Inaugural Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson takes on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 winner John Dodson this Saturday night (Jan. 26, 2013) in the UFC on Fox 6 main event from the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
"Mighty Mouse" was never considered a top mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter until he completely dominated Japanese legend Norifumi Yamamoto in his Octagon debut back in 2011. Then, he won a controversial decision over Miguel Torres, which earned him a 135-pound title shot against UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz.
Johnson impressed in a decision loss and was offered a spot in the Flyweight tournament when the UFC added the division just a few short months later. In the opening round of the four-man tournament, Johnson fought Ian McCall to a majority draw, triggering an immediate rematch that resulted in him defeating "Uncle Creepy" via decision in the rematch a few months later.
The victory set up a title fight with Team Alpha Male powerhouse Joseph Benavidez at UFC 152 in Sept. 2012, who Johnson defeated via narrow split decision to become the first-ever UFC Flyweight champion.
In his first title defense this weekend in the "Windy City," Johnson will take on John Dodson and hopefully dominate his first opponent since Yamamoto -- or get dominated -- to erase any sliver of doubt about the final result.
Does Johnson have the skills to defeat the only fighter who can possibly match his speed?
Let's find out:
The entire MMA game of "Mighty Mouse" is based on speed and movement. Johnson has some of the best footwork in the sport, constantly pivoting, circling and cutting angles. He is excellent at controlling range, landing a quick punch or kick and then getting out of range before his opponent can retaliate.
Johnson's boxing is very technical and actually packs a decent amount of power despite his recent string of decisions. He moves in behind a jab, then likes to follow up with a pair hooks before either circling out -- or continuing with -- clinch attacks. If he doesn't move in with the jab, he'll open up with a straight right or an overhand.
When "Mighty Mouse" is being aggressive, he will string together six or seven punch combinations, not relenting until his opponent clinches or he shoots for a takedown.
Johnson is very good at mixing his kicks into his combinations. He prefers to kick without stepping, making it a quicker, although less powerful, technique. He constantly rotates between leg, body and head kicks, using the leg and body kicks to knock his opponent off balance and then capitalize with his boxing. One of Johnson's favorite striking techniques is to end his long combinations with a head kick as most opponents don't expect it and it prevents counters.
When Johnson engages in clinch fighting, he is very quick to throw knees to the body or uppercuts. Johnson routinely gets into the clinch, lands a knee to the body and then pushes away back to his boxing range.
Johnson is at his best when he is counter striking an aggressive opponent. His last two opponents, McCall and Benavidez, were stronger than him and liked to lunge in with power strikes. Johnson beat them both by standing at the very edge of their striking ranges, waiting for them to attack, inching just out of range, and then landing a hard counter punch before circling away. Johnson was very careful not to counter with long combinations, which would expose him to their power punches.
Johnson's defense is just as good as his offense. He moves his head well, uses feints to disguise his movements and doesn't circle into his opponents' power. Johnson is not an easy guy to hit, which is always a good thing.
"Mighty Mouse" has one of the smoothest wrestling games in MMA. Much like Frankie Edgar, he disguises his takedowns with his symbiotic striking. Johnson normally sets up his takedowns, but is so fast that sometimes he can just drop and shoot.
Unlike most MMA fighters, Johnson prefers to shoot for takedowns in the center of the Octagon. He drops down low and then bolts across the mat, sliding in for a double leg takedown. When Johnson is in deep on a double leg, he'll lift his opponent up and power through. Normally this initial blast is enough to complete the takedown, but if it doesn't, he will turn a corner and drag his opponent down to the mat. The most impressive part of Johnson's takedown game is his timing -- he is excellent at blasting forward when his opponent is off balance or reacting to his feints.
Johnson's most impressive wrestling performance was against Yamamoto. "Kid" -- a natural Bantamweight -- spent years destroying lightweights in Japan. Famous for his heavy hands, Olympic-level wrestling and violent tendencies, Yamamoto's Octagon debut was heavily anticipated despite a recent string of injuries. Johnson wasn't intimidated and completely dominated Yamamoto, hitting 10 takedowns and easily winning a lopsided unanimous decision.
