Joseph Benavidez entered his UFC 152 flyweight title fight as a decided favorite over Demetrious Johnson, but he failed to make good on his bid to become the division's first UFC champion Saturday night in Toronto.
Most expected Benavidez to use his power to handle the effervescent Johnson, but he was unable to do so more than occasionally, succumbing to the speed of his opponent more often than not.
Dropping a split decision to Johnson may very well signify the greatest disappointment of Benavidez's career, but it certainly does not signify the end of it. On the contrary, Benavidez remains a top flyweight fighter whose best days are still to come.
Though he just lost a title fight, Benavidez is not all that far removed from receiving another—the luxury of competing in a newly formed, sparsely populated division. Consequently, you shouldn't expect to see Benavidez in the Octagon with anyone but top flyweights for the foreseeable future.
Ian McCall is a logical opponent for Benavidez, with the two fighters unofficially rounding out the flyweight Grand Prix podium now ruled by Mighty Mouse.
Like the new champ, Uncle Creepy is a guy who poses a speed threat—though one that is more easily handled—and would embody a suitable test for Benavidez as he prepares for a rematch with Johnson.
Alternatively, Benavidez could take on the loser of John Dodson vs. Jussier da Silva, which is part of the UFC on FX 5 card. The winner of that match is expected to challenge Johnson for the title.
Another option for Benavidez is John Moraga, who impressively debuted in the UFC earlier this summer.
I'd really expect Benavidez to take on one of Dodson/da Silva or Moraga, but if the stars fail to align, maybe a utility fighter like Tim Elliott could fill the void.
Regardless of who Benavidez's next opponent is, don't expect him to stay away from the UFC flyweight strap for too long. He lost at UFC 152, but he is too talented to keep down and could very well challenge for the title in less than 12 months.