Demetrious Johnson is easily the most technically gifted striker in the entire flyweight division and quite possibly on the entire UFC roster, regardless of weight class. His 606 total strikes landed are the second most in flyweight history behind Tim Elliott’s 639, while his 443 significant strikes are the most in UFC flyweight history. Combined with a striking accuracy of 54.7 percent, the champion has proved his stand up game is second to none at 125-pounds. But where Johnson truly shines is his ability to adapt to his opponents’ strengths. Against the heavy-handed John Dodson, Johnson worked almost exclusively within the clinch in order to avoid the looping hooks of his opponent. Johnson ended up landing 73 significant clinch strikes, the second-most ever landed in a single fight behind Sarah Kaufman’s 84 significant clinch strikes landed against Leslie Smith at the TUF Nations Finale.
One of the few criticisms surrounding the champion was his perceived lack of power. While he was lighting up his opponents at a tremendous rate, he was still labeled a “boring fighter” due to his lack of knockouts under the UFC/WEC banner. That all changed after he knocked Joseph Benavidez unconscious just two minutes into their championship fight.
But Bagautinov isn’t called the ‘Puncher King’ for nothing. Choosing to stay just outside of his opponent’s boxing range, Bagautinov sets up his quick flurries and looping punches with beautifully executed feints. After he connects with one of his heavy punches, which usually sends his opponents backpedaling, Bagautinov will often explode into a straight right followed up by a kick to the body. Utilizing this method, the Dagistani has landed a total of 130 significant strikes during his UFC career, with 93.8 percent of them connecting to the head or body of his opponent. But if Dodson wasn’t able to keep up with Johnson’s pace, don’t expect Bagautinov to pose much of a threat in the striking department.
Since making the drop down to flyweight, Johnson’s wrestling attack has been almost unstoppable. In his first four bouts at 125 pounds he has secured 22 takedowns while allowing only two, including 12 takedowns against standout wrestler John Moraga, the most ever by a UFC fighter without a single failed attempt. This also made Johnson one of two fighters in UFC history to record 10 or more takedowns in two separate bouts.
But just like his fellow Dagastani fighters Khabib Nurmagomedov and Rustam Khabilov, Bagautinov enters the octagon with an incredibly well polished wrestling skillset. The majority of his takedowns come from against the cage after knocking his opponents off balance with a powerful right hand. While he doesn’t look for suplexes like Nurmagomedov and Khabilov, he will throw in a trip from the clinch after pressuring his opponents with a flurry of strikes.
It’s essentially Russian freestyle versus American folk style. Bagautinov should be one of the stronger flyweights Johnson has faced in his MMA career. However, Bagautinov has never faced an opponent who can change levels and close the distance as fast as the champion, who gets a slight edge in the wrestling department.
With his most recent submission victory against John Moraga at 3:43 of Round 5, the latest stoppage ever recorded in a UFC bout, Johnson has proven he can end a fight at any point. But prior to this win, his last submission stoppage came all the way back in 2010 under the WEC banner. So while he may have seven career submission victories, only one has come under the UFC banner, meaning his ground skills have quietly flown under the radar amongst casual fight fans. But where the champion truly shines is his ability to defend his opponents’ submissions. In his fight against jiu-jistu standout Miguel Torres, Johnson was threatened with everything from armbars, triangles and leg locks and still managed to squirm out of every submission and pick up decision victory.
As a Russian jiu-jitsu and FILA grappling champion, Bagautinov has proven to be one of the best submission artists in the flyweight division. Too bad he has yet to showcase these skills, instead favoring his standup attack in first his three UFC fights. Just like many of the other Russian imports, Bagautinov has world-class sambo skills on the canvas. In his last fight against John Lineker, Baguatinov was caught in an outside heel hook and instead of defending the submission attempt he dropped down and attempted a leg lock of his own. Similarly, he was caught completely out of position when Marcos Vinicius took his back and looked to lock in a deep rear naked choke. If not for an ill-timed transition from Vincious allowing him to escape, Bagautinov could easily have been handed his first UFC loss. He may want to rethink this strategy against Johnson, who should have no problem finishing the fight if Bagautinov ignores his jiu-jitsu game.
Bagautinov is an incredible talent but his lack of experience against top-level competition may be the biggest factor on Saturday. It also does not help that could very well be the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. Johnson has already defeated the upper echelon of 125-pound division, all of whom would have given Bagautinov trouble. The champion should win this fight with speed alone as he picks apart his opponent from the outside while avoiding those looping power punches thrown his way. It should be a fun scrap with two differing fighting styles, but do not expect a new champion at the end of the night.
Johnson via Unanimous Decision
Here are the rest of my predictions for the main card and preliminary bouts:
MAIN CARD, Pay-Per-View 1, 10 pm ET
- (2)Rory MacDonald def. (5)Tryone Woodley
- Ryan Bader def. Rafel ‘Feijao’ Cavalcante
- Brendan Schaub def. Andrei Arlovski
- Ovince St. Preux def. Ryan Jimmo
PRELIMS CARD, FX, 8 pm ET
- Daniel Sarafian def. Kiichi Kunimoto
- Mike Easton def. Yves Jabouin
- Kajan Johnson def. Tae Hyun Bang
DIGITAL PRELIMS CARD, UFC Fight Pass, 7 pm ET
- Roland Delorme def. Michinori Tanaka
- Jason Saggo def. Josh Shockley
All Rankings via the official Power MMA Rankings.