UFC on Fox 8 is set to go down this weekend in Seattle, WA, the native state of headlining Flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. Johnson is looking to bounce back from injury to make his second consecutive title defense against John Moraga. Moraga meanwhile, is a relative newcomer to the UFC, landing a title shot in only his third UFC fight by earning a KO and submission finish in his first two fights against the likes of Ulysses Gomez and Chris Cariaso.
Challenger: John Moraga (13-1 overall, 2-0 UFC)
Strengths: Powerful striker, fights with poise and confidence
Weaknesses: Still relatively new to the big stage
Champion: Demetrious Johnson (17-2 overall, 5-1 UFC with 1 draw)
Strengths: Ultra speedy, world class quickness, effective takedowns and top control
Weaknesses: Can’t seem to earn a finish, undersized even for a flyweight
Fight Breakdown – Flyweight fights generally never lack for action, especially when Demetrious Johnson is involved. Expect a ton of non-stop, fast-paced action when these two guys meet in the Octagon.
Moraga is a strike first, grapple second kind of guy. He opened some eyes in his UFC debut, earning a KO finish over highly-touted prospect Ulysses Gomez. He followed that up with another impressive victory, sinking in a guillotine choke to tap out Chris Cariaso. So Moraga has demonstrated he is clearly a dangerous fighter no matter where the fight goes.
However, come this Saturday, if Moraga is aiming to keep this thing standing, he may need to resort to plan B sooner rather than later. Almost every fighter has had fits with Johnson on the feet, including pre-injury Dominick Cruz at many points in their Bantamweight title bout. Moraga isn’t keeping his game plan a secret: try and bang with Johnson on the feet and put his lights out, and if that doesn’t work, make this thing a messy brawl.
Moraga will find success if he can manage to consistently connect with Johnson, which is much easier said than done. Johnson is constantly on the move and Moraga may get flustered and look to grapple with Johnson to keep him still and do some damage. However, Johnson also happens to be an excellent wrestler with top notch escapes, so look for this fight to go everywhere and anywhere for the duration of the match.
Speaking of Johnson’s movement, if the UFC ever kept stats on how much distance a fighter covers on average in his/her fights, Mighty Mouse would probably lead that category by a hefty margin. It seems like he has two speeds: stop and go, and when he goes, he goes 100%. His cardio and pace is ultra frenetic, even for a flyweight. The longer this fight goes on, the better it will probably be for Johnson, who doesn’t seem to gas…ever. Moraga’s best chances may come earlier in the fight, and as the fight progresses we may see Johnson’s movement and elusiveness become the storyline. Johnson’s style has been enough to defeat the rest of the elite in the Flyweight division and he’s going to be tested once again by Moraga.
Johnson is a master of mixing things up and keeping opponents on the defensive. He usually dictates the pace and style of the fight, and that will be no different come fight night. Expect Mighty Mouse to demonstrate his signature style: tons of movement, shooting in and out for both strikes and takedowns, and earning takedowns throughout the fight. Moraga has to be ready for anything and everything for every second of every round. If not, Johnson will catch him slipping and keep him confused and off balance. It’s hard for opponents to find a rhythm against Johnson, and Moraga is going to get a healthy dose of Johnson’s quickness and elusiveness first hand.
If Johnson can keep this a standup fight and avoid getting tagged by Moraga while shrugging off takedown attempts, he’ll find his way to another victory. The last thing he wants is to be caught up against the cage for significant portions of the fight, especially with Moraga teeing off at will.
Key to victory – The key issue here is very simple: how will Moraga respond to Johnson’s movement and pressure? Johnson is going to dance around that cage until his wheels fall off and give Moraga an assortment of looks. It’ll be clear right away that Johnson will be the best fighter that Moraga has ever faced, but that’s not necessarily true for Johnson.
Mighty Mouse is far from perfect though. He has shown weaknesses and came very close to losing against John Dodson in his last fight. So there will be opportunities for Moraga to capitalize on, but he has to be able to keep up with Johnson for the course of the fight. Johnson is going to be quicker and faster, and that’s going to be the big factor here. The key is if and how Moraga can respond to that.
Why It Matters – The Flyweight division is in a weird place right now. We’re not likely to see a PPV headlined by a Flyweight championship fight anytime soon, unless the rest of the card is absolutely stacked. That’s not a knock on the fighters, who are incredibly skilled athletes It’s more a reflection of the typical style of Flyweight matches that occur as a result of their size. Casual fans just can’t keep up with what’s happening in a lot of the Flyweight matches and with good reason, the guys are just moving so damn fast that it’s hard to tell sometimes if someone connected or not and who is winning the fight. That’s not true for the bigger guys, who have much more size and power, which inevitably leads to greater knockout power and more stoppages.
Another factor for the Flyweight division: there is plenty of talent on the roster, but the problem is the best guys have already fought each other and Johnson has already run through the top title contenders. The fact that Moraga, who is unquestionably talented, will be fighting for a title in only his third UFC fight speaks volumes about the state of the division. The best thing that could happen for the UFC would be for the title to change hands frequently, but so far Mighty Mouse has proven to be a cut above the rest of the division.
Now the big positive here, at least for Moraga, is that he has a chance to become a UFC champion three fights into his UFC career. Very few people have had that opportunity and even fewer have actually capitalized on it (hello Anderson Silva). Moraga is an unknown in an already novel division and he’s going to be on the biggest stage of his life this Saturday. Even if he falls short in the fight, he has an opportunity to make a name for himself, win some fans and raise his value as a fighter. Becoming the man to dethrone Demetrious Johnson and put the strap around himself would be one hell of a bonus on top of that.
Johnson, on the other hand, desperately needs to find a finish in his fights. The knock on GSP is he’s so talented and superior to every opponent he faces, yet he doesn’t take risks and doesn’t finish fights. Mighty Mouse isn’t quite at that point yet and he does take risks, and to be fair, the skill level of his opponents makes it near impossible to earn finishes. But the Flyweight division is still growing and it would help accelerate the growth a whole lot if the champion was knocking guys out or earning submissions. While Johnson has elite speed, he sacrifices a lot of power for that and hasn’t really put fear into opponents or wowed fans with highlight reel stuff. Defending his title successfully for the second time by earning a stoppage win in front of his home state would be huge.
Prediction – Johnson