The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 135-pound champion is set to defend his strap for the sixth time against No. 1 contender Kyoji Horiguchi in the main event of UFC 186 inside Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. "Mighty Mouse" has compiled a noteworthy resume as the Flyweight kingpin.
The 28-year-old has finished three of five challengers, including divisional standout Joseph Benavidez. Johnson has carried the title to relevancy since its inception back in 2012 and has been rewarded for his success with top billing, albeit due to injuries, on three-straight fight cards.
Horiguchi has hopes to become Japan's first UFC champion. The striking specialist has enjoyed a highlight-reel run through the division, but is going to see a stark difference in the level of opponents he's used to facing, when he steps into the cage tonight with Mighty Mouse. Despite owning an unblemished Octagon record, Horiguchi has yet to face anyone inside the Top 10 of his weight class.
Experience may very well be a factor in the frenetic Flyweight frenzy. Will the Karate specialist get exposed against the wrestler Johnson? Here's what both fighters will be game planning against later this evening:
Frustrate Johnson early and then attack!
Fellow Karate striker Lyoto Machida has utilized this wait and see approach multiple times in the past. Horiguchi is most effective on offense when he's allowed space to work. Kid Yamamoto's protege possesses great knockout power, which he tends to utilize when less-experienced fighters try to close the gap.
Since he will be matched up with the most effective wrestler in the division, Horiguchi would be wise keep a stick-and-move approach. Though he's facing an uphill battle, the fact remains that Johnson has yet to face anyone like the unpredictable Krazy Bee representative.
What's that saying? Better the devil you know than the devil you don't. Oh well, you get my point.
Throw the front kick!
He doesn't throw an outstanding number of these, but it would serve him well against the shot of Johnson. It is less risky, in terms of being caught, than one of his destructive body kicks. A front kick would deter Mighty Mouse enough to not want to come straight down the pike and force him to find alternative routes to engage Horiguchi. In fact, all kicks could very well be fair game due to the impeccable balance displayed by the stout 24-year-old.
Maintain composure on the ground!
In the event that Horiguchi gets taken down, and statistics show he will, then he needs to make sure he doesn't panic. An underrated part of his mixed martial arts (MMA) tool belt is his jiu-jitsu.
As Mania's own Andrew Richardson explained in his complete fighter breakdown, Horiguchi is a stud at getting back to his feet. He's crafty and explosive, even in short distances off of his back.
Fight your fight!
Horiguchi is quick, but Johnson is quicker. When Mighty Mouse comes to play, he's coming to break you, unless your name is John Dodson. Most of the time, Johnson's aggression prevails over his opponent's, breaking their will in the process.
He only knows one direction and that's forward. Whether it's picking his opponent's apart, or grinding them out on the ground -- he lands an average of three takedowns per bout -- Johnson usually has his way with you.
You won't be able to retreat forever, Horiguchi.
I'd probably throw a couple of head kicks each round (if it lasts that long) if I were Johnson. He certainly has nothing to lose. Wrestling is not an important factor in Horiguchi's attack. Once Johnson assesses Horiguchi's timing and patterns, he should follow a combination, every now and then, with a high kick. It would go a long way towards cutting off the cage.
Mix it up!
In the past, Johnson has terrorized fighters with a versatile offensive assault. That shouldn't be any different with Horiguchi. Make the latter pay every time he throws a body kick.
Body and leg strikes combined accounted for more significant blows landed than head strikes alone in title defenses against Ali Bagaunitov and Dodson.
Who's got the upper hand?
Let's face it: Has Johnson ever come close to having his run at the top threatened? Not really.
Horiguchi is a talented fighter but he doesn't possess a style that's conducive to beating the champ. As the fight moves along, and he falls further back on the scorecard, he will be forced to forgo his calculated game plan for a more up-close and personal one.
This tussle could end early or it could last 25 minutes; however, I'm inclined to choose the former. D.J. gets it done in round two with strikes.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 186 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1 and PPV under- and main-cards, which will begin at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET, respectively.