Demetrious Johnson (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC 186 Preview and Predictions

The UFC heads back to Canada for its first Canadian-based pay-per-view event of 2015, and just like the last pay-per-view event held up north, flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson will headline the card as a massive favorite in the night’s main event.

Johnson will look to remain the first and only UFC flyweight champion. He tries to defend his title for the sixth time since winning the tournament for the strap back in 2012. Japanese prospect Kyoji Horiguchi stands across the Octagon. The challenger brings a nine-fight winning streak and an undefeated 4-0 UFC record to the table, and he checks in at just 24 years old. This is a fight between possibly the two fastest fighters in the UFC today, but more importantly, it provides fans the chance to watch “Mighty Mouse,” one of the top consensus pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

A solid scrap between ranked middleweights Michael Bisping and C.B. Dollaway co-headlines the card. Both men are trying to shake off a recent loss and march back into the 185-pound title scene with a win on Saturday. They have been in the UFC for a long time without getting an opportunity for gold, and with the window closing quickly, this is a must-win match-up for both men.


Helping round out the main card is a promising slugfest featuring Fabio Maldonado against Steve Bosse, a battle between Canadian lightweights John Makdessi and Shane Campbell, and undefeated Thomas de Almeida looking to validate his hype against Yves Jabouin.

UFC 186 will get started from Montreal, Quebec, Canada at 6:30 p.m. ET, kicking things off with three fights on UFC Fight Pass. The action moves to Fox Sports 1 for the rest of the preliminary fights at 8 p.m. ET. The pay-per-view kicks off at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writersSal DeRose and Vince Carey preview the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

In the headlining flyweight title tilt, champion Demetrious Johnson defends his belt against No. 8-ranked Kyoji Horiguchi. There are a few fighters left in the top 15 who have not already fought and lost to “Mighty Mouse,” but they all either have to make a case for a title bid or prove they can consistently make weight before they’re granted a shot at Johnson. Will Johnson complete the cleaning out of his division with a win over Horiguchi? Is there anything Horiguchi brings to this fight that could spell trouble for Johnson and a sustained “Mighty Mouse” title run?

DeRose: Horiguchi is rightfully in the title fight after having looked impressive so far in his UFC career. I like Horiguchi and what he brings to the table, but he is still green in some areas, and he could have possibly used a few more UFC fights to help him get polished.

Horiguchi certainly brings something to the table for Johnson. He has solid grappling, and if the fight does hit the ground, he could give Johnson a tiny bit of trouble. Outside of that, however, Horiguchi’s chances are slim to win this fight. It may seem like I’m dumping on Horiguchi, but it has much more to do with how Johnson is so amazingly brilliant when he steps inside the Octagon. All 125-pounders face the same problem: Johnson is just a step above the rest of the division. (Well, except for maybe John Dodson.)

Johnson is going to win this fight with his technical striking and wrestling, and he’ll completely neutralize anything Horiguchi does. But, Horiguchi needs to land a takedown and get on top, or, if he gets put on his back, he’ll need to look for some mistakes from Johnson and hunt for the submission. Furthermore, Horiguchi needs to be perfect if he wants to win this fight.

As for Mighty Mouse, this win would pretty much clear out the division. I’d like to see him face Dodson at least once more, though, before I definitively say the division is cleared. The only other relevant name is John Lineker, but that was before he demonstrated that his biggest battle comes at the scales. The scary thing about Johnson — the thing that makes him truly a wildly impressive and top pound-for-pound fighter — is that he gets better with every fight. Johnson fights nearly perfect. His striking and speed are always on point, and his grappling is great, too. Right now, he seems impossible to beat in the flyweight division.

If current UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw gets a few more title defenses under his belt, I think a fight between the two champs is in order. The only problem with Mighty Mouse is that he isn’t a big sell to fans, and that is perplexing. Johnson is the guy you show newcomers as an example of what it is to be a complete mixed martial artist and a great fighter. There are nothing but good things to be said about Mighty Mouse.

Carey: To get the obvious out of the way, Mighty Mouse is going to win this fight and he’s probably going to look like a superstar while doing it. My colleague mentioned the ground game possibly being the Japanese youngster’s saving grace in this match-up, but I really don’t see Horiguchi being able to get Johnson on the mat. Mighty Mouse’s footwork in the cage is on par with anyone in the sport, and his ability to get out of range just as his opponent looks to make their move is uncanny. He may be fighting his fastest opponent to date in Horiguchi, but Johnson is faster. Given Johnson’s elusiveness, it’s hard to see a situation where Horiguchi can consistently put the pressure on him.

