The Complete Guide to UFC on Fox 24: Johnson vs. Reis
The UFC heads to Kansas City, Missouri, with a stacked offering on Fox this Saturday, April 15. In the main event, longtime flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson looks to tie the UFC record for title defenses with his 10th victory, facing veteran competitor Wilson Reis.
While the main event is compelling, largely because Johnson is such an incredible and accomplished talent with history in his sights, it's the rest of the card that makes this must-see TV.
The co-main event features an outstanding strawweight fight, potentially a title eliminator, between former top contender Rose Namajunas and the surging Michelle Waterson. It's a crackerjack of a matchup and one with real meaning.
The same is true for the third fight on the main card, a meeting of elite middleweights between Ronaldo Souza and Robert Whittaker. Souza has been one of the best 185-pounders on the planet for the last decade, and Whittaker is the most talented young fighter in the division.
The rest of the event features strong and meaningful action. The main-card opener between Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano should be a barn-burner, and practically every fight on the undercard is well-matched and compelling.
Keep an eye on the Fight Pass bout between Aljamain Sterling and Augusto Mendes and the debut of uber-prospect Tom Duquesnoy on the early Fox prelims.
Let's dig into each fight.
The Fight Pass Prelims
Ashlee Evans-Smith (5-1; 2-1 UFC) vs. Ketlen Vieira (7-0; 1-0 UFC)
Brazil's Vieira returns to action after winning a split decision in her debut over Kelly Faszholz. She draws Evans-Smith, who has won two in a row over Veronica Macedo and Marion Reneau.
Vieira isn't especially fast, but she has skills in every phase. She throws nice punching combinations with some power and showcases excellent clinch takedowns and ground control.
Evans-Smith does everything well, slinging hard punch-kick combinations at range, working a great dirty-boxing game inside and using potent takedowns.
Prediction: Evans-Smith is a bit sharper on the feet and a bit more rugged a wrestler. She wins a decision.
Zak Cummings (20-5; 5-2 UFC) vs. Nathan Coy (15-6; 1-1 UFC)
Cummings takes on Coy in a solid welterweight matchup. Coy has split two fights in the UFC, losing to Danny Roberts and then defeating Jonavin Webb. Cummings got over a loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio by submitting Alexander Yakovlev.
The southpaw Cummings is a sharp striker with a dangerous left hand that's especially sharp on the counter. He's a solid wrestler as well and has a nice front headlock game on the mat.
Coy is a grinder, plain and simple, who strikes only to get himself into the clinch and on to his opponent's hips with takedowns.
Prediction: Cummings should take this handily. He flattens Coy with a counterpunch in the second round for a knockout.
Andrew Sanchez (9-2; 2-0 UFC) vs. Anthony Smith (25-12; 2-2 UFC)
The Ultimate Fighter 23 winner Sanchez gets a soft step up in competition against journeyman veteran Smith. After defeating Khalil Rountree to win the show last July, Sanchez defeated Trevor Smith in December. Smith has won two of three since returning to the UFC, most recently defeating Elvis Mutapcic by knockout.
Sanchez isn't an outstanding athlete, but he's well rounded and smart. He flicks sharp kicks at range and puts together good combinations, but he does his best work dirty boxing in the clinch and grinding with takedowns and control.
Smith is enormous for the division at 6'4" and uses his height well with straight punches and long kicks, and he can be nasty on the inside as well.
Prediction: Sanchez is the far superior wrestler and clinch fighter. He gets inside, takes Smith down repeatedly and grinds him out for a decision win.
Devin Clark (7-1; 1-1 UFC) vs. Jake Collier (10-3; 2-2 UFC)
South Dakota's Clark draws Missouri's Collier in a fun middleweight fight. Collier has alternated wins and losses, most recently defeating Alberto Uda after a knockout loss to Dongi Yang. Clark fell short against Alex Nicholson in his debut and then rebounded with a victory over Josh Stansbury.
