The first flyweight fight in UFC history takes place this Friday night (March 2, 2012) as former UFC title challenger Demetrious Johnson takes on number one ranked Ian McCall in the first round of the UFC flyweight championship semifinals at UFC on FX 2 in Sydney, Australia.
Demetrious Johnson had a strong run at bantamweight and despite being undersized, he went on a torrid four fight streak to earn a shot at champion Dominick Cruz. He came up short in his quest for UFC gold, but as one door closed, another opened when the UFC brought in the flyweight division. Johnson knows he can be champion if he wins his next two fights and it all starts with Ian McCall.
Ian McCall came out of nowhere in 2011 and instantly became the face of the 125 pound division after upsetting then number one ranked Jussier da Silva just over a year ago. He followed it up with two straight wins to be crowned the Tachi Palace flyweight champion and he also earned the number one ranking in the world. After signing with the UFC, he's out to prove that he's the best as he vies for UFC gold as well.
Will "Mighty Mouse" save the day against McCall? Can McCall set a pace that even the hyperspeed Johnson can't keep up with? What's the key to victory for both men on Friday night?
Let's find out:Demetrious Johnson
Record: 9-2 overall, 2-1 in the UFC
How he got here:"Mighty Mouse" carried an impressive string of five straight wins on the regional circuit to earn a WEC debut against top bantamweight Brad Pickett in the promotion's first and only pay-per-view event. The AMC Pankration fighter lost a spirited decision to "One Punch" but then proceeded to reel off two consecutive victories in just a few short months against top 15 ranked bantamweights Nick Pace and Damacio Page
He would meet Japanese legend Norifuni "Kid" Yamamoto in his UFC debut this past February and completely outworked the dynamic striker/wrestler over the course of three rounds.
Never one to turn down an opportunity, Johnson stepped up when Brad Pickett dropped out of his UFC 130 bout with Miguel Torres. Despite breaking his leg early in the fight, Johnson gutted through the injury and turned what had been a strong striking performance into a strong grappling performance against the former WEC bantamweight champion and pulled out a unanimous decision victory.
Johnson's victory over Torres was enough to vault him into title-challenger status and he faced Cruz for the UFC bantamweight belt last October. While he held his own against Dominick Cruz in the stand-up, he was repeatedly taken down by his bigger, stronger foe en route to a unanimous decision defeat.
Once the flyweight division was announced, "Might Mouse" was included in the championship tournament and he drew McCall as his first opponent.
How he gets it done: Demetrious Johnson absolutely needs to utilize his tremendous athletic gifts. Despite dropping down a weight class, he's still expected to be the smaller man as McCall is two inches taller and likely a bit heavier.
One key for Johnson will be speed. He's going to be quicker than McCall in my opinion and that should help him out in the stand-up. As long as he doesn't allow himself to be cornered against the fence, he should have the advantage on the feet when they're out in the open.
McCall tends to keep his hands low so if Johnson can leap in with a big straight right hand, he can definitely tag his foe with it before taking any damage in return.
"Mighty Mouse" is also a terrific wrestler but it will not be easy putting McCall on his back as Cruz is also very competent in that department. If he can do it, however, McCall has shown to be weakest off his back and has had trouble getting to his feet so Johnson could keep him there for the remainder of the round.
Record: 11-2 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Dominick Cruz (WEC 38), Charlie Valencia (WEC 31)
How he got here: Ian McCall has one of the craziest stories of them all. A free spirit, he found himself making some very bad decisions in the early part of his career as he descended into drug addiction. Despite that, he was able to start his career undefeated and earn a trip to the WEC.
He went 1-1 in the promotion, defeating Coty Wheeler but losing to veteran Charlie Valencia. He would score one more fight in the WEC, dropping a decision to current bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and then he spiraled out of control. He would be away from MMA for nearly two years and he nearly died after one particularly bad episode which made him see his mistakes and give up drugs for good.
He victoriously returned to the sport in November of 2010 with a first round triangle choke victory, which earned him a fight against Jussier da Silva, the then-top ranked flyweight fighter in the world. After dropping the first round, McCall stormed back and dominated the Brazilian to upset "Formiga."
"Uncle Creepy" would earn another big fight against Dustin Ortiz, which he dominated en route to a unanimous decision victory and this earned him a shot against Tachi Palace flyweight champion Dustin Ortiz. McCall again looked terrific, hurting Ortiz on multiple occasions and taking his opponent down before finishing the fight in the third round via rear naked choke.
With the victory, McCall earned the number one flyweight ranking in the world and he signed with the UFC to prove it in the inaugural flyweight tournament.
How he gets it done: McCall can be flat out ferocious at times. He's a very large flyweight and in the stand-up, he's got some serious power in his right hand, having hurt or dropped his last three opponents with it.
What he would really like to do is close the distance on Johnson, perhaps get him trapped against the fence because he's got some very dangerous short range attacks. "Uncle Creepy" throws a mean elbow and his knees to the legs and body are equally devastating.
If he can't get inside, he could also be content to keep his distance and attack Johnson's lead leg with repeated kicks. He throws his leg kicks very hard and if Johnson gets used to them, he also has the flexibility to go high.
Lastly, McCall is a solid wrestler and if Johnson leaves an opening being too aggressive in the stand-up like he did in his last fight with Dominick Cruz, the Team Oyama fighter is very capable of changing levels and putting him on his back. From top control, McCall is extremely aggressive with elbows and if he can posture up without losing position, he could really land some damaging shots from above.
It all comes down to him being confident in his skills as he steps into the bright lights of the UFC for the first time.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight in my opinion is that this is the UFC debut for Ian McCall and on top of that, it's taking place on the other side of the world. McCall has competed against some top tier flyweights, but this is a completely different animal in the UFC.
We hear it all the time about Octagon jitters and we also hear about jet lag for fighters competing overseas for the first time, well McCall is about to face both at once. He's got the skill to hang with and potentially beat Demetrious Johnson, but if he can't handle being on the big stage or if he's a step slow, "Mighty Mouse" is going to make him pay dearly.
Bottom Line: This is the fight I'm looking forward to the most on the entire card. Both Johnson and McCall are extremely dangerous and very exciting fighters. You can find all of McCall's most recent fights on YouTube if you don't believe me. Both men are capable strikers, wrestlers and can keep up a very quick pace for the full 15 minutes. I expect high octane energy from both men for the full three rounds if need be and while Demetrious Johnson is likely the favorite due to his success at bantamweight where McCall failed, this really is a toss-up. Both men are going to try to set a high pace and dictate their style and there's almost no way this one is boring.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FX 2? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!