I, too, feel like I’ve almost been too harsh on Horiguchi so far, but for what it’s worth I do think he’s a really good flyweight and completely deserving of this title opportunity. Sadly, he’s running into maybe the most complete fighter in the game right now, and it’s just hard to see any scenario where he can win the strap this weekend. And, to be fair, that’s the case with virtually any flyweight right now that isn’t named John Dodson. Mighty Mouse is that damn good. He’s been the most dominant man in the sport since he won his belt.

If Mighty Mouse does as he’s expected to do this weekend, there really aren’t a lot of options left for him. A rematch with Dodson is the obvious fight to make, assuming Dodson wins next month, but there aren’t many other contenders left. Joseph Benavidez is always going to be in the mix, but Johnson has beaten him twice now and won the second fight by knockout. Henry Cejudo looked really impressive in his flyweight debut earlier this year, but he’s also struggled to make the 125-pound limit on multiple occasions and would be a serious risk for the UFC to insert in a title fight. And as much fun as a super fight with Dillashaw sounds, the bantamweight champ needs to defend his belt a few times before that happens. That being said, the state of the flyweights is so dire at the moment that I wouldn’t be surprised if Mighty Mouse ends up fighting at 135 pounds sooner than people think.

Michael Bisping has been alternating wins and losses since 2012. The result is a 3-4 record through his last seven fights. C.B. Dollaway has performed slightly better, raking up a 4-2 mark and alternating between winning two in a row and losing a single fight. Based on those trends, Bisping and Dollaway are both due for a win in this fight. Obviously, that scenario can’t happen. So, who wins? Furthermore, can the victorious fighter buck their previous trend and put together a sustained winning streak?

Carey: Dollaway’s been fighting decent competition during his current 4-2 stretch. He’s earned a couple of really good wins against the likes of Francis Carmont and Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira, but when he fought Lyoto Machida, his first established top-10 opponent, late last year, things didn’t go half as well and Dollaway was finished in just over a minute. Bisping is admittedly a step down from a top-five fighter and title contender like Machida, but he’s still one of the most established and well-rounded middleweights in the sport, and he should give Dollaway a lot of problems this weekend.

While things haven’t been going well for “The Count” over the last two or three years — he’s sitting below .500 since the end of 2011 — Bisping’s fought really good competition during that time. Losses to Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort and Luke Rockhold are nothing to hang your head about, even though they were enough to permanently relegate Bisping to gatekeeper status. The Brit is definitely still a top-10 middleweight, but even if he wins, as he is expected to do this weekend, his title hopes are all but dead at this point.

Dollaway is going to need to score some takedowns here and try to grind out Bisping like Tim Kennedy did last year. However, Bisping’s wrestling defense is usually pretty solid, and I’d imagine he’s focused on that aspect of his game quite a bit while preparing for Dollaway. I’m fairly confident Bisping won’t have too hard of a time keeping “The Doberman” off of him, and if that’s the case, Bisping should have a field day on the feet.

Only one of Bisping’s last five wins has made it to the judges’ scorecards. Bisping finds a way to stop his opponents more often than not in fights that he’s winning. He’ll have a golden opportunity to prove that against Dollaway this weekend, and while I’m not expecting a Machida-esque domination of Dollaway, I do see Bisping getting a much-needed stoppage win.

DeRose: Dollaway was actually very close to a title shot. All he had to do was find a way to get around Machida, but he couldn’t. Dollaway has also fought above where he realistically should be ranked by beating guys who are either lower-level UFC talent or fighters who are no longer even in the promotion, such as Francis Carmont and Jason “Mayhem” Miller.

My colleague is correct in saying Bisping is certainly a step down in competition compared to Machida, but Bisping is at a higher level than Dollaway. The Brit hasn’t beaten any of the top talent he has faced, but he is consistently a top-10 fighter.

Dollaway can win this fight with his wrestling, whereas Bisping wins this on the feet. Dollaway isn’t similar to the typical top-five fighter against whom Bisping has trouble, so the fight should go in favor of Bisping.

Bisping won’t buck the trend of alternating wins and losses, however. He tends to get fed to the fighters who are looking to break into title contention. The Brit is a solid gatekeeper for the UFC and a tough out for any fighter. He will face another top fighter in his next fight — it might be one of the losing fighters from the UFC on Fox 15 card — and he will have a tough go of it and drop the fight. Bisping isn’t a young fighter and, at 36 years old, his skills might be on the decline.

No. 3-ranked Alexis Davis competes for the first time since losing a championship bout to Ronda Rousey last summer, but in order to keep her spot as a top contender in the division she’s going to have to do something she’s failed to do twice before: beat Sarah Kaufman. Will Davis reverse her fortunes against the former Strikeforce champion and come away with a victory here, or will the fifth-ranked Kaufman make it three straight over “Ally-Gator” and stake her claim to a title fight?

