Light HeavyweightsAnthony Johnson (21-5) vs. Glover Teixeira (25-4)
THE MATCHUP: Johnson seemed primed to take the light heavyweight division by storm, a remarkable feat for a man who once fought at the welterweight limit, but his run was halted by current champion Daniel Cormier. The fight raised some serious questions about Johnson’s mentality. After a strong start, he exhausted himself trying to stop Cormier’s takedowns. By round three, Johnson seemed to have resigned himself to defeat and tapped to a rear-naked choke, despite the ill-advised exhortations of trainer Henri Hooft to not “give up.”
Teixeira is a perfect opponent to test Johnson’s current mental state. Like Johnson, Teixeira is a power puncher with underrated defense. Like Johnson, Teixeira likes to stalk his opponents before countering their desperate attacks. Like Johnson, Teixeira will use his wrestling to change the tone of the fight. However, unlike Johnson, Teixeira is a serious submission threat, with seven tapouts to his name. Teixeira is also durable and difficult to finish: His only stoppage loss came in his first pro fight over 14 years ago.
Johnson’s striking is certainly more flexible than Teixeira’s. Fighting out of a modified wrestler’s stance, Johnson is happy to shift from orthodox to southpaw and back again, changing position to suit the distance between himself and his opponent. This tricky footwork makes him an excellent pressure fighter and allows him to find creative angles with which to defend himself. Whereas Teixeira is mostly a boxer, Johnson has a knack for smashing head kicks. Who pressures who is the real question of this bout. Johnson is more capable than Teixeira of fighting from the outside, but his confidence is more fragile. If Johnson allows Teixeira to push him backward, he may find the right counters for a fairly predictable striking attack -- or he may merely find himself in hot water.
THE ODDS: Johnson (-195), Teixeira (+166)
THE PICK: This is absolutely a fight Teixeira could win. Johnson is something like Ovince St. Preux, a man against whom Teixeira rallied back to defeat in August 2015. Then again, Johnson’s striking has much more depth than St. Preux’s, and he is nowhere near as easy to take down. If Teixeira presses the action and survives the early rounds, he could take some of the “Rumble” out of Johnson’s game. He will need to get past the whirlwind of Johnson’s knockout blows to do this, however, and only Cormier has successfully outwrestled Johnson at light heavyweight. Johnson by second-round TKO is the pick.
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