UFC on FOX 8: Johnson vs. Moraga main-card preview and breakdown

July 26, 2013

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UFC on FOX 8: Johnson vs. Moraga main-card preview and breakdown



Alexander Lee – UFC on FOX 8: Johnson vs. Moraga takes place tomorrow night (July 27, 2013) from the Key Arena in Seattle. Being in the main event doesn’t mean what it used to.  Time was that closing out a show was a sign that a fighter was held in high regard by the fans and the company; now, there is almost a mocking recognition of free TV headliners.  This is the dilemma that UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, one of the top pound for pound fighters in the world, is living with.

Of the nine championships currently contested in the UFC, the 125 pound strap is the only one yet to be featured in a PPV main event.  Two factors working against the relatively new division is a lack of depth and the more obvious aesthetic challenges.  Time and patience will help to solve the former problem, but what to do with the latter?  I don’t know if I’ve ever watched a flyweight fight with casual MMA fans without hearing someone say “When did they start doing midget matches?” or something to that effect.  They don’t mean to be disrespectful, it’s just that flyweights are really small.

We like to think of professional athletes as larger than life and when the visual doesn’t match that expectation, there is a disconnect that is hard to overcome.  It is this disconnect that has made the UFC gun shy about giving the little guys the responsibility of convincing fans to shell out $60.  A strong performance on Saturday by Johnson and challenger John Moraga will be an important step in the gradual building of the flyweight division.

Also featured: the return of Liz Carmouche, a brutal Robbie Lawler/Bobby Voelker meeting and a stiff test for Canadian Rory MacDonald.

 

UFC on Fox 8 will be broadcast on Sportsnet 360, with preliminaries beginning at 5 PM (EST) and the main card airing at 8 PM (EST).

 

Women’s Bantamweight Bout: Liz Carmouche (0-1 UFC, 7-3) v. Jessica Andrade (0-0 UFC, 9-2)

 

At the very least, Carmouche will be remembered as “the other girl” in the first female MMA fight in the UFC.  By nearly pulling off a miraculous upset, she proved she is so much more than that.

Looking for someone with a pedigree and a story, the “Girl-Rilla” (ugh) was exactly the character that the UFC needed to put opposite Ronda Rousey: an ex-marine, an underdog, a lesbian.  Rousey might have been the one people were paying to see, but in the weeks leading up to the fight Carmouche did more than her part to sell the fight.  Even though the match would end just like all of Rousey’s previous matches, a first round armbar victory for Rousey, it was the best possible outcome for the organization as the champ had to battle back from serious peril.  Two stars were made that night.

Based on that performance and the elite competition she’s faced (combined record of her last 6 opponents: 60-29!), Carmouche is going into her fight with Andrade as a heavy favourite.  Don’t be so quick to count out Andrade.

After running over sub-par competition, Andrade put herself on the map by submitting the highly respected Milana Dudieva.  When Miesha Tate was pegged for a rematch with Rousey, Andrade was brought in to replace her and face Carmouche.  The 21 year old Brazilian is a fierce ground fighter with surprising power.  She’s able to generate great force in short distance, something she’ll have to do if she can get in close against the lengthier Carmouche.  One of her favourite tactics is to drop back into a guillotine choke out of scrambles, so expect Carmouche to be prepared for that.  Don’t let the odds fool you, this is a tasty upset pick especially considering how unpredictable young fighters can be.  If Andrade has to deal with the Carmouche that went toe-to-toe with the champ, this could be one of the night’s most compelling match-ups.

 

Welterweight Bout: Robbie Lawler (5-3 UFC, 20-9 [1 NC]) v. Bobby Voelker (0-1 UFC, 24-9)

 

Lawler threw a massive wrench into the rankings when he returned the UFC and blitzed perennial contender Josh Koscheck.   Not only that, it was his first fight at 170 in almost nine years.  The finish brought back fond memories of Lawler’s younger days, when his rampage through the UFC had him pegged as a future champion.  His run at 185 had mixed results and it looks like he’s back where he belongs.

