When UFC President Dana White made the announcement of implementing a flyweight division, few were more excited than Demetrious Johnson and Ian McCall.
Johnson has always been the smallest man at the party, despite being 5-foot-3 he has enough god given athletic abilities to make up for his size – Learning the tricks of the trade from legendary trainer and former professional fighter Matt Hume he went unbeaten in his first ten professional fights.
The charismatic Washington native joined Zuffa, LLC’s sister-organization World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) in 2010 and despite being under-sized and an early hiccup losing a decision to British slugger Brad Pickett he was considered a top-contender at 135-pounds by the time WEC closed its doors.
Last year served as the star-making year for the 25-year-old as he dethroned two former world-ranked fighters in Japanese sensation Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto and ex-WEC champ Miguel Torres before losing a competitive 25-minute decision to Dominick Cruz for the UFC bantamweight title.
While preparing to return to the eight-sided cage against fellow bantamweight Eddie Wineland he got the call about being part in a flyweight tournament to crown the first world-recognized 125-pound champion pitting the fab four of the division against one another in a mini tournament.
Johnson drew the hardest opponent out of the gate, the number-one ranked flyweight, Ian McCall.
For those that watched McCall as a part of the aforementioned WEC organization during his three-fight stint where he got his hand raised only once you might have been a little perplexed as he returned to the Zuffa umbrella with a lot of hype and expectation behind him.
When he left the biggest stage for the lighter weight-classes he was pretty inactive as he has spoken openly about dealing with drug abuse and some horrifying near-death experiences before getting on the straight and narrow and getting his career on tract too joining Lemoore, California-based small-time organization Tachi Palace Fights.
The Tachi Palace, the former home of WEC and countless other MMA events was now the home of the most talent stacked 125-pound division and a hotbed for talent with McCall, Chad Mendes and Michael McDonald cutting their teeth in the feeder organization.
In his first outing McCall was thrown to the wolves in what most perceived as a tune-up fight for Jussier da Silva, the top-ranked flyweight after his years competing between Japan and Brazil but McCall had other plans winning a gutsy unanimous decision and turning the division upside down.
The curly-mustached fighter continued his run at his natural weight-class dispatching of Dustin Ortiz and Darrel Montague to capture the TPF Flyweight title, unfortunately before the hopefuls in Lemoore he was called to the big-show before he could defend his title though.
When McCall and Johnson met the first time in Sydney, Australia both battled for 15-minutes in the evening’s fight of the night – When the smoke had cleared and the dust had settled Demetrious Johnson thought he had won and Ian McCall thought he had lost, turns out neither were right.
Johnson leapt in the air in excitement when Bruce Buffer announced that he won a split decision; outside the cage was a different story though.
The crowd booed vociferously chanting “Bullshit” as McCall’s wife Shay jumped out of her chair and screamed her displeasure towards anyone who would listed and the Team Oyama stand-out exited the cage quickly slamming his hand down on the press table and cursing, almost giving this guy a heart attack in the process.
Post-fight it was confirmed that The Combat Sports Authority of New South Wales had made an error tabulating the score cards which should have been declared a majority draw – Because of this major mistake both men are forced to get back into the cage together this Friday to settle the score.
One man who will be watching very closely will be ex-bantamweight title-challenger Joseph Benavidez who punched his ticket to fight for the UFC flyweight championship dominating Japanese star Yasuhiro Urushitani.
When these two first graced the octagon together in March most of the fight took place throwing speedy fisticuffs so let’s take a look at the bag of tricks both men possess on the feet – Despite being a fast-paced fighter himself the speed and foot-work of Johnson caused a lot of problems for McCall early on.
At 135-pounds Johnson possessed blinding speed darting in and out with great composure and balance that forced his opponents off guard and susceptible to the takedown – The AMC Pankration product isn’t the most technical striker looking to lure his opponents into a hockey-style brawl but he brings great power that put McCall on wobbly legs in March.
Despite having most knockouts than anything on his record McCall isn’t a power-puncher, he relies more on his crisp, technical boxing that was a real concern for Johnson last time as he was able to actively use his leg kick and counter his offence.
“Uncle Creepy” looked to implement his wrestling game early and often in their first offering using his strikes to get Johnson off-guard before shooting for his powerful double-leg takedown – McCall was a standout wrestler at Cuesta University alongside Jake Shields and has continued to work on his wrestling base since.
Early in his career he featured a very top-heavy offence but he is far more diverse on the floor now, especially with his brutal ground-and-pound, mixing up punches and elbows to great effect.
The final frame was the most dominate round of the flyweight semi-final fight was the final stanza at the Allphones Arena as McCall slammed Johnson to the floor on several occasions and spent the round on his back inflicting punishment with his fists of fury, this is definitely something Johnson needs to avoid in the next meeting.
One of the best aspects of the ground game of Johnson is his ability to scramble though, he was able to scramble to get himself out of tough positions on the floor or get back to a standing position, this made it real hard for McCall to keep the fight on the mat early.
One aspect of this fight that is interesting is the submission game of both men, although Johnson was known as a submission connoisseur at the beginning of his MMA game notching five-straight submissions at one stage but he has never forced a high-level fighter to tap.
McCall, a purple-belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu isn’t known for his submission game either but has notched a rear-naked-choke submission on Darrel Montague last year when he captured the TPF Flyweight crown after raining down fists of fury on him like he did with Johnson.
Another exciting wrench is thrown into the works with the fact that this time they are fighting for 25-minutes, giving Johnson a slight leg up since he has gone 25-minutes on two occasions, even as recently as last year when he battled for five-rounds with the best bantamweight on the planet.
These two won’t be lighting the other up verbally as we enter their important flyweight affair, both men are very gracious of the others abilities but when the cage door closes behind them and the bell rings, all bets are off.