Turning Back the Clock: Joseph Benavidez & Jussier Formiga

On the upcoming UFC card on June 29th, 2019, number one ranked Jussier Formiga will meet number two ranked Joseph Benavidez, in a rematch for the shot at the flyweight crown. Both fighters have had a significant amount of time in the octagon and share many similar opponents. However, I believe that since Formiga’s loss to Benavidez, he has changed deeply, while Benavidez may have to turn the clock back once more in order to put away his old foe.

In this article, I will examine their first fight and how they have changed since then, in hopes to better understand how this matchup will play out on the 29th.

In the beginning

The first fight between Benavidez and Formiga played out as an easy win for the already established veteran of the sport. Benavidez came out at the start of the fight, looking to land big combos with his head stuck straight up in the air. While ugly to look at, his incredible speed and good chin gave him the confidence to swing hard with Formiga.

Just swinging.
Stepping in with a counter-able overhand, unfortunately, Formiga would never capitalize.

Formiga, on the other hand, looked completely lost in the striking exchanges, having come from a pure jiu jitsu background. He spent the entire fight backing up and looking to tie up poorly with Benavidez.

Doesn’t seem like he knows what to do just yet.

The finish came with Formiga panicking under a combination and dropping under the flurry of punches and a knee to the body.

Formiga just didn’t look good at all.

Their first fight showed a lot of the Benavidez quirks, and some of the Formiga habits that would later come to him in fights.

The flyweight conundrum

The flyweight division was always incredibly small, even before the huge cuts made by the UFC in an effort to shut down the division. Which is why Formiga and Benavidez shared many different opponents, however, how they took apart their opponents is another matter entirely.

Formiga began to develop his striking game, and against fighters like Wilson Reishe began employing far more aggressive and fluent footwork. Formiga would routinely move forwards and back looking to find counters with his overhand right. 

Countering the kick, something that Formiga will continue to employ.

What made Formiga look better was a comfort knowing he was going to be hit, so he would bring his chin down and have confidence swinging. However, he would still come short against stronger and faster athletes like Henry Cejudo and Ray Borg.

Just pure athletic power.

Against his most recent opponent Deiveson Figueiredo, Formiga came out looking far more technically crisp and safe. Formiga has learnt that by playing it safe and allowing better athletes to show their hand first, he can make reads and counter strike. Against Figueiredo, he did exactly that. 

Figueiredo is clearly faster but gets read and caught.

Formiga has developed a lovely jab and footwork to allow him to create confusion in the better athlete, making their attacks obvious.

Backing up the hitter with some feints and footwork.

This gave way for Formiga to land his takedowns, which are not particularly special, however, when the opponent is too busy thinking about punches, their hips become open.

Just easy.

The takedowns came easy as the initial step looks the same as his jabbing footwork.

Great timing on that single to bodylock takedown. 

The ageing flyweight

Since the Formiga fight, Benavidez has looked quite odd. His pure athletic ability has carried him to wins over multiple ranked opponents. However, he has begun to show a decline in his body. Benavidez is now thirty-four years old and after his injury that kept him out for two years, his striking has aged with him.

Against the young Pettis, Benavidez’s surge forward with strikes were no longer as fast and he was punished as a result.

Head up still, winging punches.
Winging hooks while charging, the same stuff.

Benavidez, to his credit, would switch things up, and begin using takedowns. However, pure takedowns without good striking setup would just not get the larger sized man down on the canvas.

Since this loss, Benavidez would put himself into better grappling exchanges, relying on his vast knowledge of chain wrestling and great jiu-jitsu to get him dominant wins. While this was not the best form of Benavidez anymore, but he can still get wins if his conditions are met.

The verdict

Against Formiga, look for Benavidez to rely heavily on his clinch and wrestling game. While Formiga is the better jiu jitsu player, he lacks the strength and aggressiveness in the clinch as Benavidez does. Rather, Formiga prefers to shoot out in the open or when his opponent is rushing into him, giving up their hips.

Does not have the strength at all, to hold or throw his man.

A lot of clinch exchanges for Formiga tend to have his opponent giving up and pushing him away or Formiga failing to make anything happen. The truth is, is that Formiga simply does not have the chain wrestling that could start from the clinch and he uses the clinch to rest from the striking.

If he had a bit more drive, he could make this work.

Compared to Benavidez, who against Ortiz was able to make Ortiz continually panic and defend takedowns, this might be an opening for Benavidez.

Lovely scrambling.

I can see Benavidez closing in with his surges, roughing Formiga up in the clinch and stalling him out along the fence with prolonged chained takedowns.

Borg showing that Formiga is quite hittable in the clinch.

However, if this fight remains at striking range, it is likely we see Formiga pick Benavidez apart when he rushes in with his winging punches. Formiga has shown tight defensive guards and a tendency to play safe when it comes to rushing fighters.

I find myself struggling to pick against Formiga in this fight, Benavidez no longer has the durability he once had and forcing Formiga into a brawl will no longer be his desired method of violence. However, if Benavidez to play into the same game he did against Ortiz, he can likely wrestle his way into a unanimous decision victory.

Regardless of the outcome, it will be interesting to see how the winner of this fight will play in the return of their champion having just attained his second belt. For now, we will just wait to see if Formiga finally passes his athlete test or if Benavidez can turn the clock.


Until next week!

Julian Lung

Writing out of Toronto, Ontario. MMA connoisseur.

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