The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to its home base of Las Vegas, Nevada for the fourth time of their opening 2016 quarter. March saw an all-time high for the UFC with its record setting 196 pay-per-view event. Now seven weeks removed from the rousing upsets of UFC 196, UFC 197 will seek to get some of that old big pay-per-view card rub.
Jon “Bones” Jones, arguably the most talented fighter MMA has ever seen, will headline the card against last minute replacement Ovince Saint Preux for an interim light heavyweight championship. The interim tag has been the subject of some criticism as of late, it’s especially peculiar considering the vast majority of the mixed martial arts community still sees Jones as the real champion. Nonetheless, the event will be headlined by an interim title fight with the widely regarded pound-for-pound king against a still developing athlete in Saint Preux.
Jones’ is deserving of the spotlight with the potential comeback story being so enticing, but the co-main event is a truly great fight between two outstanding athletes in the combat sports realm.
In Jones’ absence and Aldo’s title loss, many have appointed Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, the best mixed martial artist in the world. Johnson is now the most dominant champion in the UFC, he also is as technically perfect as imaginable in MMA right now and is shutting foes down in incontrovertible fashion.
Johnson will defend his flyweight title against one of the most highly regarded athletes in the sport today. Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling will get his day in court to prove that wrestling is not the only sport where he can be the best in the world. Cejudo is an ultimate overachiever and has had much hype surrounding him even prior to his UFC debut. The Olympic caliber athleticism isn’t the sole reason for the hype, a surprising ability to get a quick hold of striking gives the Olympian a respectable repertoire to thwart many flyweights, including J.
Demetrious Johnson is a great athlete, he may not look like Brock Lesnar or Herschel Walker but there is seemingly nothing the man can’t do, the fact that his usual post-fight celebration regularly involves back flips and ice-skating like twirls and spins further adds to the point although it’s not necessarily applicable to cage fighting. Strength is not something that many flyweights hold in spades and Johnson is no exception. Speed is a trait that is much more widely dispersed to the 125 pounders, but nobody utilizes that ability more aptly than Johnson.
Speed isn’t just about getting somewhere before another thing, in fighting it might be the single most desirable trait. An automatic rifle is only as efficient as it is precise and in that comparison, Demetrious Johnson is a little sub-machine gun of compact violence. His striking combinations are lightning fast whether in short, mid or long range, on the feet or on the ground. Johnson’s strongest suit is his well-roundedness, the fact that his opponents are never quite sure what approach he’s taking allows him to attack in any manner he chooses and his speed is the ultimate factor. The spaces of transition in MMA is so narrow and short-lived that only the athletes with the highest caliber in-fight IQ can pull it off successfully.
Johnson’s speed doesn’t just apply to his striking, his grappling is probably aided even more so than just his quick hands. Johnson has a remarkable single leg takedown and his reactive double legs might be the best in all of MMA. Applied with wit and relentlessness, Johnson’s speed advantage is one he can bank against any opponent in the Octagon and Cejudo will need ingenious tactics to counter this attack.
Demetrious Johnson is not only the only flyweight champion the UFC has ever known, he was one of the more highly regarded bantamweights for years before the inception of the flyweight division in 2012. Johnson has two and a half times the amount of fights that Cejudo has, that is significant, not only beacuse flyweight is a nascent division in the UFC but practically in all of MMA. With the exception of a few Asian promotions, not many companies have put in the time or resources into the flyweight division. There are few outside of the UFC that promote flyweight even today, and the ones that do mostly did so because the UFC did it.
This amount and level of experience is invaluable for Johnson against a relative newcomer like Cejudo. Cejudo is definitely a tough challenge for the champion experience withstanding or not, but Johnson’s depth of experience cannot be outdone. it is not only just a matter of how many but against who and how Johnson has fared against them. Going to a decision against another pound-for-pound great in Dominick Cruz, fighting a savvy, respected veteran like Brad Pickett for his WEC debut, beating dangerous and perennial contenders like John Dodson and Joseph Benavidez twice, the last of which was by a splintering one punch knockout. Johnson has been diligently and acutely trained by Matt Hume, who is a master of soundly explaining the fundamentals and nuances to any student but has almost a telepathic ability to get into Johnson’s head space. Adding the fact that Hume has been his trainer for over a decade and nine of his past eleven bouts have been scheduled for five rounds, it doesn’t bode in Cejudo’s favor to try and outmaneuver or outlast Johnson in the cardio department.