Collier likes to strike, putting his 6'3" frame to good use with a high volume of round, front and spinning kicks at distance. He wrestles well enough to mostly stay standing and can hit an occasional takedown of his own.
Clark is a fantastic athlete with great speed and explosiveness. He mixes potent punching combinations with authoritative takedowns.
Prediction: Clark hits big punches and takedowns on his way to winning a decision.
Aljamain Sterling (12-2; 4-2 UFC) vs. Augusto Mendes (6-1; 1-1 UFC)
Former blue-chip prospect Sterling has fallen on rough times, losing his last two fights to Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao after beginning his career 12-0. He faces BJJ legend Mendes, who debuted with a knockout loss to now-champion Cody Garbrandt and followed that up with a win over Frankie Saenz.
Sterling does his best work with potent takedowns and slick work on the mat, especially his back-takes. He's less imposing as a striker, focusing too much on light kicks from the outside and not enough on punches.
Mendes is an incredible grappler with a deep BJJ resume and has shown strong takedowns to go along with powerful, willing striking in his brief MMA career.
Prediction: Sterling is the more known quantity, but this is a tough matchup for him: Mendes is a rugged wrestler, a fantastic grappler and excels in the mid-range on the feet where Sterling struggles. Still, Sterling is the far more experienced fighter. He finds a way to get it done in a 29-28 decision.
The Fox Prelims
Tim Elliott (13-7-1; 2-5 UFC) vs. Louis Smolka (11-3; 5-3 UFC)
Former title challenger Elliott returns to action against Hawaii's Smolka in a fun flyweight scrap. Elliott fell short against longtime champion Demetrious Johnson in his last outing after winning The Ultimate Fighter 24 last fall, while Smolka has lost two in a row following an impressive four-fight winning streak. The winner will occupy a place on the fringes of the division's top 10.
The 5'7" Elliott employs a strange, funky style that combines pressure, constant tapping combinations of punches and kicks, surprisingly explosive takedowns and a scramble-heavy grappling style.
Smolka is 5'9" and puts his height to good use with a kick-heavy game on the feet, but he's also a slick takedown artist in the clinch and likes to scramble on the mat.
Prediction: These are two similar fighters. Both are huge for the division, both push a quick pace, both like to work takedowns and both like to scramble. Elliott is a bit nastier and a bit more physical; he wins a decision.
Bobby Green (23-7; 4-2 UFC) vs. Rashid Magomedov (19-2; 4-1 UFC)
Talented lightweights clash in a fun matchup. Both fighters need a win here, as Magomedov fell to Beneil Dariush in his last outing and Green has lost two in a row, albeit to top competition in the form of Dustin Poirier and Edson Barboza.
Green is an unorthodox striker with a crisp jab and a technically sound boxing game that produces smooth punching combinations and excellent defense. He wrestles well, too, and is a competent grappler.
Magomedov is likewise a striker. A slow starter, he tests things out while flicking jabs and kicks before committing to combinations of power shots later in the fight.
Prediction: This is a tough fight to call. Both are crafty and technical; Green works at a quicker pace, but Magomedov is a bit sharper. The Russian takes a tight decision.
Patrick Williams (8-4; 1-1 UFC) vs. Tom Duquesnoy (14-1, 1 NC; 0-0 UFC)
Blue-chip up-and-comer Duquesnoy, Bleacher Report's choice for the best prospect in the world two years running, makes his long-awaited UFC debut against Williams.
Duquesnoy comes to the UFC from BAMMA, where he compiled a strong record as its bantamweight champion. Williams hasn't fought in almost two years, when he choked out Alejandro Perez.
Duquesnoy is an athletic marvel with exceptional speed and power. The Frenchman prefers an aggressive approach, slinging sharp punch-kick combinations at range and throwing hard counters, but he does his best work in the clinch with knees and elbows. Strong wrestling and exceptional scrambling skills on the mat round out his game.
Williams is a good athlete and has some pop in his hands, but he's not a great technician on the feet. Wrestling is the strength of his game, and he has a nose for submissions.
