, while former Ultimate Fighter competitor Jessamyn Duke looks to pick up her second win in the Octagon when she takes on Brazilian striker Bethe Correia.
PRIDE legend Takanori Gomi also returns this weekend when he draws Team Greg Jackson fighter Isaac Vallie-Flagg.
All told, it's an action-packed slate of fights with implications on the top 10 rankings, as well as some top up and comers looking to make waves in their respective divisions. With so many close matchups, these fights could also determine the winners and losers in the UFC Fantasy game so let's take a look at a few of these bouts to see who has the advantage come fight night.
JOSEPH BENAVIDEZ VS. TIMOTHY ELLIOTT
Top 10 flyweights Joseph Benavidez and Timothy Elliott both look to get back on track after recent losses, but only one of them can avoid a two-fight skid this weekend.
Benavidez stumbled in his bid to win the 125-pound championship, losing to champion Demetrious Johnson by knockout back in December - the first and only time he's ever been finished in his career. As a matter of fact, outside of two losses to Johnson and two more to former bantamweight king Dominick Cruz, Benavidez has been virtually untouchable. His combination of powerful striking, lightning-quick wrestling and deceptive submission skills make Benavidez one of the best flyweights in the world, and he'll look to showcase that on Saturday night.
Where Elliott maintains an advantage is with his size - he will be bigger than Benavidez come fight night as well as holding a three-inch reach advantage in the stand-up. The problem is that Elliott doesn't always fight 'big' - meaning he doesn't always use his size to help him win fights. Elliott is more of a power puncher and not as much when it comes to technique. It's here that he could struggle with the smaller, more compact Benavidez, who throws with power and uses technical boxing.
Benavidez just needs to get inside on Elliot and unleash quick combinations, punishing his opponent to the body to wear him out round after round. When it's all said and done, Benavidez should be able to control the action and get a unanimous decision victory.
TAKANORI GOMI VS. ISAAC VALLIE-FLAGG
There was a time not too many years ago where Takanori Gomi was considered the best lightweight on the planet. Those days have passed as Gomi, like most fighters, got a little older and the competition continued to get a little better, but that doesn't mean he still can't uncork a wild fight and a crazy knockout.
He'll get his chance this weekend, facing Isaac Vallie-Flagg at UFC 172.
Vallie-Flagg is a fellow stand-up fighter who loves to trade with opponents, although that could be his downfall in this matchup. Vallie-Flagg lands at an incredible rate, with 5.11 significant strikes per minute with just over 43 percent accuracy. Both of those stats are superior to Gomi in the UFC, but the one area Vallie-Flagg falls behind in that could cost him is his 48 percent striking defense. Vallie-Flagg has no problem getting into exchanges with opponents, and if there's one guy you don't want to trade punch for punch with, it's Takanori Gomi.
Gomi hits like a train, and while his technique is flawed at times, one punch is all it takes to remind an opponent that they made a mistake standing in the pocket with the former PRIDE champion. Gomi also displays great takedowns and takedown defense, with both hitting at about 66 percent accuracy - a very solid standard in the Octagon. But Gomi won't be fishing for takedowns in this fight. He'll be gunning for a knockout.
Now, Vallie-Flagg is a very hard opponent to finish, despite his defensive woes in past fights. He's gone to a decision in each of his last four fights. Three of those ended in split decisions, so Vallie-Flagg not only struggles to finish, but he also has a hard time separating himself from the competition over the course of 15 minutes.
Gomi's biggest virtue isn't always patience, but allowing the fight to come to him this time should get the win. The Japanese fighter known as “The Fireball Kid” just needs to win the exchanges with Vallie-Flagg with his power and maybe even land a knockdown or two. When it's all over, Gomi should be standing tall with a victory, but it won't be easy and it won't be a blowout, so the judges have to get the call right at the end of the day.
JESSAMYN DUKE VS. BETHE CORREIA
Jessamyn Duke and Bethe Correia will look to crack the top 10 soon and this will be a great showcase fight to state their case. Following her stay on The Ultimate Fighter, Duke moved to California to begin work with bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, while Correia trains out of Brazil with the 'Pitbull' brothers, Patricky and Patricio Freire.
Duke is a ridiculously tall bantamweight with a 71-inch reach, which is a whopping six inches more than her opponent. What's great about Duke is that as a Muay Thai fighter, she uses her height to her advantage in almost every situation. She's long and rangy with her punches and in the clinch she works with knees the way that Picasso worked with paints. In her lone UFC fight, Duke was a machine, landing 8.2 strikes per minute with 66.49 percent accuracy. She throws with volume and doesn't slow down over the course of the fight.
Correia is no slouch on the feet either, as she showed in her UFC debut against veteran fighter Julie Kedzie. The Brazilian fighter managed 55 percent accuracy in her stand-up game as well, which is nothing to scoff at when looking at statistics. But she can be a grinder, working over her opponents without taking too many chances.
Duke can employ the same strategy, but do it even better to get the win on Saturday night. Duke's ability to keep the fight at a distance will do her wonders, and if she gets locked up with Correia, she just has to use her knees to even the playing field with a vicious attack to the body and legs all night long. By the time the third round rolls around, Duke should be in control, and if she's learned a little bit of Judo from her new pal Rousey, she might even throw in a takedown or two to make sure she's secured the victory when the judges render their decision.
DANNY CASTILLO VS. CHARLIE BRENNEMAN
It's a clash of wrestlers in this bout, but takedowns may end up only playing a small part in how this fight turns out.
Danny Castillo comes from a wrestling background, but with his work over the last few years training with fighters like Nick and Nate Diaz, as well as learning from coaches like Duane Ludwig, he's become quite a good striker. Castillo's power is in his hands, where he's rattled fighters like Edson Barboza on the feet, and he's got the grappling background to stifle an opponent's attacks just like the kind Brenneman will present in their matchup.
Brenneman loves to put his opponents on the mat and wear them out over three rounds with a constant pace, great cardio and the ever present threat of a submission. With 42 percent takedown accuracy while averaging almost four takedowns per fight, Brenneman's strategy isn't a secret, but that doesn't mean fighters don't struggle to stop him.
Still, given Castillo's own 71 percent takedown defense, if he can stuff Brenneman's attempts to get this one to the ground, he should have a distinct advantage on the feet. Castillo's boxing is vastly underrated, and no one should downplay the kind of punch he packs when he connects. Castillo has hurt past opponents like Barboza and Michael Johnson with strikes, but failed to follow up with enough to get the finish. Ultimately, he lost both fights, so Castillo has to hurt Brenneman and then apply the right pressure to get the stoppage. If Castillo does his job right, he'll get a first or second round TKO and maybe put himself in line for a Performance of the Night bonus to boot.