Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight strap-hanger, Demetrious Johnson, will face NCAA Division I wrestling standout and top 125-pound contender, John Moraga, in the UFC on FOX 8 main event this Saturday night (July 27, 2013) at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington.
After a disappointing loss to Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, new opportunities opened up for "Mighty Mouse" when UFC decided to add a 125-pound division. Johnson shed some weight for his spot in the four-man title tournament and was matched up with then-ranked No. 1 talent, Ian McCall.
Johnson battled with McCall to a majority draw and an immediate rematch was booked a few months later. This time around, there was no controversy, with Johnson clearly defeating "Uncle Creepy" and moving on to fight Team Alpha Male-trained bruiser Joseph Benavidez.
Despite being a moderate underdog, Johnson was able to narrowly beat "Beefcake" by split decision, surviving some dangerous moments in the fourth round only to roar back in the fifth. Next, Johnson faced The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 winner John Dodson, eating some hard punches early, but dominating late in the fight, once again winning a decision.
Now, Johnson looks to defend his title a second time against unknown mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter John Moraga. Can Johnson dominate -- and perhaps finish -- The MMA Lab product?
Let's find out:
Johnson is a very technical striker, who's put a large emphasis on his footwork. Capitalizing on his natural quickness, Johnson likes to burst towards his opponent with a combination of punches and kicks, then exit with side step and strike.
"Mighty Mouse" often starts his combinations with a jab, often doubling or tripling it. When Johnson jabs from the outside, he covers a lot of distance. Additionally, Johnson is good at jabbing with both hands, as he often switches to southpaw stance to keep his opponent guessing, in addition to landing punches. To reset his stance, Johnson throw his left hand or a high kick.
Johnson occasionally throws extended combinations, often landing a speedy barrage of straights and hooks. Johnson often ends these combinations by clinching or shooting for a takedown. By engaging his opponent with grappling after his combo, he lowers the chances of his opponent countering.
If Johnson doesn't finish his combination with his grappling, he always exits at an angle using punches. He either hooks around, meaning he throws a left hook as he moves to his left, or throws a straight right as he moves towards his right. In addition to these strikes, Johnson can jab and double jab to either direction, depending on which stance he is in.
Johnson is excellent at mixing kicks into his combination. Most of the time, Johnson kicks without stepping forward, which makes it easier to snap off kicks quickly without losing his stance. However, Johnson steps in hard when he throws a leg kick on its own, trying to do as much damage as he can. Another of Johnson's powerful kicking techniques is his switch kick, which is a natural addition to his game considering how often he switches stances.
In particular, Johnson loves to end his combinations with a head kick. His speed greatly benefits him here, as he's able to get his shin high enough faster than most, making it more difficult to defend. Like many of his other techniques, Johnson is able to throw a head kick from either stance.
In Johnson's most recent fight, he showcased his effective clinch striking game. Dodson was fading in the championship rounds but his power was still a threat, so Johnson eliminated it by sticking tight to "The Magician." In the fourth round, he beat up Dodson's head and shoulders from the front headlock. Heading into the next round, it was clear that Johnson had an advantage in the clinch, and he capitalized on it with nasty knees and uppercuts. Using his clinch striking, Johnson came closer to a finish than he has in years.
Another clinch technique that Johnson debuted in his fight with Dodson was a bizarre way to land elbows while he was pinned against the cage. He forced Dodson to carry his weight by squeezing his knees on Dodson's hips, not touching the mat at all. From this position, he landed a few elbows to the side of Dodson's head and continued to tire him out.
Johnson put on a pressure clinic against Dodson, never letting the Greg Jackon product to breathe. However, "Mighty Mouse" may be at his best when he's countering his opponent. Thanks to his fantastic footwork, Johnson is able to stay just outside his opponent's range, then counter when they over-commit to a punch.
Johnson's victories over Joe Benavidez and Ian McCall were very similar. Both men were bigger and stronger than Johnson, so they tried to charge in with powerful punches. However, Johnson's speed advantage allowed him to evade most of their big shots and land his own.
Johnson's defense is generally very good, mostly thanks to his distance control and head movement. But when a fighter correct predicts where he will exit, he's very vulnerable to looping shots. John Dodson and Joe Benavidez both landed hard hooks that nearly finished the fight as Johnson went to evade.
Johnson was a talented high school wrestler, placing second and third in the states. Despite his lack of college credentials, Johnson is an excellent MMA wrestler, thanks to his footwork and ability to mix takedowns into his combinations.