Prediction: Williams could make Duquesnoy work for it with takedowns and pressure, but eventually the Frenchman will catch him. Duquesnoy knocks him out in the second round.
Roy Nelson (22-13; 9-9 UFC) vs. Alexander Volkov (27-6; 1-0 UFC)
The veteran Nelson takes on former Bellator champion Volkov in a solid heavyweight bout. Nelson knocked out Antonio Silva in September, which got him back on track after a loss to Derrick Lewis. Volkov debuted with a close win over Timothy Johnson to run his winning streak to three fights.
Nelson is slow and plodding but can still explode with surprising speed into his trademark right hand, which carries fight-ending pop. He's shown more of his wrestling and grappling skills in recent years as well.
Volkov is huge for the division at 6'7" and uses his height well with a steady diet of kicks and straight punches. He's not a great wrestler, but he's competent.
Prediction: If Nelson can get inside, he can work takedowns, clinch control and find a home for his right hand. It's more likely that he finds himself stuck on the outside, eating shot after shot. Volkov wins a decision.
Jeremy Stephens vs. Renato Moicano
Jeremy Stephens (25-13; 12-12 UFC) vs. Renato Moicano (10-0-1; 2-0 UFC)
Brazilian prospect Moicano draws veteran action fighter Stephens in a heck of a featherweight fight to open the main card on Fox.
Moicano has won both of his UFC fights, beating Tom Niinimaki inside the distance and taking a split decision over Zubaira Tukhugov. This will be Stephens' 25th fight inside the Octagon; he dropped a decision to Frankie Edgar in November after defeating Renan Barao.
This is a big step up in competition for the talented Moicano, and if he wins here, he's officially an up-and-comer to watch. Stephens isn't in any danger of being cut, win or lose, but there are more lucrative fights for him if he can retain his slot on the fringes of the top 10.
Moicano is big for the division at 5'11" and surprisingly quick and athletic. He's aggressive and likes to get after his opponent, pressing forward behind a steady jab and quick, powerful kicks that cut off the opponent's lateral movement. Counters are a specialty, and he's been conditioned to throw more than one shot in response. Pace is a strong suit, and he routinely throws 15 or more strikes in a minute.
The negative side of his pace and aggression is a tendency to get hit. Moicano has a good chin and isn't a bad defensive fighter, but he's there to be hit, and his activity creates opportunities for his opponent to land.
The clinch is another strength for Moicano. He has a nice arsenal of trips and throws, and his height gives him outstanding leverage, which he puts to good use with sharp knees on the inside. His takedown defense is only average, though.
Moicano is a good top-control artist with powerful ground strikes and a strong base. He does his best work passing to the back, though, where he has a lethal rear-naked choke. His guard is aggressive and good at limiting damage.
Stephens is a puncher, though his power has been overstated in recent years. As the years have passed, he has evolved from an athletic brawler into a well-rounded but still dangerous fighter with some depth and craft to his game. Volume isn't his strong suit, but he tosses out sharp low kicks and the occasional jab to gauge the timing and distance before sitting down on a combination or a vicious counterpunch.
Above-average takedown defense mostly keeps Stephens standing, and he can hit the occasional double-leg takedown of his own when the mood strikes. Grappling isn't his strong suit, though he's competent on top and has some thunderous ground strikes when he postures up.
Stephens -240, Moicano +180
This should be fun. Moicano is a talented young fighter, and Stephens is still showing some new wrinkles as he's grown from an athletic youngster into a crafty veteran. Stephens' counters are the biggest worry for Moicano, who's a bit hittable in range, while Stephens can't sleep on Moicano's clinch takedowns and ground game. Those last pieces should be the difference as Moicano takes a tight decision.
Jacare Souza vs. Robert Whittaker
Jacare Souza (24-4, 1 NC; 7-1 UFC) vs. Robert Whittaker (17-4; 8-2 UFC)
Brazil's Souza meets Australia's Whittaker in an outstanding matchup of middleweight contenders.
