UFC 130 Fight Card: Miguel Torres vs. Demetrious Johnson In Depth Preview

After the trio of UFC 130 Facebook fights at 6:45 EST, Spike TV will air two more preliminary bouts at 8 PM EST before the live pay per view starts. Tim Boetsch will make his middleweight debut against TUF 3 winner Kendall Grove, and in what's sure to be a lively turnout, former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres takes on Demetrious Johnson.

Interestingly enough, footwork should be the key factor in both of the Spike TV prelims, with a secondary emphasis on controlling range. Both Grove and Torres are long, lanky strikers who will look to keep their more compact opponents on the end of their punches. Conversely, Boetsch and Johnson, though hardly what I would call weak in the stand-up department, will be more dangerous parrying in tight quarters. So it becomes a game of distance, dictated by footwork, angles, and timing.

I'll start with the little guys first and tackle Boetsch vs. Grove in a separate piece this evening. Torres and Johnson both displayed rousing improvements to their game at UFC 126, each notching technically impressive wins, and it's the match-up many fans are anticipating the most.

Miguel Angel Torres (39-3) vs. Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson (8-1)

Demetrious Johnson is dizzying to behold. My eyeballs alone lost six pounds just trying to keep track of him when he upset Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto at UFC 126, a performance that demonstrated a frightening progression in his movement and timing.

"Mighty Mouse" is best described as a video game character controlled by one of those kids who just goes all spastic and mashes every button randomly on the controller -- only the kind that genuinely infuriates you to the core, because you've spent countless hours studying all the secret button patterns and he still kicks your ass.

At the apex of his bantamweight reign, Miguel Torres was so suave that replicating Harold Howard's flip-kick and hairdo was business as usual. In this day and age, especially among the callous MMA crowd, one must be deeply revered to transcend such a rigid cultural stigma and rock a mullet the way Torres did.

Amidst the increasing alarm and outcry over safe strategies and the muffle-power of wrestling, Miguel Torres, along with his welterweight counterpart Carlos Condit, knocked WEC contenders silly with Muay Thai salvos or tied them in knots with elaborate BJJ, mostly in highlight reel fashion.

Torres eventually fell prey to a supercharged right hand from Brian Bowles and had a Sarlacc Pit embedded on his forehead courtesy of Joseph Benavidez, snapping his seventeen-fight streak. He rebounded with back-to-back wins over Charlie Valencia and Antonio Banuelos, but will now be forced to confront his old demons against the fast and furious wrestling of Demetrious Johnson.

The phase-by-phase analysis for the Torres vs. Johnson bout begins after the break.

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Striking Phase

For a welterweight, Nick Diaz has a pretty long reach length of 74", and few realize that Georges St. Pierre's is even longer at 76". That makes it almost outrageous that Miguel Torres, as a 5'9" 135-pound fighter, boasts the same reach measurement as GSP.

Torres has a violently complex Muay Thai arsenal. His style has recently become anchored by all the stifling properties that a clean jab can produce, and one that's seemingly delivered from an adjacent state. Slight tangent: I find it baffling that fans deemed it "boring" when Torres thoroughly disabled Banuelos with his jab, especially considering how fight forums used to be cluttered with the sentiment that the jab was the most criminally under-utilized weapon in MMA.

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Especially when complimented with footwork and accuracy, the jab allows Torres to stand completely out of range and poke his opponent with a long spear-like object, which turns out to be his fist, then potshot the glaring openings that accompany an opponent who tries to maneuve around it to engage. Sure, fans like the flashy stuff, but if you got $50,000 or so for winning a snowball fight in your front yard, wouldn't you climb up into the tree-house and rain down icy death from that protected vantage point if you could?

Since Demetrious Johnson, at least in his performance against "Kid", has footwork that I'd almost call peerless, Torres will have to reap all the benefits of his striking advantages through sound footwork of his own. Johnson will be poised to time his shots and catch Torres flat-footed or steer him against the fence to lock the clinch, so Torres must carefully measure the amount of torque he puts on each punch and adhere to unpredictable patterns.

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Johnson himself is a relentless and capable striker with good kicks and a wide variety of aggressive combinations, but has shown a susceptibility to the left hook, which Torres uses well.

Johnson is so blindingly fast that he has the chance to sneak something through, especially if he keeps mixing in the threat of level changes, but there's not many I'd pick to beat Torres standing.

Advantage: Torres

Clinch Phase

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Due to the takedown threat that Johnson presents, Torres will have to shift his emphasis in the clinch from offense to repelling him. Where his natural tendency might be to let his hands wander behind Johnson's head to set up knees, maintaining his base and balance with whizzers and underhooks should be the primary directive for Torres.

Against "Kid", Johnson was masterful at lullabying him into trading strikes and then cutting precise angles for duck-under takedowns, and Yamamoto is a rather accomplished wrestler.

Watching the grace and agility of Johnson's movements to set up and complete his shots was a thing of beauty.

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In fact, the performance was so groundbreaking that I'm now totally dumbfounded as to Johnson's true skill, because -- about a year ago against Brad Pickett -- the roles were reversed and it was Pickett who was repeatedly planting Johnson on his back.

I would never have guessed that someone like Yamamoto, a bantamweight with an outstanding wrestling pedigree who'd destroyed lightweights, would fare drastically worse than Brad "One Punch" Pickett in defending Johnson's takedowns.

There's a great chance that Torres' height and technical ability in the clinch will equalize things, but I suggest reading his interview on UFC.com before you argue with my nod for Johnson here.

Torres explains how he demoted himself from black to brown belt specifically on account of his wrestling weakness. It's an admirable acknowledgement of the areas he needs to improve, and why his superior clinch-striking might not be able to defuse Johnson's takedowns.

Advantage: Johnson

Grappling Phase

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For the purposes of both unified scoring criteria and fight analysis, this match-up is another reason why the art of taking someone down and then the resulting activity on the floor should be two distinctly different categories. In this case, Johnson is just as easy to pick in the former as Torres is in the latter.

It's also another reason why this one is so difficult to pick, because the one aspect Torres has publicly deemed a flaw is where Johnson has freakish abilities.

Should this scrap hit the mat, Johnson will likely be on top, and the judges pencil will automatically move toward checking the box under his name the longer he stays there. As a slight shot to the way the guard and ground game are scored, I feel obligated to add my customary disclaimer that Torres must sweep or submit if he hopes to survive off his back.

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Even though Torres has sick sweeps, brutal ground-and-pound, and the type of effervescent ground game to fully meet the "threaten with submission attempts" and "use an active, threatening guard" credentials listed under effective grappling, let's be realistic: playing guard is taking a risk.

Because I'd normally give Torres a hearty nod for his spidery guard skills against the inexperience of Johnson, and might even be able to catch him in a sub, I'm calling this even. Just like Torres on the feet, Johnson should be able to play it safe and stay out of danger by posturing up and throwing cautious strikes.

Advantage: Even

Summary

The betting lines for this fight are about dead even, mirroring my ambivalence. As usual, I'll go with the more consistently proven and well rounded martial artist over the one that's shown shades of brilliance. Torres should be able to keep Johnson on the tip of his telephone jab and maintain the balance to foresee or defend the greater number of his shots, and fire up his octopus-like guard if has to.

My Prediction: Torres by decision

 

Gifs via IronForgesIron.com

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