While many wrestlers prefer to grind their opponent into the cage before taking him down, Johnson likes to finish his takedowns in the center of the cage. He almost always shoots a double leg, and his initial blast is very powerful. He's able to level change and step into takedowns ridiculously fast, often when his opponent is off balance or throwing a strike of their own, making them very difficult to stop. If his blast double doesn't initially succeed, he's very good at quickly turning a corner.
Even if Johnson prefers to finish his takedowns in the center of the Octagon, it doesn't mean he can't grind for one. Since Dodson was able to match his speed, Johnson slowed him down by trapping him against the cage with takedown attempts. From there, he was able to lift Dodson up into the air and finish with slams repeatedly, although holding him down was far more difficult.
One of Johnson's best wrestling performances was his UFC debut against "Kid" Yamamoto. Yamamoto was a Bantamweight who spent years terrorizing the Japanese MMA scene at lightweight, only to take a break to train for the Olympics. After returning from said break, he was matched up with Johnson. However, Johnson ignored his credentials, hitting a total of ten takedowns and dominating the fight for a clear decision win.
Johnson wrestling has looked outstanding since his drop to Flyweight. McCall out-wrestled him in his debut, but Johnson was able to score more takedowns than "Uncle Creepy" in their rematch. Additionally, many people expected Benavidez to have the wrestling advantage in their title fight, but Johnson stuffed all of Benavidez's attempts while landing five of his own takedowns.
Johnson's takedown defense is very good, but not perfect. His sprawl and scramble ability are fantastic, as he gets right back to his feet when his opponent does manage to get him down. However, if his opponent is able to contain the initial explosion and get a dominant position, Johnson isn't very good at getting back to his feet. Both Dominick Cruz and Ian McCall had great success by controlling Johnson from the back mount, with Johnson taking a lot of damage and failing to escape.
Trained by Matt Hume, a grappler so talented he was dubbed "The Wizard," Johnson has developed a solid jiu-jitsu game. With six victories via submission, including his lone Zuffa finish, Johnson has proven that he's well-versed with submissions.
Four of his six submission victories are chokes, three rear naked chokes and a guillotine. His guillotine victory over Damacio Page, which took place in the World Extreme Cage fighting (WEC) in 2010, was an impressive finish after a back and forth fight. In the second round, Page was seriously fatigued and shot for a takedown. Johnson easily stuffed it but also grabbed "The Angel of Death's" neck. Instead of pulling guard, Johnson pressed forward, sliding halfway through Page's guard and finishing despite Page's knee preventing the mount.
Throughout his career, Johnson has demonstrated excellent submission defense. In addition to preventing Cruz's many rear naked choke attempts, Johnson survived Benavidez's nasty guillotine choke, something very talented black belts, like Miguel Torres and Wagnney Fabiano, failed to do. In fact, Johnson didn't just survive Benavidez's choke attempt, he quickly threatened with a heel hook afterwards.
One fight that showcased Johnson's defensive jiu-jitsu abilities would be his title eliminator versus Miguel Torres. Torres repeatedly attacked from his back with armbars, triangles, rolling leg attacks and more, nearly locking in a finish multiple times. However, Johnson was able to wiggle out every time.
Best chance for success
While Johnson is a very skilled counter puncher, and Moraga will more than likely give him many opportunities to work his counter striking game, it would be in "Mighty Mouse's" best interest to pressure Moraga. Moraga may like to counter, but he likes to move forward as he does, so constant pressure would prevent his preferred style of fighting.
There are other benefits for Johnson to be the aggressor as well. Notably, it's much harder to kick while moving backward. Moraga's leg kicks are among the best of anyone Johnson's ever faced, so it would be a good idea to prevent them. Additionally, when Moraga isn't advancing, he has a tendency to retreat straight backwards without moving his head, both traits that Johnson could capitalize on.
Instead of ending his combinations by clinching, Johnson should either angle off or shoot for a takedown. Johnson is far from useless in the clinch, but Moraga seems to be exceptionally strong from that position. Johnson has been out-wrestled in the clinch before, notably by Bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz, so avoiding that position with a wrestler like Moraga is very important.
Moraga really likes to respond with a straight right hand when he's pressured, and this is the perfect time for Johnson to shoot his trademark double leg takedown. One important thing for Johnson to consider when shooting is Moraga's long arms and choke ability, as it only took Cariaso one mistake to lose the fight.
Will Johnson continue his dominance over the UFC's tiniest weight class, or will Moraga prove he's an elite flyweight by trapping "Mighty Mouse?"
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For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Moraga be sure to click here.