clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

UFC 215 preview: Learning from the losses of UFC champion Demetrious Johnson

At UFC 215, Demetrious Johnson and Ray Borg meet for the UFC Flyweight title. Here, we preview the fight by focusing on the champ’s losses.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Johnson vs Reis Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

At UFC 215, Demetrious Johnson looks to make history by defending his UFC title for the 11th time, passing Anderson Silva’s record of 10 to stake his claim as the most dominant champion in UFC history. To do so, he must defeat Ray Borg. Here, we preview the fight with a look back at the two career losses of the champ - we’ll break down what caused the loss, what Mighty Mouse learned from it, and how it might relate to Saturday’s fight. All fights are available on Fight Pass, so follow along and share your thoughts.

#1 - Brad Pickett (18-4) def. Demetrious Johnson (10-0), UD
April 24, 2010 - WEC 48: Aldo vs. Faber

THE OPPONENT: Brad Pickett is something of an unsung legend of the lower weight classes. He retired earlier this year with nearly 40 fights at 12+ years as a pro. Here, he was just two fights into his WEC career, and, by extension, his time both as a Bantamweight and in the US, having previously fought primarily as a Featherweight in England. Pickett ended his career on an unfortunate 1-6 run, but until that point, he was one of those tough “always in the mix” fighters.

WHAT HAPPENED: Pickett explained it in the post-fight interview - he was the bigger man. With Flyweight not yet a truly established division, Johnson was fighting up in weight at Bantamweight, and for the 140 pound Johnson, that was too big a size disadvantage. Pickett used his underrated wrestling and his strength advantage to take Mighty Mouse down repeatedly and grind him out in a clear victory.

LESSON: If he was going to stay at Bantamweight, Johnson would need to learn how to deal with the wrestling of larger opponents. He clearly focused on this to some success in his next three fights. Against both Nick Pace and Kid Yamamoto, Johnson was the aggressor in terms of wrestling, bringing the takedown game to them. Against Damacio Page, Mighty Mouse was outwrestled in the first again, but he attacked Page’s cardio (and, it must be said, his groin), took over late in round 2, and submitted him.

RELEVANCE TODAY: Same as the next fight...

#2 - Dominick Cruz (18-1) def. Demetrious Johnson (14-1), UD (50-45, 49-46, 50-45)
Oct. 1, 2011 - UFC on VS 6: Cruz vs. Johnson

THE OPPONENT: Dominick Cruz is, in my opinion, the best Bantamweight in MMA history, and he was making his 4th defense of his belt here (technically 2nd, but you really should count the WEC lineage in there). This was his last fight before his back to back huge layoffs - he’s actually just 3-1 in the 6 years since. Looking back, this fight is a HUGE deal. Two of the best ever in the lower weight classes. We just didn’t fully know it at the time.

WHAT HAPPENED: Like Pickett, Cruz was the bigger man, and he used that size well. This was a terrific fight that went all over the place and showcased high levels of every aspect of MMA, but when it went to the clinch, Cruz was able to use his size to twice hurl Johnson around the cage in spectacular must-see German suplexes. During the scrambles on the mat, Cruz used his bulk to gain positional advantage. It added up to the champ being able to control the rounds and take the win.

LESSON: Same as Pickett. Only this time, there was an out - the Flyweight division was created not long after, and the undersized Bantamweight Johnson wisely packed up shop and headed south to 125 as he simply didn’t have the frame to deal with a larger wrestler.

RELEVANCE TODAY: It’s tempting to just say zero and walk away. These fights were in a different division, and years ago. The counter-point though is Johnson’s first fight with Ian McCall, where, at Flyweight, McCall took down and outwrestled Mighty Mouse to earn a draw. Of course, the counter-point to THAT is that no one has beat him since, including great wrestlers like McCall again and Henry Cejudo. If you’re looking for Johnson’s kryptonite, it probably remains a powerful wrestling game. No challenger has been able to exploit that small crack yet, but Borg has the potential to be that man.


Joe Rogan is fond of saying that Johnson has no gaps in his game, no weaknesses. That’s not true. His wrestling game is great, but it can be exploited and he can be out-grappled. Aside from these two losses, we also saw McCall succeed here, plus Tim Elliott have moments of success. And interestingly, this is the exact style of fight Ray Borg uses. The truth is, Borg probably doesn’t have much of a chance Saturday night. But his style means that he does indeed have a path to victory, unlikely though it may be.

Join us here at Bloody Elbow Saturday night for live fight night coverage of Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg at UFC 215.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bloody Elbow Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your MMA and UFC news from Bloody Elbow