UFC 174: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ali Bagautinov Preview and Prognostication

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

Demetrious Johnson defends his Flyweight title against Ali Bagautinov in a bout that should prove to be closer than the oddsmakers give it credit for.

Demetrious Johnson vs. Ali Bagautinov Flyweight

I've actually been reading Patrick Wyman's highly literate history on the people of the North Caucasus. That's crazy. So basically, Bagautinov would be walking around with two AK 47's in his hands if it weren't for sports.

I don't think that's the thesis, but I feel like Patrick's work shares a lot in common with stuff like the Warrior Slave Theory of Jamaican Sprinting (something mentioned in David Epstein's seminal book), where ability is suspected to be molded through nurture from generation to generation. If genetics leaves a biological ripple in the pool of history, why couldn't environment be another component?

Back off man, you're not a scientist.

Fair enough.

So Ali has three fights to his name in the UFC. His last win is over the Nutty Professor, John Lineker. Why should I be impressed again?

You wouldn't be wrong to find Ali's resume lacking. But Flyweight needs new blood, and Ali is a sensible opponent. It's one of those "well there's no one else" dilemmas that often plagues nascent divisions. I do think his last two wins qualify as good wins. Lineker was actually supposed to get a title shot according to Dana, and Tim Elliot is a Brian Ebersole type: the kind of veteran you'd prefer to avoid if you can given his unorthodox style.

Meanwhile, Johnson continues to impress. He's easily one of the UFC's best fighters but he's stuck in the Flyweight division.

Since when has boxing ever been unable to sell a lighter weight fighter who was capable of being sold?

Well the UFC doesn't know how to sell a fighter without getting his opponent to call him playground slurs. They ignore the adults who might be interested, and cater to adolescent sensibilities. Ignoring that Johnson is a potential star in the unmaking (I'd argue that his lack of marketability has more to do with the sport itself), he's fresh off his most impressive performances against John Dodson (his best IMO), John Morago, and Joseph Benavidez.

But Bagautinov at +540? The last time we had odds like that in a title fight, the underdog destroyed the champ!

The difference is that Johnson isn't the greatest pound for pound fighter to ever be viewed by human eyes like Renan Barao was. Yes, the MMA gods have a tendency to challenge your hyperbole.

On a serious note, I don't think Ali Bagautinov is gonna get steamrolled. At least not in the first round.

First thing's first: Johnson is an amazing fighter. Losing to Johnson just means you're not one of the best pound for pound fighters in the entire world (pick your spots Dana: this is who you need to call a monster of Lovecraftian proportions).

One of my favorite Demetrious Johnson moments is when he's fighting John Dodson. It's the second round. Dodson comes it with a punch, and while back pedaling Johnson lands a pinpoint right hook from his southpaw stance. He quickly switches to traditional.

Johnson is MMA: every move is a calculated attempt to synthesize each dynamic that can be found in the sport. He doesn't yet sting like a bee (though Benavidez would disagree) but he does float like a butterfly. He's got the best movement in the sport. This is the secret to his current success: before his movement was confined to defense, and setup. Now his movement exists to defend and attack. His lateral movement allows him to take any angle against an opponent. So yea, he's good.

We're also seeing his ability to adapt and read his opponent. Johnson loses that fight to Dodson if he keeps his distance. Instead he made the proper adjustments and won in the clinch.

On the ground, he's also the superior fighter. His transitions on the ground are effortless, but finding himself in dominant position starts with well timed takedowns, and he's more than capable.

Can we just pretend Ali Bagautinov has a chance?

We don't have to pretend. Ali's greatest strength is his right hand. It's quick, and it's got pop, and most importantly, Johnson is hittable.

If there's a flaw in Johnson's armor, it's that he often leaves himself open when darting in for offense. On the several occasions that Dodson caught Johnson, it was while Johnson was coming in for punches, knees, or to initiate a clinch. Johnson moves a lot. Almost too much. Perhaps Bagautinov will find Johnson sometimes doing the work for him.

Having said that, Ali is gonna have to do more than just hope Johnson walks into a right hand on accident. I don't see Bagautinov being able to stop the takedowns, and his style lends itself to the type of counter punches Johnson is capable of that no other fighter seems capable of.

Demetrious Johnson by Decsion.

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