Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson might be MMA’s most complete fighter. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Sin City with UFC 191 on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. A flyweight rematch between longstanding champion Demetrious Johnson and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 winner John Dodson serves as the main course on the main card.
The co-headliner pairs together two resurgent former heavyweight champions, as Andrei Arlovski squares off with Frank Mir, while the rest of the pay-per-view lineup features light heavyweight contender Anthony Johnson and women’s strawweight dynamo Paige VanZant. Meanwhile, an intriguing bantamweight action fight between sluggers John Lineker and Francisco Rivera buoys the undercard.
Let us take a look at each UFC 191 “Johnson vs. Dodson 2” matchup:
UFC Flyweight ChampionshipDemetrious Johnson (22-2-1, 10-1-1 UFC) vs John Dodson (18-6, 6-1 UFC)
THE MATCHUP: Despite a championship run full of memorable performances -- provided you actually watched them, of course -- Johnson’s 2013 bout with Dodson still stands out. In a competitive fight that saw the newly crowned champion hit the deck thrice, the man called “Mighty Mouse” managed to prevail thanks to the two attributes that have since become the backbone of his championship reign: his inhuman stamina and his ability to make tactical adjustments. Still, the match was close enough that Dodson could have easily walked away as the UFC’s second flyweight champion, and that automatically makes this a compelling rematch.
Dodson has wrestled with nagging knee injuries ever since his failed bid for the belt. He has only fought twice since, stopping John Moraga in June 2014 before picking up an uninspiring win in a rescheduled matchup with former Bellator MMA champion Zach Makovsky in May.
In contrast, Johnson has proven himself both mentally and physically willing, defending his belt six times since winning it in 2012. That level of activity and the noticeable improvements that have come with it may represent Johnson’s biggest advantages as he prepares once again to face the only man who has ever been able to match him in terms of sheer speed.
Speed has been the hallmark of Johnson’s style since his early days in World Extreme Cagefighting, but no longer does he routinely leave himself out of position or off-balance and expect his quickness to keep him safe. On the contrary, “Mighty Mouse” has rapidly developed into one of the most technical, fundamentally sound fighters on the UFC roster, with excellent footwork from either stance and a firm grasp of boxing fundamentals. At range, Johnson’s lead right hook has become a staple, as has an increasingly polished kicking game. The champion bolsters this striking arsenal with the finest phase-shifting in the sport. He has become a master of forcing opponents to adjust to one side of his game, only to switch gears suddenly and without warning, going right from high kicks to double-legs and from elbows to armbars. Johnson’s submission grappling has earned some deserved praise lately, but the clinch is where he has really found a home since making the move to 125 pounds; and it was that potent combination of muay Thai and wrestling that turned the tide against Dodson the first time around.
Dodson’s skill set is significantly less versatile than the champion’s, but given his performance in their first meeting, it becomes hard to say that he does not match up well with Johnson’s style. A counterpuncher by trade, Dodson’s reluctance to lead with anything more than sparse, single strikes means that fights with similarly patient opponents have often turned into little more than sparring sessions. Given a willing dance partner, however, Dodson’s intensity in the exchanges is difficult to match. His distinct rhythm and awkward, stiff movements make timing him a challenge, but he remains a relatively predictable striker nonetheless, attacking almost entirely with the left side of his body.
Dodson’s takedown defense is some of the best in the sport, and it is not without layers. When he was taken down in the first fight against Johnson, for example, Dodson calmly waited with his back to the fence, limp-legged out of the champion’s attempts to drag him toward center cage and stood right back up. It was not until later in the fight that Dodson’s failing stamina and Johnson’s tenacity in the clinch conspired to cause him to give up more takedowns than ever before.
THE ODDS: Johnson (-510), Dodson (+395)
THE PICK: You will have heard an awful lot about the speed of both Johnson and Dodson by the time they enter the cage. There is no denying that these two men are among the fastest in all of mixed martial arts, and as such, speed will play a crucial role in their rematch. However, the champion is learning with every fight to temper his speed when necessary, relying instead on his ever-improving technique and a firm grasp of strategy, aided by the calm voices of trainer Matt Hume and striking coach Brad Keston. Against Dodson, for whom explosion is its own fundamental technique, this attention to detail should make the difference. Athleticism is often a crutch for Dodson, whereas for “Mighty Mouse” it is like a whole extra leg. The pick is Johnson by unanimous decision.
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