The greatest mixed martial artist in the world takes the stage again on Saturday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson will attempt the 10th defense of his championship in the UFC on Fox 24 main event, and Wilson Reis is the challenger tasked with the unenviable mission of taking the 125-pound crown from the only man who has ever worn it.
Meanwhile, top strawweights Rose Namajunas and Michelle Waterson will battle for a place in the pecking order, each hoping for a shot at dominant champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, provided she survives the power of Jessica Andrade next month. Ronaldo Souza and Robert Whittaker will compete in a meaningful middleweight contest, and further down the card, blue-chip prospect Tom Duquesnoy makes his long-awaited Octagon debut, adding yet more heat the sizzling UFC bantamweight division.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC on Fox 24 matchup, with analysis and picks:
UFC Flyweight ChampionshipDemetrious Johnson (25-2-1) vs. Wilson Reis (22-6)
THE MATCHUP: Though he does not receive the respect he deserves from a community obsessed with slugfests and slobberknockers, “Mighty Mouse” has a chokehold on the division over which he reigns. Reis will be the ninth man -- John Dodson failed on two occasions -- to attempt a usurpation of Johnson’s crown, and that is precisely what makes this fight interesting. In their most recent marketing efforts, the UFC has finally embraced the selling point of Johnson’s dominance. Essentially, the angle for this fight is, “No one can beat Demetrious Johnson. Let’s watch Wilson Reis try.”
Though he is known for his flighty footwork, Johnson has turned into more of a pressure fighter since gaining the flyweight throne. Fighting out of a lower, more stable stance than he used to in the early days of his career, the champion is most comfortable when he has a firm grasp on the initiative. Basically, opponents have a choice: They can let “Mighty Mouse” adapt to their offense, or they can let him adapt to their defense. That he will adapt is a foregone conclusion. Johnson is one of the smartest and most methodical fighters the sport of MMA has ever seen, and he embraces every bit of adversity as a learning opportunity.
If Reis hopes to beat Johnson, he would be well-advised to apply some pressure of his own. Tim Elliott enjoyed considerable early success against Johnson by doing just that, swarming the champion and pressing the fight with a combined assault of unorthodox strikes and powerful takedowns. Unfortunately for the challenger, Reis has never been much of a pressure fighter, and doing so would require him to push the pace against a fighter with otherworldly stamina. Elliott had success, but he could not match Johnson’s pace, and eventually, the flow-chart adaptations of the champion undid him.
Typically, Reis is something of a boxer-puncher. He is not a bad striker by any means, but his kickboxing depends on his wrestling. First, he will flash the hands to set up his shots, and once he has scored a few takedowns, he will reverse the set-up to land punches. Reis is clearly one of the best wrestlers at 125 pounds, and his positional grappling is exceptional, with 10 of his 22 wins coming via submission. Johnson gets taken down more than many elite wrestlers, but his scrambling is absolutely sublime. While Reis has the chops to catch Johnson’s neck -- the champion has narrowly survived a few close scrapes on the ground during his career -- he will also have to protect his own. Johnson has become quite the dangerous finisher over the course of his championship run, with three submissions and two knockouts to his name.
THE ODDS: Johnson (-700), Reis (+450)
THE PICK: Reis will likely enjoy some early success in this fight if he pressures the champion effectively. He is a technical fighter in every respect and a physical force with which to be reckoned. In order to enjoy that success, however, he will have to match Johnson’s pace. While this may be possible for two or three rounds, the champion routinely ends five-round fights without showing a hint of fatigue. Like his compatriots, Reis cannot hope to keep up with the champion down the stretch. He will need to take every one of the early rounds or catch Johnson in a submission. While that is not impossible, Johnson has all the momentum on his side. Increasingly powerful and potent, Johnson will probably hurt the somewhat-fragile Reis before the time has expired. The pick is Johnson by third-round TKO.
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