If John Dodson were the UFC flyweight champion, the division would move a far greater number of pay-per-views.
At least, that's what some folks contend. When Dodson entered the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter, he received a tremendous push and was considered by many to be the flyweight champion in waiting. He had all of the slickness and speed in his feet that we constantly tout to the flyweight non-believers, but he was knocking men unconscious while he was at it.
Hitting hard at a bodyweight of 125 lbs (granted, there's a good few extra on him by the time he gets in the cage) is pretty difficult, but Dodson has it down to an art. Additionally, through his wide arm swinging style, he can seemingly punch with power while moving away and while on one leg.
Entering his rematch with flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson at UFC 191, Dodson remains the pundits' favorite among the flyweight roster to dethrone Johnson. He's not being given great chances, but he's been in there with Johnson before and had Johnson in deep trouble early on. Almost three years removed from their original meeting, where the class and craft of the champion allowed him to rally and convincingly best Dodson, we are all wondering if 'The Magician' has anything new tricks to show for it.
Those Boring, Rounded Flyweights
Flyweight is an interesting division which tends to divide the fan base down the middle. You either think that little men are boring and don't have hitting power, or you think that it's the best division because they are the most rounded technicians. John Dodson challenges both of those notions emphatically. Not only has he knocked out or dropped a surprising number of men with a force which wouldn't look out of place at welterweight, he's done it while being an absolute minimalist.
John Dodson is not a jack-of-all-trades by any means, in fact he's almost entirely one handed. I can count the number of times I've seen Dodson use his right hand effectively on my right hand, but that left is glorious. Dodson isn't particularly scientific in his leading, he relies on the speed of his footwork to dart across the mat quickly and either land a straight left down the center:
Or an overhand left across the top. A simple double attack, but Dodson has guys moving their guard around all fight while they worry about which they should be covering against.
It's the same thing, over and over. Though he does have the good sense to go to the body from time to time, and more recently he has gone to the Manny Pacquiao favorite of delivering the southpaw left to the body and then immediately to the head.
Just this simple application of the high-low was enough of a switch up to catch John Moraga and Jussier Formaga after minutes of one-note attempts at landing the left straight.
The kick as soon as Moraga ducks along the fence is a beaut. Something which should be drilled into every fighter.
Dodson's kicking game is pretty stunted, and his reliance on his footwork means that he is especially susceptible to low kicks, being punted off balance by everyone who has attempted them from T.J. Dillashaw to John Moraga.
What's more, Dodson's attacks to the body often leave his head hanging on a platter. For someone who moves so quickly in and out, when he adds in a level change he suddenly winds up lingering in the danger zone.
You will remember that a lunge at Dodson's body (while changing stances) left Demetrious Johnson in a whole heap of trouble.
But what really sets Dodson apart is his timing, pure and simple. He'll wait for his opponent to step in, wing in a wide left hook as he steps off line, and he'll either take their head off or be out of harms way and half way across the cage.
Now the last two examples are particularly important because Dodson holds the unique accomplishment of dropping two of the current crop of UFC champions, and it came about the same way. Demetrious Johnson and T.J. Dillashaw are both fighters who use stance switches and one of the great dangers of that is that the more time one spends between stances, the more time one isn't braced for a blow. Get hit between stances and you're almost guaranteed to fall—you can still be with it as Dillashaw was, but if you never get your balance back and there's someone on top of you, hitting you the entire time, the ref is probably going to call it off.
That's one of the great dangers of the stance shifting, constant movement styles of fighting and almost everyone who uses it and has been around long enough has been dropped by being hit while off balance. Chasing while shifting is a dangerous one, but equally dangerous is changing stances directly in front of the opponent. You will remember that Dominick Cruz took a bump while on one foot directly in front of Urijah Faber in their second match. Demetrious Johnson has a horrible habit of doing this:
Which wound up getting him hit with a flurry from Dodson.
The worrying part is that the first gif is taken from a much more recent fight, Johnson is still performing stance switches directly in front of opponents and lingering long enough to eat a clanger.
And that, more than anything, is what interests me about this rematch. I don't buy into “punchers chance” style match ups—if you're falling back on that, you're basically admitting that one man has no business being in there—but I do buy into Dodson's puncher's chance because of how Johnson fights. The constant shifting and the fact that the only punch he ever uses to any great effect is a stepping right hook really play into getting clipped by a counter blow and it having a far greater effect when he does.
But equally feints are the key to throwing off the timing of the counter puncher, and feints and stance shifts go hand in hand. And as soon as Johnson was in trouble against Dodson the first time, he got into clinches, recovered, and went back to thoughtful, cautious kickboxing from the outside. There's a lot of advertising Johnson as perfect, but he's as human as anyone. He makes mistakes, Matt Hume reins him in, and he suddenly looks untouchable again. It's a fantastic dynamic to watch in the ring and the chemistry between the two is sublime.
John Dodson and Demetrious Johnson meet for a second time this Saturday and you should watch. Not for the world title, not because you should appreciate the craft of the flyweights, but because this match up in particular should be a good one. Either one fighter has outgrown the other, or we get to watch Demetrious Johnson react to a stiff test of his chin and durability once again.
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