Henry Cejudo is the most decorated wrestler currently competing in the UFC. No other active competitor can stake this claim as he is the only Olympic gold medalist wrestler in the company. The accomplishments are beyond the gold medal, his state and national titles are innumerable and has even managed to get a few accolades and titles that escaped greats like Daniel Cormier.
Cejudo’s wrestling chops are unquestionably impressive and the common notion is that should Johnson get taken down it opens up the possibility of seeing him in some awkward positions. The wrestling pedigree will definitely be utilized against the champion in an effort to rack up some points. The reverse might actually be as beneficial if not more so if Johnson decides to shoot in on Cejudo. Cejudo’s base is incredibly strong, his takedown defense is literally perfect inside the UFC and he is fearless to use it against high-level grapplers like Jussier Formiga.
Cejudo’s wrestling can also be a key tool in disincentivizing Johnson to come forward all the way in with his blitzing strikes which gauge the distance while simultaneously throw you off balance and defenseless for the takedown. As noted in the previous section, Johnson’s game focuses on the transition, he’s a complete martial artist and uses each branch of MMA to compliment the other. If the most important of those weapons – wrestling – is stifled then what happens to the rest of his game? In such a predicament, it’s safe to assume it turns into a striking battle which becomes a less safe approach for Johnson. Moreover, Johnson has been taken down before – albeit shortly – by Ali Bagautinov. Bagautinov is above all else a strong grappler, but he lacks the finesse and athleticism of someone like Cejudo. If Cejudo can adequately defend himself from getting taken down, use his wrestling offensively or just enough to steal some rounds the odds will definitely start to turn in his favor.
Welcoming of the spotlight
Henry Cejudo has tremendous self belief, that is irrefutable as evidenced by his Olympic achievements, but aside from being confident he has the wherewithal of being in the spotlight. Cejudo was wrestling from a very young age and was always focused on becoming the best in the world at it, he did that. That training comes with the knowledge that there will be all eyes on you not just in your dream scenario of being up on a podium receiving a medal, but on your road to getting there. UFC 197 might get a few million viewers but the 2008 Olympics had hundreds of millions of eyeballs upon it.
Johnson might have the familiarity of a big fight week, media obligations and the like, but Cejudo is one of the few men who Johnson will face that doesn’t shy away or feel uncomfortable in the spotlight, in fact he welcomes it. The nerves and pre-fight anxiety will be constant, that’s as safe a bet as the sun rising tomorrow but it doesn’t seem likely Cejudo will unravel at the seams as soon as the pressure gets put on. Cejudo has received some flack for being lazy or unmotivated at times, but ever since his flyweight debut last March, he’s improving with each passing appearance and is notorious as a guy who is at his best when the lights shine brightest.
Johnson versus Cejudo might be one of the most anticipated fights in flyweight history. With perennial contender Joseph Benavidez losing to Johnson twice and no third match likely to be made, Cejudo aims to be the thorn in the champion’s side. Cejudo has come along very nicely for a young athlete with his background.
In the singular sense, Cejudo might be better than Johnson. His striking is a bit more powerful and his wrestling cannot be outmatched by any flyweight, but his development is still not at a sufficient level to deal with the offensive dynamism that Johnson produces.
Demetrious Johnson is widely regarded as one of the two best mixed martial artists in the world and though Jon Jones beats him in many of the media rankings, it is Johnson who is the more total mixed martial artist. As good as Georges St-Pierre was at utilizing every tactic in the MMA manual, Johnson is an artist. Johnson is a savant in unarmed combat and it will be his MMA knowledge that will give him the edge in this bout. Cejudo cannot be underestimated his skills are legit and he possesses enough wit and force to finish the fight or win rounds, the problem is that each passing round with Johnson is a test in mental strength and an overabundance of data that is difficult to process at one time, much less simultaneously. Cejudo’s use of linear attacks can really make its mark in the opening round. His cross and body kicks are swift and thudding, but they will come back to haunt him as the fight progresses. Both the kicks and rear side punches will allow Johnson the opportunities to capitalize with his grappling.
The grappling will not come easy for Johnson at first, but his tenacity and his exceptional use of chain wrestling, lower body takedown attempts to upper clinch attacks and his idiosyncratic manner of going from grappling to “telephone booth” position strikes will be more than enough to neutralize the majority of Cejudo’s attacks. Expect some takedowns and possible knockdowns for Cejudo in the opening rounds, followed by “Mighty Mouse” turning up the pressure and an unrelenting ground assault. The striking of Johnson will take its toll and the grappling will be effective enough later on in the fight for Johnson to score a ground and pound finish and defend his title for the eighth time.
Demetrious Johnson via fifth round TKO.