Demetrious Johnson is entrenched as one of MMA’s pound-for-pound greats. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
UFC 174 on Saturday will be headlined by Demetrious Johnson, as he defends his Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight title against Ali Bagautinov at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Although the smaller weight classes tend to offer frantic movements from oompa loompa-sized humans, the pay-per-view buy rates have been consistently lower than those for cards headlined by larger fighters. In an attempt to offset the tiny tip of the mountain where the main event sits, the rest of the main card is heavily loaded with titan-sized fighters to form the base of this weekend’s UFC offering.
Though the lineup does not have fights that scream to you to spend $55, there are some interesting matchups. Besides, the shows that appear to be lackluster on paper always shine through and give the fans a reason to turn off “MacGyver” reruns and tune into pugilistic endeavors.
Here is a closer look at UFC 174 “Johnson vs. Bagautinov,” with analysis and picks:
UFC Flyweight ChampionshipDemetrious Johnson (19-2-1, 7-1-1 UFC) vs. Ali Bagautinov (13-2, 3-0 UFC)
The Matchup: Besides being the lightest men’s division in terms of weight, flyweight is also one of the lightest divisions in terms of talent, which is why we see a challenger with such little name recognition and only three fights under the UFC banner vying for the championship. In fairness, how many times can we watch Johnson fight Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall? Bagautinov’s wins came against formidable opposition, but his resume does not yet stack up against that which belongs to Johnson. This is not to say that Bagautinov has no chance to take the belt back to Dagestan, but he will need to execute the perfect game plan in order to do so.
Speaking of game plans, who better to have in your corner than Greg Jackson, the master strategist? As we saw while Jackson cornered another Dagestani fighter, Rustam Khalibov, he will even try to speak with a bad “Borat” accent if he feels it will make the fighter more comfortable. If Bagautinov plans to win the title, Jackson had better tell him -- in the “Borat” accent, of course -- to use leg kicks early in hopes of slowing down the speedy champion. In the fastest division, Johnson is most likely the fastest fighter, making him the Usain Bolt of the UFC. If Bagautinov wants to catch “Mighty Mouse,” he is going to need to slow him down. Bagautinov would be wise to focus on attacking those legs for the first round or two in the hope that it pays dividends later. Then he might be able to connect with that great right cross or right uppercut he landed on Tim Elliott numerous times.
The other way Bagautinov can slow down Johnson is to get his hands on him. Dominick Cruz beat Johnson by being bigger and stronger, clinching with the smaller fighter and bullying him around. Bagautinov needs to be the bully. He needs to fake shots and even shoot just to find an under hook and engage in a clinching game. If Bagautinov can grab the faster fighter, maybe speed will become less of a factor. With that said, the Dagestani flyweight needs to pace himself so as not to tire, as he did against Elliott. Johnson is not known for fatiguing quickly.
Outside of his superior cardio, Johnson has plenty of other weapons at his disposal. Everyone likes to talk about Johnson’s speed, but we are really selling him short by referencing his speed as if it is his strongest fighting attribute. Yes, he is fast, but his footwork, his distance and range and his ability to transition between striking and grappling are what make him one of the best champions in the game.
Recently, we have seen an influx of breakdancing-style footwork in MMA. Cruz was one of the first to go Bojangles on us, and now many have followed in his steps, including new bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw. Now there is nothing wrong with the footloose movements in the cage, but they almost seem a bit gimmicky. They are effective but largely because people are not used to fighting someone at such strange angles. Johnson is different. He has excellent footwork, but it is of the standard boxing and kickboxing variety. Johnson is just good at the basics. It may not be flashy, but it is very effective.
If you watch Johnson, you will notice he is always circling left or right. Before he strikes, or even shoots a takedown, there is movement. That forces his opponents to move to his rhythm, making it harder for them to implement the moves they would like employ. “Mighty Mouse” angles well and uses his range to keep himself just out of harm’s way, whether he is moving forward or backward.
Once Johnson has Bagautinov guessing whether he is coming or going, watch for him to circle left and right and mix his hands with his shots. The champion likes to use the same footwork to set up strikes and takedowns, a clever approach to keep his opponent guessing. He will circle right and then step in with a cross-hook combo before getting out. Later, he will circle right, only to step in and shoot under his opponent, who was expecting a series of strikes but instead finds himself with his back on the mat.
The Pick: This is going to be fun for the first two rounds, but do not be surprised if we see Bagautinov gas late. Johnson sprints to the finish line for a unanimous decision.
Next Fight » Tyron Woodley vs. Rory MacDonald