Facing Lawler is “Vicious” Bobby Voelker who made a name for himself in Strikeforce with a trilogy of fights against Roger Bowling.  His UFC debut against Patrick Côté went well even though Voelker ended up on the wrong end of a decision.  Voelker is actually the third opponent booked for this match, replacing Siyar Bahadurzada who himself had replaced Tarec Saffiedine.

It’s no secret that both men are going to go out there looking to take somebody’s head off.  If a technical striker like Côté gave Voelker fits, he should be happy to face a brawler like Lawler who is prone to bouts of entertaining sloppiness.  In a memorable encounter with Melvin Manhoef, Lawler looked completely disinterested in checking Manhoef’s leg kicks and his limb was cartoonishly flopping around.  Moments later he connected on a big punch that buried the Dutchman.

The two men have combined for 32 career knockouts.  In the words of Russell Peters: “Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad.”

 

Welterweight Bout: Rory MacDonald (5-1 UFC, 14-1) v. Jake Ellenberger (8-2 UFC, 29-6)

 

In many ways, MacDonald is quickly becoming a headache for Joe Silva.  Having a white hot prospect tearing through the organization’s toughest division sounds fantastic…not so much when he happens to be close friends with the champion and he refuses to fight him.  In the meantime, he’s threatening to kill off your other challengers.  To this point, they’ve managed to avoid that particular scenario but it was only a matter of time before he had to fight someone like Ellenberger.

Ellenberger was already generating considerable buzz while on a four fight winning streak.  His success landed him his first main event spot opposite Jake Shields (26-5-1 at the time) on a Fight Night card.  With respect to outside issues that might have affected Shields’ performance (Jack, his father and manager, had recently passed away), Ellenberger destroyed him.  He went 3-1 after that, including his most recent win over another Georges St-Pierre training partner, Nate Marquardt.  A win over MacDonald would all but guarantee Ellenberger a title shot.

This will be the first time since the Shields fight that Ellenberger isn’t favoured and if you’ve seen MacDonald fight, you know why.  The “Canadian Psycho” has not dropped a single round since losing to Carlos Condit.  He is developing at a frightening rate, not only rag-dolling opponents with his GSP-esque strength and wrestling, but showing off a flashy striking game.  On fight night, he’s been known to can flip a switch that turns him from monotone interviewee to a predator eager to toy with his prey.  Perhaps the scariest aspect of this fight is that Ellenberger has gone out of his way to make MacDonald want to hurt him.

Ellenberger calls himself “The Juggernaut”, an unstoppable force.  In this case, MacDonald might just be the proverbial immovable object.

 

Flyweight Championship Bout: Demetrious Johnson (5-1-1 UFC, 2-1 WEC, 17-2-1) v. John Moraga (2-0 UFC, 13-1)

 

“Mighty Mouse” Johnson was already a load at 135, topping legends like Kid Yamamoto and Miguel Torres on his way to a failed title fight against Dominick Cruz.   Even before the UFC declared the introduction of the flyweight division, many predicted that Johnson would be a force if he dropped down a weight class.  Sure enough, Johnson has been unbeatable since making the move.  His potent wrestling, athleticism and non-stop activity have made him the perfect representative for the world’s fastest fighters.  He is the Jerry West (or Elgin Baylor, if you’re so inclined) of the flyweights.

On the other hand, being the first isn’t always the best.  Case in point, you couldn’t paint a brighter target on Johnson’s back.  Ian McCall, Joseph Benavidez and John Dodson have all had their moments against the champ and Moraga is the latest hungry challenger who has the tools to take the title.  There isn’t an area where Moraga will be afraid to engage, including the wrestling game where he might actually hold an advantage over Johnson, having achieved All-American status with the illustrious Arizona State program.  One major concern for his camp might be his aggressive nature, a disposition that a crafty champion like Johnson has feasted on in the past.

Moraga has gone from rookie to contender faster than anyone could have predicted.  The UFC has to take a large part of the blame for his anonymity as both of his appearances have been at the very bottom of the card.  You can’t manufacture a main event participant and the UFC is going to learn this the hard way.  This also affects Johnson, who might struggle to prepare himself for a fight in which he is so heavily favoured.  The most dangerous opponent can be the one you don’t see coming.

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