A long-honored combat sports axiom asserts that a fighter becomes significantly better when he wins a championship.
And if that's the case, John Dodson will face a nearly insurmountable obstacle tonight (Jan. 26, 2013) when he challenges Demetrious Johnson for his 125-pound title in the UFC on FOX 6 main event from the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
That's because "Mighty Mouse" has shown a harrowing blend of speed, timing and sharp game planning since he transitioned to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). And in his last three bouts at Flyweight, the newly crowned boss of the division has shown improvement, cleanly decisioning favored Joseph Benavidez in his last outing.
Dodson, winner of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14, is emblematic of the new breed of lighter-weight fighters, as is Johnson: both are fast, well-rounded and capable of maintaining a breakneck pace.
For a first defense, slotted as the main event on network television card in primetime, this is a huge opportunity for the flyweights to make an indelible mark on the consciousness of the sporting world. It's also the kind of bout where subtle advantages and swings of momentum figure to play big on the judges' cards.
Check out a complete breakdown of the UFC on FOX 6 main event between Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson below:
If there's a recurring theme in Johnson's fights, it is that he is incredibly difficult to discourage. In his loss to Dominick Cruz, and the controversial draw in his first scrap with Ian McCall, Johnson's phenomenal persistence and toughness kept him grinding away, even when he was outmatched in various phases of both bouts.
That persistence served him well in his title-winning decision over Benavidez, where his speed and adaptability proved superior despite being an underdog. Dodson's got the better one-shot power, and is probably more explosive on a purely physical level in the stand up department; however, Johnson's ability to dictate angles and when to engage were huge advantages in both the McCall rematch, and the Benavidez bout.
He's often simply too quick to catch, now that he's fighting guys much closer to his size and height.
For Dodson, the frustration level of setting up strikes and tie-ups with Johnson is a key factor. He's got to be willing to deal with frustrating counter strikes and Johnson's penchant for flitting in and out with quick blows, then scooting away -- he must be made to pay, particularly with Dodson's solid cross, which is his best stand up weapon.
Johnson's numerous five-round fights are a likely advantage, particularly if he can dictate the pace and build and early lead. Dodson has to assert his power and, if possible, establish the threat of takedowns, though "Mighty Mouse" has proven incredibly difficult to pin against the cage and take down.
This is an outstanding match up, and one that figures to supply some compelling action, and at times it might transpire too quickly for the eye to take everything in.
Johnson has a slight speed advantage, and as usual, he'll look to gameplan to a decision, which makes him tough to beat. Dodson needs to fight like a challenger and clearly take the title -- not just be content to nudge ahead in a few rounds and outpoint the champ -- and turn it into a rough-and-tumble brawl. If there's one obvious conclusion from the handful of 125-pound bouts, it's that in MMA, guys this size simply don't have the functional punching power to score too many one-shot knockouts -- it's more like a boxing match in terms of extended exchanges and the importance of attrition tilting the scales one way or the other.
Unlike heavyweights, where one massive bomb can turn the fight 180 degrees on its head, flyweights have to work much more to achieve the same result ... and conditioning is ever-critical.
Look for some speedy exchanges in the opening round as Johnson attempts to set the tone, with Dodson headhunting and looking to assert his power advantage. Though Dodson's an excellent wrestler with solid credentials, it's hard to see him getting hold of Johnson too long and taking him down because he is as close to a greased pig as you'll see when against the cage, and his ability to scramble is phenomenal.
By the second and third round, Johnson will be moving ahead on superior volume and diverse strikes, occasionally working in a sneaky heavy-tactic blow such as knees and elbows from the clinch, and enough takedown attempts to keep Dodson guessing. He'll mix it up and push the pace down the stretch as a tired Dodson is unable to solve the mystery, hammering out a workmanlike and respectably clear-cut unanimous decision win.
Johnson via decision
Remember that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the UFC on FOX 6 main card action, which is slated to start promptly at 8 p.m. ET. Up-to-the-minute updates and fight-by-fight coverage will begin to flow earlier than that, however, around 4:30 p.m. ET with the "Prelims" bouts on Facebook and FX.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst.