Demetrious Johnson: Crushing Contenders and Setting Records

Fightland Blog

By Jack Slack

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Demetrious Johnson catches a lot of flack, but if he continues to best opponents at this rate his legacy is going to survive a lot longer than most fighters could even dream. Johnson, taking on Japanese stand out, Kyoji Horiguchi, secured the submission by armbar in the final second of the five round bout, setting an unbreakable record for latest submission in a UFC bout.

The rest of the card was disappointingly weak in terms of star power, especially compared to the star studded, action packed, card-of-the-year, non-pay-per-view event which was UFC on Fox: Rockhold versus Machida. But the evening wasn't without its own decent moments.

John Makdessi rebounded from the brink of disaster against Shane Campbell, as his side on stance kept him on the end of low kicks which he could not effectively check.

He found his moment when Campbell continued to attempt kicks with his back to the fence. Doesn't matter what martial art you're talking about, kicking takes distance and you can't do it on the back foot. Campbell ate a lovely right hand and was sent reeling.

Makdessi kept on the pressure and got the finish, but it is worth noting something which bugs me every single time I see it:

Referees are far, far too reluctant to do anything about flagrant violations of the fence grabbing rule. This isn't a fighter getting lazy with his hands and accidentally grazing someone's eye with a finger. You can have an accidental eye poke, there is no such thing as an accidental fence grab. A fighter feels himself going down and his body instinctively tries to grab onto something to hold him up.

Whether Makdessi grabbed the fence deliberately or not, the purpose of the hand movement was to grab the fence and deny the takedown. Automatic response or not, any fence grab which denies a takedown, even for a moment, should result in an immediate point deduction. On an eye poke or groin strike, the action breaks and a fighter is allowed time to recover. On a fence grab, absolutely nothing happens. If you're desperately trying to get a takedown and recover your senses, as Campbell was, that fence grab makes all the difference.

Yves Jabouin was looking silky smooth against Thomas Almeida, showing the George Foreman style smothering hands, and timing counters, body kicks and takedowns, but it only took one good shot to change the fight entirely. The Tristar fighters have lately been showing a penchant for getting down behind their elbows and shoulders in punching exchanges—pairing shoudler rolls and even the cross guard, but doubling it as an elbow strike. A beautiful pairing of classical boxing with Muay Thai.

Jabouin successfully allowed Almeia to run onto one of these cross armed elbows earlier in the round, but the end came as Jabouin threw a right hand and looked to get down behind the crook of his right elbow and shoulder—what the old timers called “folding” in behind the punch. It is a terrific way to find safety and break rhythm in exchanges: punch, get down behind the elbow, and wait for the opponent's punch to bounce off or fly over before continuing your salvo. 

Unfortunately, Jabouin got to his lock just a little late and a left hook clipped him and put him on Queer Street. Almeida flurried and picked up the win, which was a shame because I had terrifically enjoyed Jabouin's work so far in the bout. Definitely one of the better bouts of the evening.

Jabouin goes to duck down behind his right elbow after his right hook, but is just a little too late.

The bout between Michael Bisping and C. B. Dolloway turned into the usual Michael Bisping affair, as his pace and volume got the better of the American. But Bisping wasn't looking too sharp on the feet in the early going. We often talk about the Pattern of Offense (and I'm sure we will cover it soon in an episode of Jack Slack's Ringcraft)—which basically means that a fighter should always be looking for a safe way in and a safe way out, not just stepping in and hoping to get away scot free.

Bisping repeatedly stepped in with blows, then just stepped straight back after he'd finished his combination. No angling out, no weave, no push away, no tie up. It put him at terrific risk of getting hit by a swing on the way out.

And soon, it did catch up with him. Dolloway connected a winging hook as Bisping finished a combination near the end of the first round and sent the Englishman to the floor.

But that was the exception. For the majority of the fight, Dolloway was eating jabs and right hands, and swinging back wildly. He soon tired and Bisping took the decision fairly convincingly.

The co-main event was pretty much as weak as expected. Quinton Jackson was given an opponent who would stand right in front of him and give him exactly the fight he wanted. The old timers would say about Fabio Maldonado that “he gets offended if you miss him”. Stepping straight in on a line, Maldonado will eat punches to get to the inside, push to the fence, then post his head against the opponent and open up with two handed hitting to the body—classical style infighting in an MMA context. It is the sole aspect of Maldonado's game which is exceptional.

