Challenger Joseph Benavidez (19-4) and champion Demetrious Johnson (19-2-1) both loaded up big right hands about two minutes through the first round of their flyweight title fight.
Only one connected.
Johnson hit his opponent squarely. Benavidez only hit air. Then he hit the mat, awakening to find officials surrounding him—a bitter way to learn he failed in a second attempt to win UFC gold.
The challenger, in truth, never saw it coming. Eyes closed, he had only his own right hook on his mind. After all, it's one of his best weapons—a shot that can finish a fight if it lands.
Power was thought to be Benavidez's big advantage in this bout. If anyone was ending the fight with one punch, it was going to be Benavidez. Johnson, conventional wisdom proclaimed, had to be perfect for 25 minutes on his way to a decision.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
One wrong for each of the punches that Johnson landed on the ground. He delivered them with lighting speed and efficiency in the heartbeat between knocking Benavidez to the floor and referee John McCarthy arriving on the scene to remove the challenger from harm's way.
So much for Johnson not being a finisher.
In fairness, it was a reputation that he earned in the cage. Seven consecutive Johnson fights between 2011 and 2013 went to the judges' scorecards. But after he has now finished two in a row, perhaps it's time to rewrite the book on the flyweight kingpin.
They say speed kills. If that's true, Johnson may just be the most dangerous man in UFC history. Beating his opponent to the punch has been a way of life for him. But he's done it while maintaining constant motion, often landing punches that were more for the judges than to end the fight.
Sitting down on his punches for the first time in his career and looking to generate more power, Johnson looked like a new man. This was a different approach, but one that makes sense in today's mixed martial arts.
“Tonight was a great moment for my career, but in reality it’s just another fight,” Johnson said. ”My goal is to keep evolving and displaying my skill set to fans and having them enjoy my fights.”
Can Johnson be a star?
The question surrounding Johnson, at this point, is the talent of the division that is slowly being built around him. Benavidez was widely considered the top contender. Johnson has now beaten him twice. While the UFC could throw other guys in with him, no one else in the division generates much interest.
Perhaps after this highlight-reel knockout, Johnson can provide a little box-office juice of his own. As pre-fight host Curt Menefee mentioned, the champion has fought his last three bouts on Fox.
That's not a good thing for Johnson.
While it has exposed him to millions of fans, it also means the UFC doesn't quite trust him to headline a successful pay-per-view. And the promotion was probably correct—Johnson wasn't ready. But with a few more right hands, it's not too hard to see him standing tall alongside his fellow champions.
A real star at long last.
All quotes obtained firsthand.