DeRose: It’s been three years between this fight and their last fight, and things could very well be different this time around. Both fighters have grown in that time. Davis became a title challenger and Kaufman has gone 2-2 (but her loss to Jessica Eye was turned into a no-contest). However, Kaufman’s only two wins in that span came against the same fighter, Leslie Smith.

Kaufman got a title shot against Rousey the last time she beat Davis, but a win here does not guarantee her another go-around with the champ. Miesha Tate and the aforementioned Eye meet soon, and those two ladies are the next in line for a shot. Meanwhile, Kaufman, if she beats Davis again, is going to have to fight at least once more before she’s considered for a title bid.

Davis needs to stay out of the brawler’s mentality and just try to outpoint Kaufman. Davis tends to get hit a lot, though, and Kaufman has the power to put her on her back with a clean shot. This is close enough to almost be considered a tossup. Kaufman has leveled off as a fighter in the UFC and might be on the decline as far as her skills go. She hasn’t been in the cage in a year, but neither has Davis. Kaufman will make this dirty and score enough to take a decision victory. It should be a good fight to watch.

Carey: I’m expecting this fight to be pretty reminiscent of their last match-up, and I also expect the outcome to be the same. Davis has become a very competent striker on the feet and her recent stretch of success, including victories over Jessica Eye and Liz Carmouche, is impressive. Sure, she got smashed by Rousey, but everyone gets smashed by Rousey. What’s important is how she comes back from the loss, and she’s actually getting a great chance to prove she’s not done as a top fighter against a woman she’s failed to beat twice.

As for Kaufman, she’s had an up-and-down couple of years since entering the Octagon. The recent win over Leslie Smith is her only victory in the UFC, but that’s really through no fault of her own. Kaufman has had three ranked opponents pull out of fights over the last two years, including two separate fighters dropping out to force her into the rematch with Smith last fall. Outside of her close loss to Eye, which was later overturned, we haven’t seen Kaufman fight a ranked opponent since she was beaten by Rousey back in Strikeforce, so this will be a great chance to see where she falls into the title contention mix.

The last fight between these two was awesome, and while I can’t hope for the same high intensity barn-burner they put on three years ago, I’m still expecting a really fun fight. Kaufman hits a little harder and will end up inflicting a little more visible damage on Davis in this one. If the striking totals are close, that could very easily be what seals the fight.

This is going to be close, but Kaufman will win this bout and set up a fight with the aforementioned Tate for later this year. Kaufman hasn’t been shy about taking shots at the former title contender on Twitter in recent months, and regardless of whether or not Tate defeats Eye this summer, this is the fight to make. If Tate and Kaufman both win, let them duke it out for a No. 1 contender’s spot. And even if Tate loses, Eye will be next in line for the title fight, and a match-up with Tate would allow Kaufman to prove she’s ready for the next step up as well.

Due to the Quinton “Rampage” Jackson debacle, Steve Bosse steps up to face Fabio Maldonado on short notice a few weeks out from the fight. Does Bosse have a chance to win here? What does a win for Maldonado do for his career?

Carey: This fight is fascinating. Bosse retired last year shortly after getting signed by the UFC, citing injuries from both his MMA and professional hockey careers as the reason he needed to hang up his gloves. A short -notice opportunity against Maldonado in front of his hometown Montreal fans was apparently enough to convince Bosse to strap on his gloves for the first time in almost two years, but you have to wonder exactly how ready the Canadian is after taking this fight on roughly two weeks’ notice and such a long layoff.

It’s not like the UFC took it easy on Bosse either. Maldonado is a tough guy to compete against under any circumstances. While he’s not the most polished fighter in the division, Maldonado has a tendency to get into slugfests that have provided him with a pretty lengthy and notable UFC career thus far. The Brazilian banger might not beat the top guys in the division, but he usually puts on a good show in his losses and beats the guys he’s supposed to beat, which is pretty much all you can ask from a mid-level gatekeeper like Maldonado.

With a full training camp, Bosse might have been a tempting call to score an upset, but his chances aren’t quite so good on short notice against Maldonado. While the Brazilian is usually considered a middle-of-the-pack light heavyweight at best, Maldonado’s still won four of his last five fights. The lone loss in that stretch came at heavyweight to Stipe Miocic, which doubled as the only knockout loss of Maldonado’s career. All but one of Bosse’s career wins have come by stoppage, and since Maldonado is damn near impossible to finish, look for the Brazilian to claim the win.

