Demetrious Johnson will enter the cage on a three-fight winning streak. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
If the average MMA fan has been slow to warm to the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s most diminutive division, Fox executives have not seemed to notice.
For the second straight fight, flyweight king Demetrious Johnson will defend his crown in front of a network television audience. The first time around, ratings returns were solid for a UFC on Fox 6 card that saw “Mighty Mouse” vanquish John Dodson in Chicago. At UFC on Fox 8 this Saturday at KeyArena in Seattle, Johnson shares top billing with John Moraga. With increased exposure, the flyweight fan base should only continue to grow.
Johnson and Moraga will not have to shoulder the ratings burden alone, however. In the co-main event, Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger square off in a pivotal welterweight encounter, while Liz Carmouche attempts to build on her strong performance against Ronda Rousey by knocking off Octagon newcomer Jessica Andrade. Throw in the violence potential of Robbie Lawler, and you have the makings of a pretty solid evening, so crank up the Pearl Jam and take a closer look at the UFC on Fox 8 lineup, complete with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC on Fox 8 Free Fan Pick’Em
UFC Flyweight Championship
Demetrious Johnson (17-2-1, 5-1-1 UFC) vs. John Moraga (13-1, 2-0 UFC)
The Matchup: After competing in the opening bout in each of his first two UFC appearances, Moraga seems like a curious choice to challenge for the flyweight title. However, the promotion has been slow to add talent to the new division, so fresh contenders are scarce -- and it is still too early to give someone like Joseph Benavidez another shot at the gold. It also does not hurt that Moraga has finished two high-level flyweights in Ulysses Gomez and Chris Cariaso in those two outings.
For the second time in a row, Johnson headlines a Fox card -- he toppled Dodson in the UFC on Fox 6 main event -- and the added exposure can only serve to raise his profile. “Mighty Mouse” established himself as a champion with staying power against Dodson, surviving a pair of knockdowns early before outworking his opponent down the stretch to capture a unanimous decision victory. Dodson was probably the foe best equipped to deal with Johnson’s speed, but the champion countered the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product’s athleticism by wearing him down in the clinch in the championship rounds.
While the Thai plum proved to be a nice addition to Johnson’s arsenal against Dodson, Moraga figures to be far more comfortable in such situations. Against Gomez, Moraga effectively landed knees in the clinch throughout before sealing his first-round technical knockout win with a vicious elbow. With that in mind, expect Johnson to rely more on his speed to deliver punching combinations while moving in and out of danger. Johnson’s punching is accurate, but he has yet to finish an opponent during his UFC tenure. Moraga has a solid chin and will look to push the pace as much as possible, especially since he will not be afraid of Johnson’s power.
Moraga has used his wrestling to keep fights standing thus far, and he will want to do the same here. Johnson’s ability to land rapid-fire combinations in the pocket allow him to set up takedowns effectively, however, as he took down both Dodson and Benavidez five times apiece in their bouts. Dodson had not been taken down in UFC competition prior to facing Johnson. “Mighty Mouse” usually gets the best of scrambles on the mat, as well.
Moraga has yet to endure the rigors of a five-round fight, and 25 minutes against the frenetic champion tends to take its toll. The Arizonan’s best chance of victory comes if he can look for a finish by hurting Johnson with elbows and punches in close quarters. Like many before him, Moraga could tire after constantly being forced to defend Johnson’s relentless blend of striking and takedowns in a long fight, as the champion has not experienced any conditioning issues since his first fight with Ian McCall.
The 29-year-old Moraga might be able to find encouragement in the fact that both Dodson and Benavidez rocked Johnson with punches, but for the most part, the World Extreme Cagefighting veteran remains extremely difficult to hit, and his ability to recover from damage is impressive.
The Pick: It is too much to ask of Moraga to overwhelm a still-improving Johnson in the clinch for 25 minutes, and “Mighty Mouse” almost always lands more strikes than his opponents on the feet. Unless Moraga can somehow control Johnson with wrestling, the champion wins via decision.
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