Demetrious Johnson is in a class by himself at 125 pounds. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to pay-per-view with a card that looks lackluster in theory, even if it will likely deliver solid action from top to bottom. The UFC 186 headliner features flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, as he looks to continue his reign of terror over the division against relative unknown Kyoji Horiguchi in what should be an excellent scrap on Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
Underneath the main attraction, proceedings are not as promising. The co-main event, a solid middleweight bout between veterans Michael Bisping and C.B. Dollaway, will probably not convince many consumers who were on the fence about ponying up. After that, however, the event should deliver outstanding action. Iron-chinned brawler Fabio Maldonado takes on returning former light heavyweight champion Quinton Jackson; John Makdessi faces kickboxer Shane Campbell; and all-everything prospect Thomas Almeida gets a big shot against the venerable Yves Jabouin. The preliminary card also offers some excellent fights, featuring the third matchup between Sarah Kaufman and Alexis Davis alongside a bevy of talented Canadian up-and-comers.
Let us take a look at each UFC 186 matchup:
UFC FLYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIPDemetrious Johnson (21-2-1, 9-1-1 UFC) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (15-1, 4-0 UFC)
THE MATCHUP: Flyweight champion Johnson draws an intriguing if not terribly competitive pairing, at least on paper, with rising Japanese talent Horiguchi. Johnson is unbeaten since dropping to flyweight and has established himself as the gold standard in the division by beating the tar out of his last four challengers with stunning ease. Horiguchi is unquestionably talented, but victories over the likes of Louis Gaudinot and John delos Reyes have not prepared him for this kind of opponent.
From a skills perspective, Johnson is as close to a perfect fighter as you could concoct from scratch in a laboratory, and he marries that sterling execution to a highly cerebral, intelligent approach to fighting that layers itself into something nearly unbeatable over five rounds. The Kentucky native moves well at range, constantly circling, cutting angles and switching stances to land slick punch-kick combinations that track retreating opponents through the space of the cage. Countering off the back foot with a strong right or left hook is another specialty. He is difficult to hit cleanly at any level, and it is almost impossible to land to his head.
When he backs his opponent to the fence, Johnson goes to work in the clinch, which is the most dominating facet of his game despite his relative lack of size. He brutalizes opponents with knee after knee to the body and head, mixing in short uppercuts and elbows to work around and through his foe’s guard and hand positioning. Lest we forget, Johnson is also a tremendous wrestler who shoots one of the cleanest and most explosive blast doubles in all of MMA, and his takedown defense has improved dramatically now that he is not giving up as much size to his opponents. On the mat, Johnson passes beautifully, pounds away with excellent strikes, maintains strong control and has a nice arsenal of topside arm locks.
Horiguchi has spent his professional career working under the direction of the legendary Norifumi Yamamoto, and, like his mentor, he is blessed with extraordinary speed and power. He prefers to operate at extremely long range, circling relentlessly, cutting angles and leaping in with a bewildering variety of single shots. He will throw anything at any range at any time, from spinning kicks and lead right crosses to southpaw right hooks, body kicks and flying knees, all with tremendous accuracy. When he finds his rhythm and timing later in the fight, he strings together five or more shots in devastating punch-kick combinations. An arsenal of counterstrikes makes it inadvisable to chase, and Horiguchi throws them with fantastic timing and sense of the range. Hitting Horiguchi is quite difficult, as he enters and exits on an angle and usually moves his head as he does so.
Wrestling and clinch fighting are not Horiguchi’s strongest suits, but he is far from a novice. He defends takedowns well and his movement makes it difficult to get a clean shot at his hips in the first place; and while he rarely looks to spend much time in the clinch, he can hit a variety of trips and throws. From top position, he is a vicious bomber, while he never looks to play off his back.
BETTING ODDS: Johnson (-900), Horiguchi (+600)
THE PICK:This is too much, too soon for Horiguchi, who is extraordinarily talented but lacks the polish and experience necessary to beat a fighter as crafty as Johnson. With that said, Horiguchi is tricky, confident and lethally dangerous, and all it takes is one or two shots for him to end the fight at any time. Johnson can match Horiguchi’s speed and movement, and I expect him to use his leg and body kicks to cut off Horiguchi’s angles in space and slowly wear him down. If Johnson can pin him against the fence, he will use the clinch for the same purpose. By the later rounds, Johnson’s cardio and top game should come into play, and he should either be well ahead on the cards due to his superior work rate or even have an opening to finish. The pick is Johnson by wide decision.
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