Even with the built-in safety mechanism of the sudden-death round, the UFC's reinstatement of the tournament format was plagued by a controversial delay in the opening round. The risk with tournaments has historically been skewed results due to fighters pulling out with injuries, impeded progression due to draws or contentious outcomes due to the "must decision" tie-breaking philosophy (see: Marlon Sandro vs. Michihiro Omigawa in Sengoku).
The dastardly culprit that froze up the brackets in semifinal round of the UFC's inaugural Flyweight Tournament? Counting.
We're not talking big numbers here either -- 10 in all, 9 of which are single digit. It's hard to blame the error on technology or anything else when you have enough fingers to calculate the equation. Regardless, the initial meeting between Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall was announced as a victory for Johnson, but it was later revealed that a score-tallying blunder transpired and the bout was actually penned as a draw. Unfortunately, the folly was caught too late to capitalize on the additional round made available for just such a scenario.
The only recourse was a do-over, and that's what's on tap in tonight's UFC on FX 3 main event. The 4-piece FX card begins at 9:00 p.m. ET and will be preceded by 6 preliminary fights on Fuel TV at 6:00 p.m. ET and 2 preliminary fights streaming on the UFC's Facebook page before that.
More UFC on FX 3 Dissections
Flyweights Demetrious Johnson and Ian McCall endured their 2 career defeats in the bantamweight division and share a mutual loss to UFC champion Dominick Cruz. McCall, after he was released from the WEC, went on to become the #1-ranked flyweight with relevant victories in Tachi Palace Fights; Johnson made the decision to drop on the heels of his championship bout with Cruz and the unveiling of the UFC's flyweight division.
Having already written a gif-heavy analysis of each fighter's characteristics in the Dissection before their initial meeting, we'll jump right into the mechanics of the rematch in the full entry.
In their last go-around, the scorching speed and movement of Johnson seemed to befuddle McCall early on. Johnson's style is defined by the combination of elaborate angles, an endless barrage of feints and some of the best footwork in MMA, all of which supplement his technical striking and takedowns.
Effective offense has to be set up and Johnson is a master of the trade. The way he closes the distance to throw leather or penetrate deep on takedowns unfolds in a dizzying barrage of side-steps, pivots, level drops and zig-zag patterns that's nearly impossible to decipher. Not only is his quickness unparalleled, but Johnson maintains excellent balance and bulletproof fundamentals throughout his frenetic approach.
While Johnson epitomizes the "speed kills" cliche, he does sacrifice some power -- mostly in his hands -- by prioritizing his nimble movement over everything else. McCall seemed to realize this as the fight progressed, as he began to wade into the pocket with a more confidence and brush aside the assortment of stinging blows in order to touch Johnson with his power. McCall is not nearly as artful nor flashy as Johnson on the feet, but he wields a very basic and effective boxing game with a lot of wallop on his punches.
McCall also appeared to gain confidence in his wrestling after it didn't yield much success in the first 2 rounds. After Johnson had evaded or nullified his takedown attempts early, McCall was relegated to trading barbs on the feet. Johnson had a distinct advantage with precision, technique and speed and started to pull away, but McCall enforced his wrestling well in the 3rd and turned the tables with aggressive stalking, heavy punches and power doubles that led to dominating top-side and back control on the floor.
Another big reason why Johnson flustered McCall in striking exchanges was a simple case of defensive hand position. Johnson's lowest guard, which was just above his chin, was still much higher than McCall's highest guard: Johnson kept a hand glued to his temple and another at his chin at all times while McCall allowed his hands to drift down and apart. Even when McCall kept his guard up, one hand was below his chin and the other was at shoulder level. This lazy defensive guard combined with Johnson's speed allowed for way too many clean shots to land. Not only was Johnson merely out-striking McCall in these instances, but McCall was never able to gather his wits or find any rhythm amidst the steady shower of leather.
Johnson usually runs circles around his opponents; few have ever matched his quickness or withstood it successfully. However, probably due to the decline in weight, McCall was comparative in the speed and agility department, which balances out what is normally an overwhelming advantage for Johnson. Still -- Johnson was the quicker man and it was McCall's infusion of his strength and wrestling that tipped the scales in his favor.
Based on their first encounter, Johnson was generally dictating the action and winning exchanges in the free-movement striking sequences while McCall assumed control by implementing his strength and aggression to wade into the pocket and battle at close quarters; either with dirty boxing and in-fighting or takedowns and top control.
This leaves a fairly clear sweet spot for both competitors in the rematch. Johnson will look to steer clear of McCall's clutches and flit around with fakes and in-and-out parrying on the fringe while McCall's intentions will be to shrink the distance between them and impose his power advantage at phone-booth range. The deciding factor for my prediction is the momentum that McCall ended with in their last outing -- he took over by realizing that Johnson's volume and quickness was more threatening than his punching power and became willing to take a few in order to give a few. He'll still have to be cautious when advancing and his defensive guard could use a make-over, but I think he'll continue where he left off in the 3rd-round.
My Prediction: Ian McCall by decision.