Souza has won two in a row since falling to Yoel Romero by split decision, taking out Vitor Belfort and Tim Boetsch.
Whittaker has won six in a row, five of which have come since moving up to middleweight. He flattened Derek Brunson in his most recent fight in November.
The winner will have a great claim on a title shot in a wide-open division.
Souza's game is all about pressure. He presses forward behind a steady diet of jabs and front kicks that force the opponent back, while sharp cage-cutting footwork combines with round kicks and looping punches to cut off lateral escape angles. Volume isn't Souza's strong suit, but he's exceptionally fast, accurate and powerful with his shots.
When he gets his opponent to within a couple of feet of the fence, Souza kicks into high gear. He's 37 now but still an outstanding athlete, and he has the explosiveness to cover that last bit of distance in a heartbeat. A hard punching combination carries him into the clinch or covers his level change and driving, powerful takedown. He also excels at catching kicks and turning them into takedowns.
Once tied up with his opponent, Souza is a monster. He's exceptionally strong and technical in close quarters and excels at controlling his opponent, mixing short punches and hard knees with slick trips and throws.
When the fight hits the ground, Souza is one of the two or three best grapplers in the history of the sport. It's impossible to overstate how technically sound and dangerous he is: He's borderline-impossible to shake off when he gets on top, passes at will and can finish with a variety of topside submissions or in transition. Punishing ground strikes open up chances for submissions or passes. He's a monster and a marvel.
Whittaker isn't big for the division at an even 6'0", but he's fast, light on his feet and fights much longer than his height would suggest. Slick, technical footwork keeps him moving through the cage as he tosses out jabs and kicks to maintain the distance, and he then picks his spots to explode forward into stance-shifting combinations that feature heavy power punches from both hands.
Counters, though, are the best part of Whittaker's game. He excels at picking his spots to stand his ground, move his head to avoid the incoming shot and reply with a powerful and accurate punch or combination. Pushing the pace is another strong suit, and he routinely throws 15 or 20 strikes in a minute when he finds his rhythm and range.
All this activity and willingness to exchange means that Whittaker is hittable. He's not a bad defensive fighter by any means, but he spends a lot of time in range to be hit and works fast, which creates opportunities for the opponent to land.
Outstanding defensive wrestling allows Whittaker to work his preferred game. He hasn't conceded a takedown in almost four years, stuffing all 13 (per Fightmetric) of his opponents' shots in that period.
Whittaker's slick footwork and distance management are a big piece of that, since it's so hard to get a clean shot at his hips in the first place. Even in extended sequences against the cage, though, he's sharp and skilled.
The occasional takedown, usually an explosive double leg, adds some variety for Whittaker. He's a solid top-control artist with functional control, nice passes and the ability to do real damage with ground strikes when he postures up. It's been years since we've seen him on his back, but there's no reason to think he's either dangerous or especially deficient.
Souza -240, Whittaker +180
This feels like a changing-of-the-guard fight. Souza is 37, a veteran of 13 years as a professional and not the athlete he once was, while the 26-year-old Whittaker is firmly in his prime years. More importantly, it's a tough stylistic matchup for Souza. He relies on pressure, and Whittaker excels at sticking and moving, landing hard counters and stuffing takedowns.
After a close first round, Souza runs face-first into a Whittaker counter. The pick is Whittaker by knockout in the second round.
Rose Namajunas vs. Michelle Waterson
Co-Main Event: Strawweights
Rose Namajunas (5-3; 3-2 UFC) vs. Michelle Waterson (14-4; 2-0 UFC)
Strawweight up-and-comers clash in a firecracker of a co-main event.
Namajunas challenged for the 115-pound title in just her fourth professional fight and came up short against Carla Esparza, but got back on track with a trio of big wins over Angela Hill, Paige VanZant and Tecia Torres before falling to Karolina Kowalkiewicz last July. She faces Waterson, a former Invicta atomweight champion who has won both of her UFC outings, including a first-round finish of VanZant in December.
