Demetrious Johnson vs. Ali Bagautinov: Keys to Victory for Each Fighter

Steven RondinaFeatured ColumnistJune 13, 2014

Defending Champion Demetrious Johnson warms up before fighting Joseph Benavidez  for the UFC Flyweight Mixed Martial Arts title in Sacramento, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013.(AP Photo/Steve Yeater)
Steve Yeater/Associated Press

UFC 174 is coming up soon, and the flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Ali Bagautinov is nothing if not interesting. 

The fast rise of Mighty Mouse from an undersized bantamweight to one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in MMA has been remarkable. Meanwhile, Bagautinov has led a Dagestani invasion of MMA's elite, and he has the chance to be the first Russian champion in UFC history.

So what does each fighter need to do to win? What is the biggest key to victory?

Find out here:

 

Demetrious Johnson: Control Space

Jul 27, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA;  Demetrious Johnson (red tape) kicks John Moraga (blue tape) during their welterweight bout at Key Arena. Johnson won by a tap out. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Bagautinov is a prototypical Sambo fighter. Everything he does is built around his clinch game.

His strikes are designed to either set up the clinch, or punish an opponent when breaking away. His takedowns aren't necessarily hard, turn-the-corner singles, but Greco-Roman trips and throws. When he has an opponent tangled up, he can press them against the cage and eat up minutes on end.

That's the one aspect of the fight that Bagautinov owns a clear advantage in, and it's one area that Johnson has historically been weak in. Dominick Cruz was able to downright smother him when Johnson made a play for the bantamweight title, and Ian McCall pushed him to the brink of defeat with his wrestling.

Bagautinov's most likely avenue to victory is to hug Johnson, press him to the cage, drag him down and take rounds. Johnson will need to rely on his slippery footwork to post one of his signature dominant wins.

 

Ali Bagautinov: Timing

Feb 1, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Ali Bagautinov (blue gloves) during UFC169 at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Johnson's head movement and footwork are enough to fluster any fighter. He is easily the most elusive man or woman in the sport (outside of the UFC brass when asked about Vitor Belfort's TRT use).

To get through that defense, Bagautinov is going to need to quickly get a feel for Johnson's timing.

The challenger's teammate, John Dodson, was able to time Johnson's movements, land punches and score two critical knockdowns that nearly won him the belt. By comparison, John Moraga never found an answer to Johnson's footwork, and the result was like a matchup between a killer whale and baby seal. Johnson toyed with Moraga before finishing him in the fifth round.

While Bagautinov lacks the one-punch knockout power of Dodson, if he can get double underhooks on Johnson, he could take rounds off the champ.