The UFC’s longest-reigning champion Demetrious Johnson won his UFC flyweight title in September 2012, which in the digital age, feels like eons ago. Let’s take a look back at what the world looked like the last time “Might Mouse” wasn’t wearing a UFC belt.
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Jeremy Stephens vs. Renato Moicano
Unranked Renato Moicano gets a huge bump in competition when he takes on fifth-ranked featherweight Jeremy Stephens in just his third UFC fight.
Miocano is an excellent grappler who, despite a submission win in his UFC debut, hasn’t spent much time on the ground. He’s opted to stand and trade with opponents and that’s helped him to a 2-0 record inside the Octagon thus far.
That might not be the best strategy against Stephens, however, who is one of few fighters at 145 pounds with real one-punch KO power.
“Lil Heathen” Stephens will have the power advantage on Fight Night — as well as a significant experience edge — as he has more wins against UFC competition (12) than Miocano has professional bouts. Though he also has 12 losses in the UFC and has struggled with longer fighters who can threaten on the ground and in the stand-up. Miocano presents both of those problems.
This fight will be closer than their rankings predict, but I think Stephens walks away with the win here.
Prediction: Jeremy Stephens by decision.
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Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Robert Whittaker
World-class grappler “Jacare” Souza looks to put the clamps on yet another opponent when he faces rising star Robert Whittaker on Saturday night.
During his ridiculous 10 wins in 11 fights stretch, Jacare has finished six bouts by submission and three by knockout, so there's no doubt he’s one of the scariest fighters in the welterweight division. But for as prolific as Jacare is on the ground, he typically has a tough time getting the fight there, as he’s completed just 35 percent of his takedown attempts in the UFC.
His opponent Whittaker has actually done a tremendous job of defending takedowns during his time in the UFC. The Reaper has fought off 93.8 percent of the takedowns thrown his way — but he hasn’t faced anyone of Jacare’s caliber yet.
Whittaker will need to use his unorthodox striking style to keep Jacare off balance but also avoid letting Souza get close enough to engage the clinch, where the Brazilian has landed over 13 percent of his strikes.
If he can keep the fight standing, however, I think Whittaker has a good chance at upsetting Jacare with his overwhelming pace and precision striking. But if this one hits the canvas, it’s not hard to see Jacare walk away with his 25th career win.
Prediction: Robert Whittaker by decision.
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Rose Namajunas vs. Michelle Waterson
This matchup between top strawweights — the co-main event in Kansas City — is one of the toughest fights to call this year: Both fighters are extremely well-rounded and have the skills to hold UFC gold.
Waterson has submitted all four of her opponents inside the Octagon, but it’s her overwhelming abilities on the feet that have led to many of those wins. “The Karate Hottie” lands an absurd 76 percent of her strikes — much higher than the UFC average of 42 percent — and lands just under four strike per minute.
Namajunas has been just as dynamic during her UFC career, with two submissions in her three UFC wins — but her striking defense leaves a bit to be desired. She’s been outstruck in three of her five fights and currently absorbs 3.14 strikes per minute. By comparison, the UFC average is 2.5, and Waterson is at .81.
“Thug” Rose should try to use her reach advantage to keep Waterson out of range for her takedowns, and mix up her footwork to prevent the Karate Hottie from unloading her powerful combinations.
On paper, this fight looks to be one of the best matchups the UFC has given fans so far in 2017, and I don’t think Namajunas and Waterson will disappoint. Both fighters will challenge the other in ways they haven’t been in the Octagon but I think Waterson will leave KC with the win.
Prediction: Michelle Waterson by third-round submission.
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Demetrious Johnson vs. Wilson Reis
Will the UFC’s current longest-reigning champion finally meet his match Saturday night in Kansas City? Anything is possible in the fight game ...
... though it's highly unlikely. Demetrious Johnson is the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and for good reason. “Mighty Mouse” has defended his title nine times, has never been outlanded in significant strikes in the Octagon and has twice landed more than 10 takedowns in a fight.
Johnson’s precision (52.5 percent striking accuracy) and pace (3.39 strikes landed per minute) will likely overpower Reis on the feet. Reis, who lands just 37 percent of his strikes, will need to get this fight to the ground and work his outstanding Brazilian jiu-jitsu if he wants any chance of taking home gold.
Prediction: Demetrious Johnson by second-round TKO.