Johnson vs Moraga: Preview

Hot off the heels of one of the greatest upsets in promotional history, the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns on July 27 for FOX UFC Saturday: Johnson vs Moraga, which is set to emanate from the KeyArena in Seattle.

Headlining the organization’s third trip to "The Emerald City" is a flyweight championship showdown between titleholder Demetrious Johnson and top contender John Moraga.

In a tantalizing co-featured welterweight scrap, highly regarded contenders Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger will collide, while Strikeforce veterans Robbie Lawler and Bobby Voelker throw down in another 170-pound contest. Rounding out the main card, recent women’s bantamweight title challenger Liz Carmouche welcomes Brazilian prospect Jessica Andrade to the Octagon.

Here’s a closer look:

Main Card (FOX):

Demetrious Johnson (17-2-1) vs. John Moraga (13-1)

The face of the recently introduced flyweight division returns to defend his throne for the second time on FOX as the inaugural 125-pound kingpin Johnson battles the No. 1 contender Moraga.

Johnson, 26, won the flyweight title with successive decisions over Ian McCall and Joseph Benavidez last year. The speedy champion made his first successful title defense this past January, outpointing John Dodson in a fast-paced affair.

The Matt Hume-trained AMC Pankration representative was already a top contender at 135 pounds, defeating Damacio Page, Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto and Miguel Torres, while dropping decisions against Brad Pickett and champion Dominick Cruz. However, Johnson’s 5-foot-3 frame is evidently better suited for the flyweight class, where he has yet to taste defeat.

A standout high school wrestler, Johnson’s cat-like speed and footwork compliments his swift takedowns and solid submission base.

The Kentucky native is a tremendous defensive fighter, avoiding 66% of strikes and 61% of takedowns, while also possessing exceptional conditioning, evidenced by his 19:17 average fight time, the second longest in UFC history.

Moraga, 29, is riding a seven-fight winning streak, including back-to-back UFC stoppages of Ulysses Gomez and Chris Cariaso. Moraga dropped a decision against top-ranked Dodson in December 2010, which is still his only professional loss.

A former two-time NCAA Division I All-American in freestyle wrestling, Moraga has also adapted well to the submission game, training under John Crouch at the MMA Lab in his native Arizona alongside UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson.

With five first-round stoppages in 14 professional bouts, Moraga is one of the flyweight division’s most prolific finishers, while Johnson is more accustomed with 25 minutes in the cage.

Speed will likely be the deciding factor in this fight, and as we’ve learned from the flyweight’s, speed kills.

Rory MacDonald (14-1) vs. Jake Ellenberger (29-6)

In a 170-pound clash that promises fireworks, the surging Canadian prospect MacDonald meets the powerful American knockout artist Ellenberger.

MacDonald, 23, recorded the most impressive win of his career this past December, thoroughly outworking former two-division champion B.J. Penn in a one-sided pounding.

Initially expected to control the fight with his wrestling, MacDonald utilized dynamic kickboxing to pick the Hawaiian legend apart, improving his winning streak to four straight. Age and ring rust aside, the magnitude of MacDonald’s win over Penn is not fully appreciated as he systemically broke down one of the sport’s all-time greats.

After suffering his only career loss in a come-from-behind finish at the hands of Carlos Condit in June 2010, MacDonald defeated Nate Diaz, Mike Pyle and Che Mills in commanding victories.

The British Columbia native has evolved as a fighter since joining Montreal’s Tristar Gym, where he trains alongside UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre under the watchful eye of head coach Firas Zahabi. MacDonald has avoided 64% of total strikes in the Octagon, while thwarting 89% of takedown attempts.

Highly athletic and well-rounded, the youngster MacDonald epitomizes the new breed of fighters and he’s already been touted as a future champion.

Ellenberger, 28, starched Nate Marquardt in a "Knockout of the Night" performance at UFC 158 this past March.

The Nebraska native lost a closely contested split decision against Condit in his UFC debut before rattling off six straight wins, including victories over Mike Pyle, Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez.