Namajunas might need another win or two before getting a crack at the belt, but it's hard to imagine a marketable fighter like Waterson being left in the lurch with a third straight UFC win.
Waterson is athletic, explosive and dangerous. She isn't tall for the division at 5'3", but she fights long on the feet with a steady diet of round, side and oblique kicks from both stances. In recent fights, she has shown a preference for working from southpaw with a wide stance, which enhances her ability to maximize her reach.
Her kicks are lightning-fast and potent, and they're the heart and soul of her game. She's not a bad puncher, either, and is particularly dangerous when she puts her hands together with her kicks. Sticking her opponent at distance and then baiting her to step into range is Waterson's specialty, and she has excellent timing when she chooses to sit down on a combination on a pursuing opponent.
There are a couple of issues with this, though. The first is her footwork, which gets spotty when she's pressured or when she's faced with an especially mobile opponent. The second is defense: Waterson doesn't move her head much and relies on angles and distance to avoid her opponent's shots.
Waterson is dangerous in the clinch as well. She's surprisingly strong despite her lack of size and throws brutal knees when she can control her opponent's head. Slick head-and-arm throws add another dimension for opponents to worry about, all executed with outstanding technique and serious explosiveness. Solid defensive wrestling mostly keeps her standing, though she's not bulletproof in that facet.
Aggression is the hallmark of Waterson's grappling game, for both good and bad. She's a brutal ground striker and immediately looks to pass to a dominant position, sometimes before she's even fully established herself on top.
Scrambles are her bread and butter, and she has an outstanding move to the back and ability to snag a submission in transition. This preference also makes her vulnerable, though, and she has a tendency of getting herself caught in submission attempts.
Namajunas is quick and athletic, one of the most physically gifted fighters in the division. Striking is her wheelhouse, and she prefers a mobile approach that plays off her circular movement and ability to cut angles. Fundamental footwork is a real strength of her game, with outstanding pivots, sidesteps and spatial awareness.
Despite a fondness for wild spinning strikes early in her career, Namajunas has settled into a meat-and-potatoes game that relies heavily on the jab, straight right and left hook along with the occasional low kick. Her pace is good but not especially quick, and she can fall into periods of inactivity.
The clinch is another good area. She has a lovely arsenal of body-lock trips and throws and lands sharp knees, but she's vulnerable to being controlled by stronger and more technical fighters. Her takedown defense has shown drastic improvements in the last several years.
Grappling is Namajunas' real strong suit. She's an incredible scrambler with a great nose for the submission in transitions, immediately hopping to the back or locking on to an arm whenever the opportunity presents itself. She's no slouch in extended sequences, either, with technical top control, smooth passes and heavy ground strikes.
Namajunas -150, Waterson +130
This is a close matchup, and both fighters have paths to victory. Namajunas has better footwork and movement at distance, but Waterson has a better kicking game and more firepower. Waterson is more explosive and dangerous in the clinch, but Namajunas has more depth to her wrestling game. Both are aggressive grapplers, and Namajunas likely gets a slight edge in that department.
The pick is Namajunas by submission in the third round of a back-and-forth fight.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Wilson Reis
Demetrious Johnson (25-2-1; 13-1-1 UFC) vs. Wilson Reis (22-6; 6-2 UFC)
Longtime champion and all-time great Johnson attempts to make the 10th defense of his flyweight title against Brazil's Reis. If successful, Johnson would tie Anderson Silva for the most consecutive defenses in UFC history.
Johnson has now won 11 fights in a row since drawing with Ian McCall in the opening round of the flyweight tournament back in 2012. He has beaten everyone the division has to offer and has rarely been challenged, though Tim Elliott, his last challenger, put up a good fight early. Prior to that, Johnson finished Olympic gold medalist wrestler Henry Cejudo in under three minutes and took a second decision win over John Dodson.
Reis has beaten excellent competition over the course of a long and underrated career that has spanned EliteXC, Bellator and now the UFC. He's riding a three-fight winning streak, though none has come over an elite opponent; Dustin Ortiz is the biggest name on the list. This title shot should probably be interpreted as a lifetime achievement award and a case of being in the right place at the right time.
