Out of the blue, the UFC has gloriously relented on abstaining from the fan-adored tournament format for Friday's event. Pulling back the curtains on another new weight class, the show will host the first stage of a four-man Grand Prix to crown the promotion's inaugural flyweight (125-pound) champion. 2
In separate bouts, two top-ranked flyweight newcomers will challenge two established UFC bantamweights who are descending to their natural weight class. The opening round of the brackets will pit Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall
Unveiling the new flyweight class highlights the difference between "Ultimate Fighting" and MMA but, more importantly, and for better or for worse, brings the two closer together than ever before. Even though the flyweights will compete under the Zuffa banner for the first time and many North American fans are still getting to know the WEC's influx of featherweights (145-pounds) and bantamweights (135-pounds), the little guys (155-pounds and below) have been toiling in the global landscape since 1986, which is seven years before UFC 1.
1986 marked the birth of the Shooto organization. During Japan's heralded puroresu era, which is most akin to America's version of pro-wrestling with predetermined outcomes and a focus on spectacle over sport, the Shooto organization traveled a divergent path. Instead of featuring worked matches with rehearsed theatrics, their intent was to showcase real hand-to-hand combat in the vein of what MMA has become by today's standards. The WEC was the first big-time organization in the states to promote the lighter weights, which is why they attracted a plethora of overseas talent after the UFC started calling the shots.
One of the two newcomers participating in the tournament is the reigning Shooto 123-pound champion: Yasuhiro Urushitani. While Japan was a veritable stronghold for lighter-class fighters, Tachi Palace Fights is a recently flourishing but oft-overlooked pioneer for spotlighting them. Their roster was punctuated by a host of top-ten flyweights and the second newcomer in this tournament earned that spot by rising above them all.
Ian McCall was best known as the guy who got tossed around by Charlie Valencia and Dominick Cruz in the WEC. Yet, amidst a few drug overdoses that led to a healthy reinvention of his character, "Uncle Creepy" is now widely considered to be the best flyweight in the world after dusting ultra-elite opposition in Jussier Da Silva, Darrell Montague and previously undefeated Dustin Ortiz.
This time, there will be no room for debate. By signing the alpha-flyweight and another top-ranked staple and matching them with two in-house and formidable 135ers dropping down to 125-pounds, this tournament will unquestionably produce the undisputed number-one flyweight on the planet.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Demetrious Johnson (14-2) vs. Ian McCall (11-2)
Why Ian McCall's short, straight right hand is his best friend and fulfills every archetypal quality of one:
- It's quick to show up for support whenever he needs it
- He can rely on it for help whenever he finds himself in a tough spot
- It comforts him better than chicken soup by knocking people of his choice flat on their ass
Ian McCall's Background and Strengths:
- Wrestled at Cuesta University (same as Jake Shields) but dropped out after blowing out his knee
- Black belt in Kung Fu
- Purple belt in BJJ
- Resilient -- and artfully shaped -- beard (one career sub and decision loss apiece)
- Quickness, agility, good movement with great balance
Ian McCall's Wrestling and Takedowns:
- Explosive and well timed
- Usually a duck-under, power double when his opponent is trading in the pocket
- Leans more toward the low single when shooting from a distance
- Rarely forced; set up well with striking, angles or his opponent's momentum
- Violent and frenetically paced top game, dual threat of striking and submissions
The lighter weight fighters all transition quickly and fluently from one martial art, position or phase of combat to another, and this pair of flyweights is no exception.
Their wrestling, striking and speed-based styles are quite similar except that Johnson is much more technical, smooth and graceful and McCall is more straightforward and to-the-point. They both have excellent balance, but McCall doesn't have the elaborate set ups and flawless fundamentals in footwork; his angles are simple but still effective.
More UFC on FX 2 Dissections
The double-leg takedowns he was hitting consistently against Norifumi Yamamoto were poetic. I keep mentioning footwork because it's such a pivotal aspect with the lighter-weight fighters and because it produces so many advantages.
A big key for Johnson is the way he maintains excellent composure and balance despite moving at light speed.
The sequence above depicts how Johnson's footwork complements his wrestling. It allows him to swoop in too fast to incur damage from strikes, it puts him deep in the pocket and able to generate massive leverage through complete control of his opponent's hips and makes him a dizzying fighter to defend and get ahold of. The animation to the left is a perfect example of how it influences his striking. He evades Cruz's flurry easily with a sharp 3 o'clock angle and empties the clip with four rapid-fire counter strikes.
(Note: on the subject of balance and footwork, Cruz is susceptible to Johnson's attack in the gif above because he over-steps on his right hand and loses his balance while stumbling to the left.)
To the right, at the 4:44 mark, Johnson proves that the description "elaborate footwork" isn't just a flowery embellishment. Giving Cruz a more effective taste of his own medicine, Johnson freezes the champ and steers him against the cage wall with footwork alone. His balance comes into play when he whiffs the high kick but is still composed enough to recover his footing.
One spot where Johnson might have an advantage is scrambling. He's a slippery fighter who is uniquely immune to being held down, held onto or manipulated in any way. His quickness and ability to react on the fly in all exchanges, particularly grappling transitions, is stunning.
This bout is compelling and difficult to predict, as the main reason for the career losses of both is that they were fighting one weight class higher than they should have been. Strength and size was a huge factor.
They share a common loss in Cruz -- both took him to a decision and had their moments; Johnson gave him a better run. McCall was also fairly predictable against Cruz by charging straight forward to lead striking exchanges, and Johnson will have a clear edge in footwork though, admittedly, I think Johnson's footwork is some of the best in the sport.
Since they're the same size, their differences in movement and attacking will likely decide this. Johnson is the super-composed, smooth-operating technician; McCall is a fiery and deliberate head-hunter. While Johnson's combination of speed and cage-motion might be insurmountable, I'm going to take McCall here for making up for it by being a little meaner and more spirited. I do think the strong push for Johnson on the betting line is fair and acknowledge him as the safer prediction, but have to go to bat for a sentimental favorite here.
My Prediction: Ian McCall by decision.
McCall gifs via Damn Severn
Johnson gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com