Ellenberger was knocked out for the first time courtesy of Martin Kampmann’s knees last June, but he’s back on the winning track after wins over Jay Hieron and Marquardt.

A former NCAA Division II wrestler and BJJ purple belt, Ellenberger serves as one of the key members of California’s Reign Training Center and Kings MMA camps. Most recently, he was seen cornering Mark Munoz in his victory over Tim Boetsch at UFC 162.

Ellenberger possesses strong defensive skills of his own, avoiding 68% of total strikes and stopping 93% of takedowns.

However, the former U.S. Marine has put the division on notice with his heavy hands, owning career knockouts over historically durable fighters such as Marquardt, Shields, Sean Pierson, John Howard and Jose "Pele" Landi-Jons.

This should be a particularly compelling encounter since MacDonald may have superior technique, but Ellenberger undoubtedly packs more power in a single punch.

Robbie Lawler (20-9-1) vs. Bobby Voelker (24-9-0)

Welterweight heavy hitters will go toe to toe as the longtime veteran Lawler looks to build on the momentum of his victorious UFC return against the late replacement Voelker.

Lawler, 31, fought at 170 pounds for the first time since 2004, stunning Josh Koscheck by first-round TKO at UFC 157 in February.

Since his initial UFC release, the "Ruthless" southpaw traded wins and losses during his run fighting for a number of defunct promotions, including the International Fight League, Pride Fighting Championships, Icon Sport, EliteXC and Strikeforce.

Lawler earned notable wins over Joey Villasenor, Frank Trigg, Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Scott Smith, Melvin Manhoef, Matt Lindland and Adlan Amagov, while falling short against Lorenz Larkin, Tim Kennedy, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Renato "Babalu" Sobral, Jake Shields and Jason Miller.

Formerly a member of Pat Miletich’s famed Iowa-based academy, Lawler is still reinventing himself since joining Florida’s American Top Team.

A battle-tested veteran of 30 professional fights, Lawler’s wrestling base and devastating knockout power are still a viable threat, particularly at 170 pounds. But submission defense remains his biggest weakness.

Voelker, 34, lost a highly controversial hometown decision against Patrick Cote at UFC 158 this past March. The Strikeforce veteran was coming off the best run of his career, including a decision over Cory Devela and successive stoppages of Roger Bowling.

With 33 fights under his belt, the Kansas City native has struggled primarily against wrestlers, but he’s always game for a brawl.

Voelker will likely oblige Lawler in a good old-fashioned slugfest, which could be playing right into his hands. In other words, when Lawler connects flush, it’s lights out.

Liz Carmouche (8-3) vs. Jessica Andrade (9-2)

The first woman in history to amass two fights in the Octagon, Carmouche returns against the Brazilian newcomer Andrade.

Carmouche, 29, succumbed to an armbar with just 11 seconds remaining in the first round of her UFC women’s featherweight title bout against Ronda Rousey this past February.

The openly lesbian Strikeforce veteran has earned wins over the likes of Colleen Schneider, Jan Finney and Kaitlin Young, while dropping fights to Rousey, Marloes Coenen and Sarah Kaufman.

The well-rounded former aviation electrician in the U.S. Marine Corps utilizes constant pressure during her fights, breaking opponents down in the clinch. When she secures a dominant position on the mat, Carmouche unleashes persistent ground-and-pound.

Andrade, 21, has already competed in 11 professional fights. She enters the UFC on the strength of a two-fight winning streak, most recently submitting Milana Dudieva in April. Meanwhile, the Parana Vale Tudo product has suffered setbacks against Jennifer Maia and Kinberly Tanaka Novaes.

The fourth youngest fighter on the UFC roster, Andrade will be aggressively pursuing the finish, having stopped all her career victims, four by knockout and five by submission.

On paper, the muay thai practitioner Andrade has youth and momentum on her side, but only time will tell how she copes with the UFC jitters.