One of the more irritating decisions to be given to a fighter in the UFC this year took place at UFC 130 back in May, when Demetrious Johnson earned a unanimous decision win against Miguel Torres. Yes, Johnson was the one landing takedowns in that fight. However, when the fight hit the ground, it was Torres who immediately became the aggressor, landing sweeps and threatening submissions. Johnson did a good job of reversing a number of the sweeps, but I felt that he was on the defensive for a majority of the fight, and that Torres was the more effective attacker overall.
Now, I don’t envy the judges who were assigned to that fight; given the current climate of judging in MMA, it takes guts to award a fight to the man who operated out of bottom position for the majority of it. But if there’s a way to win a fight from bottom position in MMA by decision, Miguel Torres did it, and still the judges didn’t think his efforts were good enough.
I’m over it now; bad decisions happen and there’s nothing I can do about it (except complain in writing). But unlike most poor decisions that take place, that one in particular has far-reaching effects: by “defeating” Miguel Torres, Demetrious Johnson has earned himself a shot at the UFC bantamweight title, against Dominick Cruz.
I understand why. The bantamweight division is easily the thinnest in MMA. There are only seven bantamweights that I’ve measured to have a particularly good SILVA score. They are: Cruz, Renan Barao, Brian Bowles, Joseph Benavidez, Torres, Johnson, and Urijah Faber. Barao needs to do more to earn a title shot, Torres just “lost” to Johnson, and Bowles, Benavidez, and Faber have all been defeated by Cruz. Use the process of elimination, and that leaves Johnson as the only logical choice to make the top contender.
I just can’t shake the feeling that Johnson is in over his head. Prior to the controversial decision earned against Torres, Johnson’s best win was against Damacio Page, followed by wins against Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto and Nick Pace. Really, the only thing that gives Johnson credibility as a title challenger is the win against Torres, and is that really the kind of win that you want to see out of a title challenger?
Maybe you disagree with me, and think Johnson was rightfully the winner against Torres. That’s fine, we can disagree on that, but Johnson did not deliver the kind of performance in that fight needed to inspire confidence in his abilities to beat Dominick Cruz. And when I look at the match-up, it just looks plain bleak for Johnson.
While Johnson has had success striking in the past, it’s hard to visualize him having much success against Cruz. Cruz is a tall bantamweight at 5’8″ and uses his reach extremely well. Johnson, on the other hand, is about as short as it gets at 5’3″. If Johnson wants to be successful in the striking game, he’ll need to step inside Cruz’s reach to do it, and Cruz moves around the cage so well that Johnson will have a very difficult time hitting him.
That leaves wrestling as the path to victory for Johnson; essentially, beating Cruz the same way he beat Torres. That’s a dubious proposition at best. A look at Cruz’s fight history as tracked by Fight Metric shows the following as far as takedowns are concerned: Cruz 33, opponents 5. Wrestling is Cruz’s background as well as Johnson’s, so if that’s the path Johnson wants to travel, he won’t have an easy time doing it.
SILVA PREDICTION: DOMINICK CRUZ (48.23) OVER DEMETRIOUS JOHNSON (34.70)
I think the odds are just way against Johnson here. He just has no easy way to win against a taller, longer, and quite frankly, better opponent. It may theoretically be possible for Johnson to take Cruz to the ground and out-point him, but I think it’s much more likely that Cruz wins by playing the same game he usually plays: out-striking his opponents with straight punches and unique movement. And I’ll go a step further and say that I think Cruz isn’t going to lose anytime soon. Besides Renan Barao, who isn’t extremely close to a title shot yet, Cruz has beaten all of his toughest potential challengers already, and it’s very hard to see who will beat him anytime in the near future.