All the stupid cliches about speed -- like watching two guys fight in fast-forward, speediest ol' whippersnappers in the sport, blinding, dizzying, OMG, multiple exclamation points, faster than yo' mama when someone drops the food stamps, etc. -- that are being used (and that I will use) to describe the hypersonic pace (see?) of tonight's flyweight competitors are entirely deserved.
UFC commentator Joe Rogan often suggests that Demetrious Johnson (16-2) might be the fastest fighter in all of MMA, and I believe he is without question. No, I did not personally conduct a month-long scientific study of our newly minted flyweight champion, nor did I force him onto a treadmill and hook him up to a spider web of electrodes leading to cutting-edge machinery that spits out spools of irrefutable kinetic data, for the following reasons: it would be impossible, impractical, downright silly, and Johnson's P.R. rep regrettably informed me that he "had other plans" after my 12th inquiry.
But my reasoning is ... well, equally stupid but perhaps more relatable: I'm guessing even the nerdiest of hardcores would have to give pause and strain a moment in order to conjure up a better candidate and, whomever that may be, it sure seems like there's a more viable case for "Mighty Mouse" based on his track record and memorable performances in MMA's premiere fight league.
Fortunately for those watching tonight's UFC on Fox 6 main event, if you were forced to assert a few fighters who could potentially compare with Johnson in the speed department, there's a good chance that John Dodson would make the list. The irrepressible lefty ran circles around the competition on season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter en route to flattening T.J. Dillashaw at the live finale. Having won the show as a bantamweight, Dodson dropped back down to 125 pounds where he'd been competing before, and notched a pair of wins to earn his crack at Johnson's belt.
Since I'm already throwing my opinion around all willy-nilly, I'll come out and say that I think "The Magician" was much more effective at bantamweight. You can plainly see that Johnson's noticeable speed advantage wasn't quite as momentous when he came down as well.
The difference between their individual weight cuts is that Johnson's speed was almost his entire game at 135, he was out-muscled and out-wrestled by champion Dominick Cruz and presented little threat to finish, but Dodson, along with his blistering speed, has some mean wrestling and frightening punching power to boot. I'm not insinuating that he'd walk through Cruz, but I don't see the champ rag-dolling Dodson with belly-to-back suplexes or marching into his wheelhouse as boldly as he did against Johnson.
The divergent ways Dodson and Johnson employ their quickness has bearing on this match up as well. Dodson uses his frightful agility to set up substantial outbursts of offense, most of which are anchored by his cinder-block left hand, whereas Johnson's speed is endlessly applied. Beginning with his brilliant footwork and attack patterns in open space, which deserves a mention alongside Anderson Silva and Frankie Edgar as nonpareil, Johnson fakes one way -- or two or three ways -- before committing to an unpredictable angle and exploding into range with any combination of flying fists, feet, and knees or gracefully drops levels for picture-perfect double and single leg takedowns.
What makes Johnson unique is that, after that initial burst, which is a handful to defend in itself, he has a half-dozen other elaborately formulated and equally complex attack patterns cocked and loaded in the chamber, and he'll squeeze them off as soon as his current onslaught starts to lose effectiveness. Of course, this all transpires in the blink of an eye, but Johnson is a master of cutting one precise pivot that places his vulnerable opponent directly in his cross-hairs, drenching them with a frenzied blitz and, just when they start to get their bearings and adjust to this new angle of attack accordingly, cutting another pivot and repeating the whole process over again.
Along with off-balancing your foe, a hallmark of martial arts is keeping (at least) your head and ideally your entire body "off-center" to your opponents while keeping them smack dab in the middle of your striking zone. Though it's instituted less frequently, the same strategy drastically improves takedown percentage, as colliding with your opponent from either side is exponentially harder to defend than locking horns straight on. (This is also a subtle attribute that makes the takedowns of Bellator champ and Olympic wrestler Ben Askren impossible to stave off.)
Contrary to Johnson's relentless cyclones of whirring pressure, Dodson's speed is a means to an end. Not only is he just as adroit at initially darting to an unexpected angle before blazing the cannons, every TKO finish he notched on TUF was achieved by knifing forward-right at a 2 o'clock angle (referencing the face of a clock, or Northeast on the compass rose), then squaring up on his opponent and lamping them with his killer left hand. Johnny Bedford was pounded out after he fell victim to this exact ploy on the show and Team Alpha Male's Dillashaw suffered the same fate at the live finale, though Dillashaw was in the process of recovering during the stoppage (someone would yell at me if I didn't include that).
Whether it's because Dodson has supreme punching power or a lot of trust in his takedown defense, he typically off-centers himself once with a counter-pivot, charges forward with a salvo of 3 or 4 punches and then breaks the attack to reset. Johnson, however, will chain together anywhere from 2-6 of these artful reposition-and-attack medleys before he resets and disengages. His speed is integral to every action: he's not a powerful wrestler or a knockout striker, but he's able to impose both traits because of his ridiculous speed, which also complements the footwork and angles he uses to set everything up.
So, in an attempt to distinguish their different speed characteristics: Johnson has no off-button and his offense consists of maximizing his speed and diversity into a nonstop, seamless attack, and Dodson's speed is a secondary tool that complements his fight-ending left cross or uppercut.
Dodson's striking arsenal is hardly limited to his left straight though: he's uncorked left hooks to the body, high kicks, jumping roundhouse kicks and step-in knees as well. His offensive wrestling is beastly yet typically applied in reverse to resist takedowns and stay standing. Dodson was boastful about this talent and vowed never to be taken down on TUF, but both John Albert and Bedford were able to put him down, albeit briefly. His submission grappling is a bit of a question mark because of his takedown defense but, thus far, it's looked fully stable.
While he's not a big finisher, Johnson, a Matt Hume product out of AMC Pankration, has phenomenal knowledge of submissions, sweeps and positional finesse on the mat, as he displayed against BJJ juggernaut Miguel Torres. He's also been successful with takedowns because of, you guessed it, his amazing speed, technical footwork and nearly perfect takedown fundamentals and timing, all of which allow him to smoothly slip underneath incoming punches, swoop low to the floor, penetrate deep into his opponents hips and topple them over with his brisk momentum.
I'm spending more time discussing tendencies and characteristics because, especially with these lighter weight fighters, the outcome in the cage is influenced more by split-second instincts and on-the-fly reactions. The difference between Dodson catching Johnson with a punch on the way in or Johnson ducking under it and landing a takedown could literally be millimeters and/or milliseconds.
Other variables include cardio (this is a 5-rounder) and past competition, which are areas that seem to favor Johnson, who hasn't slowed a bit in the 3- or 5-round decisions we've seen him in. Neither fighter has ever been finished; a factor that might mean more for Johnson, who will be faced with Dodson's daunting power punches. They're of the same height and reach but Dodson has a little more strength, which might be balanced out by Johnson's slightly quicker movement and bulletproof cardio.
Overall, while a Dodson upset wouldn't surprise me, I like Johnson here, despite his lack of damaging offense. I feel his relentless pace and technical frenzy of striking and wrestling will gradually wear Dodson down, whose strength and striking power will gradually decrease at the same rate.
My Prediction: Demetrious Johnson by decision.