Johnson's counter wrestling is pretty good overall. His movement keeps him at a good distance to defend shots and his sprawl is solid. Johnson has historically had problems with being pinned against the cage in the clinch, where his opponent can toss him through the air.
Johnson's scrambling ability is a bit of an enigma. Whenever he is taken down, he springs back to his feet very quickly. In the moments before his opponents have established position, he is near impossible to hold down. Benavidez and McCall both got Johnson down momentarily, but then couldn't hold down the Matt Hume-trained product.
However, the second his opponent establishes a dominant position, Johnson is pretty much a sitting duck. Cruz was able to repeatedly suplex Johnson and land in dominant positions, namely back mount. Johnson just couldn't escape as Cruz hammered him with shots for entire rounds while hunting for the rear naked choke. The same is true for the third round of the first fight with McCall. "Uncle Creepy" managed to get back mount and pound Johnson, only the end of the round saved him.
Johnson trains under submission specialist Matt Hume, who has done a solid job mixing jiu-jitsu into his wrestling. It's clear just by looking at his record that Johnson prefers chokes, with most of his submission wins coming via rear-naked choke or guillotine.
Johnson's most recent submission -- his only finish in World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) or UFC -- was a guillotine over Damacio Page. Johnson capitalized on a tiring Page who left his neck out, which Johnson quickly grabbed, passed to mount and then coaxed the tap.
Johnson's defensive jiu-jitsu has been pretty solid so far. Cruz was unable to get the rear-naked choke despite spending a long time on his back and he survived a Benavidez guillotine, something jiu-jitsu aces like Torres and Wagney Fabiano couldn't do. Johnson's guillotine defense against Benavidez was very impressive -- he fought the hands and then elbow escaped directly into a tight heel hook, which forced "Beefcake" to let up his assault.
One fight that stands out as a testament to his defensive jiu-jitsu is his scrap with Torres. Despite the scoring of the fight and the ensuing controversy (I scored it for the ex WEC champ), Johnson's defense was outstanding. Torres constantly attacked with triangles, arm bars and foot look attempts, locking up what seemed like fight ending moves, but Johnson managed to escape every time.
As mentioned in the wrestling section, Johnson's ability to escape from bad positions isn't very good. Torres was able to repeatedly hit butterfly sweeps into mount and control the position from there. And while escaping the back mount is never easy, Johnson just looks lost there.
Often called the fastest fighter in the UFC, Johnson's speed is essential to every thing he does. He wins his fights by out maneuvering his opponents, constantly one step ahead of his opponent and always in the optimal position to land strikes while evading any of his opponents.'
"Mighty Mouse" flows from technique to technique, blitzing an opponent with four punches, a couple kicks and a takedown before they have a chance to respond to his opening jab. His speed is only amplified by his scientific footwork. When the two are combined, it allows Johnson keep his balance at all times and then blast forward with a takedown or strike in the split second that his opponent is off balance.
Plenty of fighters are fast, but Johnson's technique allows him to unlock the full potential of his speed. Not only is Johnson performing moves technically better than his opponents, he's doing it in a fraction of the time.
Best chance for success
Johnson should do his best to establish his jab early. If he can make Dodson hesitate, he will use that small advantage to get off more of his strikes. One of the most important things for Johnson to do is to control the center of the Octagon because Dodson is a very strong athlete, capable of throwing both heavy leather and Johnson himself into mid-air.
Therefore, being pinned against the octagon is a worst case scenario.
Johnson's head kick could be used to great effect here. Dodson doesn't keep his hands up all the time, and if "Mighty Mouse" can bring his shin to Dodson's chin at the end of a combination, we could see Johnson's first UFC finish.
Johnson is a moderate favorite going into this fight and for good reason. He is just as quick, if not quicker, than Dodson, and is used to dealing with powerful punchers. He simply needs to execute his standard gameplan and he will come away with the victory.
If Johnson wants to truly impress and get his name into the pound-for-pound rankings, he needs to do his best to finish Dodson. "The Magician" has faded in three-round fights where he was easily winning, so the chances of his cardio holding up for 25 minutes against the best fighter he has ever faced are slim.
Will Johnson solidify his hold on the newly formed Flyweight division or will Dodson tear the belt away before his reign really begins?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Dodson be sure to click here.