Johnson is one of the best fighters in the history of the sport, period, and is likely the most well-rounded. He can win fights on the feet, in the clinch, with wrestling and on the mat with equal facility, and each of his skill sets blends seamlessly into the next. His mind works like a flow chart, absorbing information and working through all of his available options with lightning speed.
The only fighter who comes close to Johnson's adaptability is Jon Jones, and Johnson is still a level above the former light heavyweight champion in terms of his ability to read his opponent and exploit what he's given. It's preternatural and has to be watched repeatedly on slow motion to be fully appreciated.
Pressure is the straw that stirs Johnson's drink. He does his best work moving forward, slinging hard punches and kicks from either stances and shifting fluidly from one to the next to maximize the amount of ground he can cover. He's not an outstanding pure striker, but he works at a good pace, picks his shots well and maintains excellent footwork.
The real work starts when the opponent's back hits the cage. Johnson can tie up there in the clinch, where he goes to work with a steady diet of knees, elbows and punches and controls for long stretches of time. That clinch control blends into single- and double-leg takedowns, the threat of which opens up his strikes and clinch game. This is the meat of Johnson's game and where he prefers to spend his time.
Johnson is no less accomplished in open space, where his speed, timing, angles and footwork make him difficult to track down. He shoots a gorgeous reactive double-leg takedown when his opponent overcommits and does vicious work in the clinch when he has the space to cut angles and circle.
On top, Johnson is a monster. He maintains a heavy base and great control but isn't afraid to posture up to land hard strikes or to give up position in pursuit of a submission.
With that said, Johnson isn't perfect. He likes to move forward and isn't especially comfortable if he's pressured, far too often taking a step or two too many straight backward before angling off. His takedown defense isn't bulletproof, though he's hard to hold down. His preference for scrambling on the mat means that he occasionally gets into bad positions.
These are minor concerns, though. Johnson is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in MMA history.
Reis is a sharp and dangerous fighter. Despite his deep background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he has become a well-rounded competitor who can operate in any phase with great depth and quality of skill.
On the feet, the southpaw cuts nice angles, moves his head consistently and puts together crisp punch-kick combinations. He's not a big puncher, but he packs real pop in his kicks and works at an excellent pace.
For the most part, though, Reis' striking serves as a bridge to his preferred game. The Brazilian does an outstanding job of going directly from punches to level changes or countering his opponent's strikes with a level change and then driving through with a takedown.
Reis is an excellent wrestler by any metric and shoots an explosive, beautifully timed double. His chains are crisp and technical and he always finishes with authority.
Grappling is the heart and soul of Reis' game. He's an outstanding top-control artist, one of the best in the sport, with a lethal array of passes and submissions. His control is strong and he's excellent at combining huge ground strikes with passes. His move to the back is quick and smooth and he's a dangerous finisher.
On the down side, Reis' striking game isn't all that deep. He's vulnerable to getting stuck on the outside, and his head movement tends to come and go if he's getting hit and has to think about it. Defensive wrestling isn't his strong suit, and his bottom game is nowhere close to as dangerous as his top game, so he's in danger of getting controlled for long stretches of time.
Johnson -840, Reis +570
The champion is a rightful favorite, but this is still an interesting matchup. Reis has the wrestling and grappling chops to disrupt Johnson's preferred game of takedowns and scrambling and can make the champion pay for even the slightest mistake in those phases. It's not an exaggeration to say that Reis is the most technically skilled grappler Johnson has ever faced.
Johnson should still win this handily, though, and the key to that victory will be the clinch. Pressing Reis against the fence and working him over at close range is just the ticket to wear down the explosive Brazilian and eat up the first round or two, when Reis is most dangerous. After Reis tires a bit, Johnson will be able to work his striking, wrestling and grappling games without as much risk. Johnson wins a 50-45 decision.
Odds courtesy of OddsShark.com.