MMAjunkie Radio cohost and MMAjunkie contributor Dan Tom provides an in-depth breakdown of all of UFC Fight Night 123’s main-card bouts. Today, we look at the co-main event.
UFC Fight Night 123 takes place Saturday at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., and it airs on FS1 following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass.
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Jason Knight (20-3 MMA, 4-2 UFC)
- Height: 5’10” Age: 25 Weight: 145 lbs. Reach: 71″ Last fight: TKO loss to Ricardo Lamas (July 29, 2017)
- Camp: Alan Belcher MMA Club (Mississippi)
- Stance/striking style: Switch-stance / muay Thai
- Risk management: Fair
Regional MMA title
Amateur MMA accolades
3 KO victories
13 submission wins
8 first-round finishes
Relentless pace and pressure
Improved feints and footwork
Solid muay Thai arsenal
^ Hard hooks, elbows and knees
Counters kicks well
Serviceable takedown game
Excellent scrambling ability
^ Superb back taker
Active and aggressive guard
^ 1-0 against UFC southpaws
Gabriel Benitez (19-6 MMA, 3-2 UFC)
- Height: 5’8″ Age: 29 Weight: 145 lbs. Reach: 71″ Last fight: Decision loss to Enrique Barzola (May 13, 2017)
- Camp: American Kickboxing Academy (California)
- Stance/striking style: Southpaw / kickboxing
- Risk management: Good
“TUF LATAM” alum
Regional MMA titles
6 KO victories
10 submission wins
9 first-round finishes
Consistent pace and pressure
Good feints and footwork
Accurate left cross
^ Coming forward or off the counter
Hard left Thai kick
^ Variates level of attack
Improved wrestling ability
Urgent getup game
^ Uses the cage well
Active attacks off of back
Dangerous guillotine choke
Summary: The co-main event in Fresno features a potential barnburner between Jason Knight and Gabriel Benitez.
Knight, who to me feels like the honey badger of the featherweight division, is not one to shy away from a fight. Coming off of a loss to top-ranked Ricardo Lamas in July, Knight will attempt to bounce back into the win column with a good showing here.
Seeking to spoil those plans is Benitez, a product of the “TUF: Latin America” series who is trying to cement his status as a contender. Losing a competitive decision to Enrique Barzola earlier this year, Benitez will be looking to leave no doubts about the outcome this time around.
Starting off on the feet, we have a battle between a relentless pressure-fighter and a precise southpaw who packs power.
Benitez, the southpaw, has tightened up his striking since moving shop to the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif. Similar to his stablemate Luke Rockhold, Benitez builds much of his game around his left power kick.
Almost galloping in the way in which he circles, Benitez resets position so that he can create angles to attack. Mixing in a healthy dose of feints to go with his footwork, Benitez keeps his left cross on a hair-trigger, ready to come forward or counter at the drop of a dime.
Attaching an unrelenting Thai kick to his advances when appropriate, Benitez will not discriminate between the body, legs or head of his opposition. Even when blocked correctly, the force that he throws his kicks makes for an unpleasant experience.
Nevertheless, Benitez will still need to respect what is coming back at him.
A pressure-fighter with a never-say-die attitude, Knight embodies his moniker of “Mississippi Mean.” Whether he is prodding with jabs and teep kicks or winging hard hooks and crosses, there are ill intentions behind every Knight offering.
In recent years, Knight has improved his footwork and overall striking feel, displaying the ability to fight from both southpaw and orthodox with ease. And considering the unforgiving kicks of his opposition, being able to switch stances may come in handy for Knight.
The native of Mississippi also does well when it comes to countering, as Knight has a knack for catching kicks and parlaying them into slick trips or favorable scrambles. Should Knight end up getting this fight to the ground on his terms, then Benitez could be in trouble.
Benitez has improved his takedown defense and wrestling since training at AKA, but still has been susceptible to being taken down. When fighting from his back, Benitez does have a serviceable submission game in which he demonstrates the wherewithal to chain together attacks or create scrambles.
The problem, however, is the way in which Benitez gets back to his feet.
After creating space to scramble up, the Mexican fighter will typically elect to turtle when looking to return to his base and stand. Although I am a fan of this getup maneuver, turtling or tripoding can be very dangerous when facing a good back taker like Knight.
Benitez’s best bet will obviously be by staying off of the floor, but I am not sure that he will be able to guarantee that. Not only does Knight have a well-versed takedown game that he can lean on (from trips to tosses), but he scores a majority of his takedowns from the body lock.
Given the potent guillotine threat of Benitez, approaching takedowns from a body lock position is one of the safer routes in regards to navigating around the choke. The body lock also allows Knight his hoisting leverage to initiate the momentum needed to create scramble and back-take opportunities.
Once able to get one hook in, you can almost always count on Knight to immediately find his second, as the leg dexterity from his guard game translates seamlessly to his back taking abilities. Even if Knight fails to sink in a choke, he does well with racking up control time and damage here.
The oddsmakers and public seem to be confident in favoring the American on the betting lines with Knight -310 and Benitez 255 as of this writing.
Given Knight’s propensity to take damage due to his aggression, imagining an upset scenario is not necessarily hard when looking at the arsenal of Benitez. That said, as offensively impressive as Benitez is, he seems almost too respectful of his opponent’s offensive offerings when looking at how easy it can be to persuade him to step backward.
And considering that stepping backward against Knight means playing into his striking and grappling efforts, this could end up being a bad night for Benitez if he doesn’t find a fight-changing shot. Ultimately, I see Benitez struggling to defend takedowns, inevitably opening up his back in the scramble for Knight to score a submission come the second round.
Official pick: Knight inside the distance
For more on UFC Fight Night 123, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.