Johnson foils Benavidez’s UFC title quest

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The party atmosphere that was building inside Sleep Train Arena on Saturday night never got a chance to reach its crescendo.

Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson halted the festivities with a one-punch knockout of Joseph Benavidez 2:08 into the first round to retain the belt in the main event of UFC on Fox 9.

Benavidez was looking to follow victorious training partners Chad Mendes and Urijah Faber by becoming the third straight member of Sacramento-based Team Alpha Male to win on the card, and the anticipation was building for him to keep the belt in the city as he was the early aggressor.

Then Johnson’s right hand landed flush as Benavidez was attempting to throw a looping right. The challenger immediately fell limp on the mat, and Johnson landed a quick series of right hands before referee John McCarthy could step in.

It was the third straight successful title defense by Johnson, the only flyweight champion in UFC history. The outcome was far more decisive than Johnson’s first win over Benavidez, a split decision in the organization’s first flyweight title fight in September 2012.

“The first time I fought Joseph I was able to use my footwork to make him miss,” Johnson said. “Tonight I heard my coaches say, ‘You’ve got it timed, you’ve got his range down, now settle your feet.’ I did that, and I just let it go.”

Benavidez thought the improvements he had made since the first meeting would make the difference in winning the belt. He had won three straight fights under new trainer Duane Ludwig.

“I’m so upset right now,” Benavidez said. “I thought tonight was going to be my night.”

Johnson’s win dampened the crowd’s enthusiasm after a unanimous decision by Mendes and a brilliant performance by Faber that triggered a standing ovation just before the main event.

Faber submitted Michael McDonald with a guillotine choke in the second round of a matchup of bantamweight contenders. Faber landed a looping overhand right as McDonald stepped forward, then dropped him with another right as McDonald stumbled across the cage.

Faber then went to the ground and locked in the choke, forcing McDonald to tap at 3:22 of the round.

“There is a real sense of community here in Sacramento,” Faber said. “We have a lot to cheer about, and I’m glad I get to play a role in that. To do this here in front of that crowd was awesome. I’m pretty pumped about it.

“Michael McDonald is a tremendous opponent, and I really look forward to watching his career. He’s got so much potential, but tonight was my night.”

Mendes battled through illness to score a unanimous decision over Nik Lentz and solidify his spot as a top contender in the featherweight division.

It was the fifth consecutive win by Mendes since a loss to champion Jose Aldo in January 2012, though the first four came by knockout.

“I had a bad sinus infection a few weeks ago and didn’t want to take antibiotics,” Mendes said. “I was just hoping and praying it would clear up, and then a week ago it started to get bad again. After that first round, I could feel it down in my chest. Not making any excuses, I wanted to get the finish, but Nik Lentz is a really good fighter. I was able to fight through that and get the win, and I have to be happy about that.”

Joe Lauzon began the main card with a dominating performance in a unanimous decision over Mac Danzig in a lightweight bout.

Lauzon won all three rounds and appeared on the verge of finishing with punches and elbows on several occasions only to switch attacks and try for a submission. In the end, it was Lauzon’s first win by decision in 23 career victories.

He was coming off back-to-back losses, including a disappointing effort in his hometown of Boston in August.

“You’re only as good as your last fight, and my last fight was terrible. It was completely embarrassing,” Lauzon said. “So to get this win was fantastic and feels great. It’s so much less stressful to fight away from home, and being on the road for this fight helped immensely. I thought I had him finished in the first round. I sunk a pretty nasty armbar and felt his shoulder pop, but he is super tough and was able to get out of it. I mean, I really had it locked good.”

The undercard was highlighted by the UFC debut of former Bellator flyweight champion Zach Makovsky, who won all three rounds in a unanimous decision over Scott Jorgensen.

Also, Edson Barboza survived a brutal first-round beating by Danny Castillo and rallied for a majority decision victory.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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