Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson fights Kyoji Horiguchi at flyweight in the main event of UFC 186 on April 25, 2015, at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Mouse vs fisherman
X-Box vs. Starcraft
Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Mighty Mouse was the super-fast, super-technical fighter who couldn't muster the speed or violence to quite capitalize on his obvious athletic potential at bantamweight. The combination of inexorable, constant technical improvements and a weight class more suited to his frame have made him one of the most dominant champions in the sport.
David: Johnson commands respect among people who love MMA, but he'll always be a hard sell for the public in general. He's finished 3 of his last 4 opponents, however, which bodes well for the kind of exposure he deserves.
Phil: Kyoji Horiguchi is the hope of Japanese MMA at the moment. With fighters like Tanaka stumbling at bantamweight, I honestly can't see that many other prospects who are close to his level. He's been a beautiful whirlwind of violence throughout his short tenure at flyweight in the UFC, and fights out of Krazy Bee (a gym with a special resonance) under the watchful eye of Kid Yamamoto. Not just any Japanese prospect, then, but a kind of living link back to an era of MMA which it is increasingly fading from public memory.
David: I don't know if I'd call him the "hope of Japanese MMA". Just like Gustafsson isn't the hope of Swedish MMA. Horiguchi represents one successful fighter, and nothing about his success will help JMMA; the sport just doesn't represent what it used to, and its problems run far deeper than simply fighter depth. It's unfortunate, and while Horiguchi could create a ripple effect, it's also not something I think he's consciously thinking about.
What are the stakes?
Phil: Lack of hype notwithstanding, they're not insignificant. The first Japanese champion in the modern UFC would really be quite something. What I'd really like to address is the idea of Kyoji fighting DJ "too early." I mean, of course it's almost certainly too early for Horiguchi to be in his prime for this contest, but I actually think an opportunity to get in there with someone as skilled as DJ is a great opportunity for a young fighter. He's a prohibitive underdog, he has nothing to lose and yet he gets invaluable insight into what the skill and discipline required to be top of his division really looks like. I don't believe in the idea of future champions getting broken by losing fights early in their career.
David: There's definitely a tribal quality to this bout. Despite my comments above, it would definitely be something worth talking about and reflecting on, should Horiguchi win. He's fairly exciting in addition. However, I wonder how shortlived it would be. Horiguchi is an excellent fighter, but he's an unrefined fighter as well; not in obvious ways, but I guess I'll get to that in a bit.
Where do they want it?
Phil: As in the Dodson fight, this really should be a contest of pure speed. Mighty Mouse is infamous for being fast, of course. He's one of the few fighters who is a legitimate threat in every single phase: boxing, kicking, clinch, submissions, wrestling- everything is beautifully technical and integrated. If there's a phase where he's better than the others, it's probably in the clinch and top control. Flyweight is a division where fighters tend to be able to shuck off control-based techniques, which makes it all the more impressive that once fighters get put in the Mouse's iron grip, they rarely get out again.
David: Johnson is one of the few fighters in all of MMA who can claim a well roundedness that isn't just lip service to versatility. Being well rounded is no longer a virtue. But to be well rounded in a way that isn't synonymous with a blue collar dynamism is something different entirely.
And that's Mighty Mouse. He really understands what goes into the game's synthesis. Every move is calculated in order to network all others, whether a punch into a takedown, or a takedown into a punch, and so forth. Beyond his speed, and ability to chamber punches and kicks constantly while retaining some uncanny footwork, he can be flat out bruising. The Dodson fight was won in the clinch. And it was no cake walk.
Phil: Horiguchi likes to be on the outside, and then blaze in behind blitzes of straight punches, like a hypercondensed Red Bull version of "Old Vitor." He packs pretty freakish power for a flyweight, and can do crazy athletic things like suddenly lash out with head kicks mid-blitz. If you want to upset a dominant champ early in your career, you want skillsets like this: fast, unpredictable, and able to finish or hurt badly in a flash. Although it's very difficult to see him getting it down, Horiguchi also has phenomenal ground and pound, informed by the same mechanics which make his standing punches so scary- the ability to send rapid-fire blows down a single unbending vector. Kid Yamamoto mentioned that he taught it to him as "swimming" ground and pound, where he brings the elbow back like he's doing the crawl and then unslings straight rather than blazing away with mindless hooks.
The blitz is both Horiguchi's biggest chance and his biggest liability in this fight: Johnson still has a tendency to back straight up to get out of trouble, and that could seriously be utterly, completely, "this Japanese guy should not even be close to this much of an underdog for this reason alone" fatal to the champion. I don't think it's all that difficult to see Kyoji chasing down the Mouse and just unloading chaingun punches on him while his balance is compromised. However, if he times it wrong, Johnson will just change levels and put him on his back, and grappling is the arena where Kyoji is almost certainly just not ready for the champ.
David: Old Vitor or the Young Dinosaur? Horiguchi is actually somewhat unique. He has some truly interesting footwork. Not necessarily for the kind of angles he creates, so much as the sheer volition of it all; he darts in and out with his strikes, and always seems to cover far more distance than you expect. For Horiguchi, the best part about this part of his game is that he's not so fast that his striking ever becomes ineffective. He remains inexplicably upright, and maintains a heavy base as he lunges in with strikes. Better yet, he has the type of raw power you need to set yourself apart from other flyweights.
And in top control, he's learned a few things from Krazy Bee. I think Horiguchi's biggest problem in this fight is that his striking can be a little inert. Against Johnson, this is simply the entire show, and what it all comes down to. Johnson will stay active, and Horiguchi can't let the fight happen to him. He did a little of this against Guadinot. His takedown defense is not as polished as I'd like for this fight, and that will absolutely be a factor.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: Our friend Pat Wyman has compared Horiguchi to Dodson, and Dodson has had success against the lighter weight division's best stance switchers in Dillashaw and Johnson, for basically the same reason that Kyoji can have success- they tend to try and switch stances when they're out of range, and a really explosive striker can crush the distance and hit them while they're square.
David: Was about to say the same thing. Horiguchi has the perfect style to catch Johnson in the middle of his position switches because he covers distance so well when he needs to. The issue will be whether he's comfortable doing it and not thinking about a takedown in response. In that way, I think the wrestling game of Masakatsu Ueda that intimidated Horiguchi many moons ago will be foretelling.
Phil: Apart from the obvious power-upset potential, I don't really see any particular X-factors in this fight. This is notable in and of itself, because these two guys are such chilled, relaxed professionals. It's one of the things which makes them such an underrated pleasure to watch: Speed and power which is clean and untainted by desperation or fury.
David: This is generally the case for lower weights. A lot less x-factor type chaos.
Phil: I really don't like the odds on this fight. Horiguchi has several skills which could badly trouble the champ (or pretty much anyone else) given the opportunity. That being said, Johnson is superb at both tactical and strategic adjustments, and any windows that the more limited challenger can open will be closed by the champ given time. Demetrious Johnson by submission, round 4.
David: I think Horiguchi's biggest problem will be dealing with the ground. Johnson is just so quick, and precise in how he's able to create exchanges within exchanges that Horiguchi will be flat out confused. To be fair, Horiguchi is a sincere threat on the feet though. He doesn't have Dodson like power, but his combinations make it a wash in terms of his potential to lay Johnson out if he's committed and undeterred by Johnson's overall pugilism. However, it's hard to bet against the sweet science of Demetrious Johnson (by Unanimous Decision).