Maldonado repeatedly got to the fence with Jackson, but couldn't free his arms to hit without Jackson breaking off of the fence and getting back to the middle of the octagon. Rampage hit Maldonado with everything in his arsenal, including some rare knees and kicks, but never really committed to the straight blows which Maldonado has always struggled with. Save yourself the effort and don't catch up on it if you missed it.

In the main event, however, Demetrious Johnson shone bright as he put on a performance of perpetual motion against the relatively inexperienced but promising, Kyoji Horiguchi. While Johnson's flaw of backing straight up and leaving his legs to be kicked was still on show it went unexploited by Horiguchi.

But elsewhere, Johnson's ringcraft looked tremendous. There are a great many subtleties to Johnson's performances which you might miss if you were focusing on his movements rather than his positioning. For instance, when fights hit the fence, a surprising amount of the time it happens directly in front of Johnson's corner, where Matt Hume can basically converse with his fighter.

But in this bout, Johnson's ring cutting looked far better than usual, and his work against the fence was far more effective. Against Ali Bagautinov, who places himself along the fence by accident in almost every round he's fought in the octagon, Johnson looked like he didn't really know what to do with an opponent is such a disadvantaged position. Against Horiguchi, no such confusion was evident.

Johnson kept Horiguchi along the fence and right up against it. Allowing Horiguchi to attempt to wall walk. Horiguchi exerted himself, heaving himself up off of the mat and Johnson would immediately flurry and put him back to the mat.

Johnson catches Horiguchi with the right hook while he's circling. The secret to good ring cutting.

Horiguchi fights up, Johnson keeps the pressure on, flurries in and gets him down again.

This happened over and over through the five round contest. And Johnson wasn't just stalling it out against the fence either. He'd use both legs to drive from a position with his head on Horiguchi's sternum, into a full bodied shoulder strike to the nose. And whenever Matt Hume called for it, he'd jumped up and dig in a vicious knee to the body.


In the final round, another of Johnson's more noticeable ringcraft choices can be seen. Once his opponent is breathing hard, Johnson stops fighting along the fence and is suddenly out in the middle of the octagon where there's nothing to bridge off of stand up against. It would be fascinating to assemble a heat map of Johnson's grappling work inside the cage.

As the end of the fifth round near, Johnson hit a beautiful takedown and moved to Horiguchi's back, securing Baret Yoshida and Marcelo Garcia's favorite crucifix position. But rather than stay there, Johnson managed to press Horiguchi to the mat and come on top, already in the mounted crucifix which he favours. From there, it being Demetrious Johnson, it was time to attack the far arm.

Here's an interesting point though, where Johnson normally works for the kimura grip and then steps over the head—classical style—he changed things up against Horiguchi, instead stepping the far leg over Horiguchi's body and all the way around. The great catch wrestler, Billy Robinson apparently used to favor these sorts of armbar as an opponent was struggling to stay off his back in catch wrestling. Robinson's apprentice, Kazushi Sakuraba, used to look for these sort of armbars too.

The entire sequence from the feet to the back, to the mounted crucifix, to the step over and armbar took just a few seconds as the hammer for ten seconds sounded. It was the second such finish in Johnson's career—five rounds of domination, polished off by a finish in the waning moments. Many argue that this is what a great champion should be doing.

Horiguchi, for his part, looked overmatched but never completely hopeless. For someone who had never fought five rounds before (and I have always criticized how no flyweight will ever get to do this before his title shot against Johnson), and who openly admitted he'd like a few more matches to develop his skill set, Horiguchi held up decently. His striking looked good and his wrestling looked more than passable. Also he didn't make too many of the kind of over-commitment errors which have exposed his back needlessly in the past. If Horiguchi can treat this as a learning experience rather than a derailment, he stands to become a serious challenger in future.

If Johnson keeps winning, though, the UFC might be altogether out of alternative challengers by the end of the year.


Check out these related stories:

Jack Slack: The Tao of Demetrious Johnson

UFC 186 Quick Results: Mighty Mouse Dazzles in Montreal