One of the least experienced fighters to ever receive a UFC title shot will get his opportunity to become a champion on Saturday night. John Moraga is 2-0 in the UFC for a combined total of 14 minutes and 57 seconds in the octagon. It’s reminiscent of when the UFC was struggling to survive as a company and employing only a handful of fighters in just a few weight classes. In the flyweight division, simply winning two fights could get you an opportunity to fight for the belt.
That’s not to say Moraga is a bad fighter. He’s an aggressive and punishing striker who is second only to John Dodson in punching power in the weight class. He’s a solid wrestler who lands takedowns on a fairly regular basis. He’s well trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well. He’s well rounded and dangerous.
He’s also done nothing to prove he can apply those skills in a fight against an opponent on Demetrious Johnson’s level. Moraga’s UFC wins were over Ulysses Gomez and Chris Cariaso. Those are good names to have on a resume, but it pales in comparison to Johnson’s record.
It’s also important to note that Moraga probably had to come back to beat Cariaso. Cariaso out-struck Moraga 19-11 in the first round and 17-11 in the second round. If it wasn’t for a guillotine choke in the third round, Moraga probably would have lost by decision.
With that said, there are ways Moraga could potentially defeat “Mighty Mouse.” One way is by pure grappling. As much as Johnson has the reputation of being a very good wrestler, his takedown defense can be a weakness at times. At 61 percent, Johnson has the lowest takedown defense rate of any UFC champion; he’s been taken down 30 times in ten UFC/WEC fights.
The counter to that is the fact that Johnson fought for a long time as a badly undersized bantamweight. It’s hard to win wrestling battles against opponents who are 10-15 pounds heavier AND good wrestlers themselves. In flyweight fights, opponents have landed just six out of 27 takedown attempts against Johnson. This means Johnson’s takedown defense at flyweight is 78 percent, a number much more consistent with champions in the UFC.
Still, I think if Moraga wants to pull off the upset, taking Johnson down is his best bet. Johnson is very difficult to control on the ground, but doesn’t have much of a submission game either. If Moraga can land takedowns on Johnson and threaten with submission attempts, that could be enough for him to win on points, or perhaps even finish Johnson with a submission hold.
If Moraga can’t take Johnson down consistently, I don’t see the fight going well for him. Johnson is a very effective striker because of his tremendous speed. He has the ability to step into the pocket, land a flurry of strikes, and step out of the pocket before his opponent can counter.
I don’t blame the UFC for giving Moraga a title shot. Somebody needs to challenge Johnson, and Moraga’s argument for getting that opportunity is as strong as anybody’s. However, the reality is that Moraga is very unproven for a fighter receiving that opportunity. I can see Moraga winning a round at some point against Johnson, but not three out of five.
Pick: Demetrious Johnson by decision