Stop me if this sounds familiar:
You: Excited for UFC this weekend?
Your Casual Fan Friend: Umm sure. Who's fighting again?
YCFF: Cool. He's usually fun. Who's he fighting?
You: John Moraga.
Yes that's right. The UFC returns to big Fox again for it's eighth outing and once again there is a world title on the line. This event has received virtually no press coverage or hype however and it seems most people aren't even aware there is an event on never mind who is fighting on it. It's easy (and fun too) to sit back and criticise the UFC for not promoting this event properly. It's also easy to sit back and criticise their incredible negligence of the flyweight division and in particular this weekend's challenger John Moraga.
It's no wonder fans do not know who this guy is. A lot of hardcore fans don't even know who he is. He has had two fights in the UFC and is 2-0 with 2 stoppages but both fights have been the first fight shown on Facebook. It's pretty rare nowadays that someone would fight for the title without being on a main card but this guy has never even been on Fuel or FX. Rather than sit and bitch as we MMA fans love to do I thought I would try and find out a little bit more about Moraga.
Moraga is a two time All-American (really hoping for a fact grinder from Coach later in the week) but has won most of his fights by submission (6 subs, 5 decisions, 2 tko). He is 13-1 in his career with his only loss coming to the last man to fight for the belt, John Dodson. He has good takedowns, good takedown defence, clean, crisp striking as well as a solid ground game from top positions.
As already mentioned Moraga is 2-0 in the UFC with 2 stoppages, a first round TKO over Ulysses Gomez and a third round submission win over Chris Cariaso. Gomez came into the fight with a good bit of hype as one of the better flyweights in the world. He was a slight favourite too coming in around +155. From the offset however it was Moraga, also making his UFC debut, who looked more comfortable. He was able to stuff Gomez' attempts to take the fight to the ground and picked him apart on the feet and in particular in the clinch. His striking defence also looked good, using good head movement and cutting angles well. He used an impressive variety of strikes including knees, elbows and uppercuts and the combo he used to finish Gomez was a beautiful piece of violence.
In his next outing he faced Chris Cariaso in what was likely an unofficial number one contenders bout considering how shallow the flyweight division is. Despite this however the fight was relegated to the Facebook portion of prelims. This time Moraga was the favourite coming in around -205. Although this fight was a little slower paced than previous flyweight encounters it was still a decent scrap with Cariaso looking to push the pace and Moraga content to play a counter striking game. Cariaso easily outlanded Moraga but it was Moraga who, in my opinion landed the more effective damaging shots. Nevertheless it was a close fight and could easily have been even going into the third and final round. The third round began much like the previous two with Cariaso trying to land kicks and Moraga blocking and looking to counter. About a minute in however they clinched up and ended up with Moraga against the cage. He was able to reverse the position however and in the transition he managed to lock up a front head lock and used a modified guillotine to force the tap. The finish was rather unexpected as the tap could not be seen from the angle the camera was at and the fight seemed to be heading for a decision. With this performance Moraga put himself in a great position in the division and the likely next challenger for the title which turned out to be the case.
The fight against Johnson was originally scheduled for the TUF 17 finale but the champ injured himself and the bout was rescheduled for this event. So what chance does Moraga have against Mighty Mouse? In my opinion he actually does have a good chance and could possibly cause the upset (he's a 3-1 outsider). As mentioned already he has good TDD and good striking but my one concern is his bottom game. Johnson is a pretty great wrestler himself and if he is able to get on top I could see him staying there for long periods of time. Admittedly I am basing this of the small amount of time Moraga spend on his back against Cariaso. Although it was only 15 seconds at the end of the round, Moraga simply looked to tie Cariaso up and hope for a stand up or the end of the round rather than attacking from his back or try and set up a sweep. Another factor that could be crucial is Mighty Mouse's speed advantage. It is spoken about in nearly all of his fights so you'd think his opponents would be ready for it but so many seem to not be ready for the quickness that he brings. I don't think Moraga will have faced anyone with that same speed although fighting Dodson earlier in his career should stand him well.
If Moraga can overcome these obstacles I think he could have a great chance. Obviously it is a big ask but if he can get Johnson's timing down I think he could do well on the feet and Uncle Creepy showed that he is vulnerable off his back. If he was to end up in a top position things could become really interesting. Neither fighter has ever been finished and both tend to go to decision quite a bit so I wouldn't be shocked if it goes the full 5 rounds. Although Johnson would appear to be the favourite I am looking forward to how Moraga is going to deal with the champ and I wouldn't rule out an upset.