DeRose: This is a pretty fascinating fight, but it’s interesting primarily for the reason it should be: it’s a one-sided affair in favor of Maldonado. The Brazilian has been preparing for Rampage, a fighter who is on a different level than Bosse and who has at least fought semi-recently.

I’m more familiar with Bosse as a hockey player than I am with him as a mixed martial artist, but there is a lot going against him this fight that just seems to point to a Maldonado victory. Whether it be the injuries Bosse sustained before retirement, taking the fight on short notice or facing a brawler like Maldonado, Bosse has the deck stacked against him.

Maldonado’s brawling status does make it a possibility for Bosse to steal the fight with a knockout. Maldonado tends to get sloppy over the course of three rounds, and that always leave the openings needed for his adversary to score a stunning finish. Whether or not Bosse wins this fight, he has already clinched a second fight for the promotion if he decides to stick around.

A victory over Maldonado would qualify as a big win for Bosse if it does happen. I don’t particularly see Bosse as a top contender, but his stock would certainly go up. After all, Maldonado is still a top-15 fighter in the UFC. I might have just talked myself into giving Bosse a good shot to win this one after all, but I’ll stick with my original prediction of a Maldonado win.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

DeRose: Honestly, considering the lack of depth on this card, I’m surprised Randa Markos and Aisling Daly aren’t higher up the lineup. I guess because Daly missed weight for her last fight, the UFC doesn’t want to give the fight too much attention in case it happens again. Yet, this fight will be my pick for the sleeper. Markos was incredible on The Ultimate Fighter, and she is certainly a fighter to watch with the division opening up now that it has a new champion and Joanne Calderwood took a slip near the finish line. Markos had a strong top game on the show and put up a fight in her official UFC debut against Jessica Penne. This fight between Markos and Daly was quickly booked a few weeks ago, so it’ll be interesting to see if they have solid game plans in place, or if it’s simply a case where the more skilled fighter wins.

Carey: A major part of me wants to send this sleeper fight section into throwback mode and talk about the fight between Patrick Cote and Joe Riggs that feels like it should have happened in 2005. However, there’s an intriguing prospect flying under the radar on this main card that should get his due. Thomas de Almeida is 18-0 with 17 finishes, and he looked pretty good in his UFC debut, where he beat a solid fighter in Tim Gorman this past winter. In a really good bit of matchmaking, Sean Shelby set him up with one of the truest veterans in the division in Yves Jabouin. Jabouin’s never really been a top contender, but he’s fought a ton of good competition during his dozen or so fights under the Zuffa banner and should give us a good idea as to whether or not de Almeida is going to be a threat in the division. It’s a classic up-and-comer vs. longtime gatekeeper fight, and it has my attention on a card that needs some intrigue this weekend.

Pair this card with…

Carey: Thoughts of what could have been. Look, I’m usually the guy who’s excited to wake up at 4 a.m. and watch fights in Singapore between two guys I’ve never heard of, but this card has me reeling a bit. Losing Rampage without enough time to find a legitimate replacement hurt. Losing the Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao title fight hurt even more. What was once a main card with two title fights and two fights featuring bona fide stars is now down to one of each, and I really can’t get over it. I’ll still be watching on Saturday night and I’m always excited to see guys like Mighty Mouse and Bisping compete, but the excitement isn’t where it was a month ago.

DeRose: Some playoff hockey, if the first round gets that far or the second round begins early. There are really only a few attention-grabbing fights on this card, one of which obviously being the main event. Luckily, if the New York Rangers go to six games, it still won’t cross over in time slots with UFC 186. Regardless, I’ll be watching both and switching back and forth.

Fight Picks

Fight DeRose’s Pick Carey’s Pick
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
FlyW Championship: Demetrious Johnson vs. Kyoji Horiguchi Johnson Johnson
MW: Michael Bisping vs. C.B. Dollaway Bisping Bisping
LHW: Fabio Maldonado vs. Steve Bosse Maldonado Maldonado
LW: John Makdessi vs. Shane Campbell Makdessi Makdessi
BW: Yves Jabouin vs. Thomas Almeida Almeida Almeida
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
WW: Patrick Cote vs. Joe Riggs Cote Cote
Women’s BW: Sarah Kaufman vs. Alexis Davis Kaufman Kaufman
LW: Chad Laprise vs. Bryan Barberena Laprise Laprise
LW: Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. David Michaud Aubin-Mercier Aubin-Mercier
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
WW: Nordine Taleb vs. Chris Clements Taleb Taleb
Women’s BW: Jessica Rakoczy vs. Valerie Letourneau Rakoczy Letourneau
Women’s StrawW: Aisling Daly vs. Randa Markos Markos Markos