Demetrious Johnson (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC 191 Preview and Predictions

Whenever the UFC has a dominant champion, the question revolves around who can finally top them. The fans once pondered the answer to this question for the UFC’s welterweight and middleweight divisions when Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva ruled over those respective divisions. Now, fans wonder the same thing about Jose Aldo, Ronda Rousey and, of course, UFC 191 headliner Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson.

The closest that fans and pundits have come to a consensus answer is the man who will stand across from the flyweight champion at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night. That man is John Dodson. The pair have met before, and Dodson managed to win at least one round on every judge’s scorecard. He’ll need to do much more if he wants to snatch the title away from Mighty Mouse in this rematch.

The title tilt headlines a main card that features a throwback heavyweight pairing of Frank Mir and Andrei Arlovski, a set of light heavyweight clashes that are very relevant to the 205-pound division’s title picture and a strawweight bout featuring Paige VanZant.


UFC 191 gets underway at 7 p.m. ET with two contests airing live on UFC Fight Pass. The remainder of the preliminary card airs on Fox Sports 1 beginning at 8 p.m. ET. Finally, the action moves to pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET for the main card. Combat Press writers Zachery Aittama and Bryan Henderson preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

The last time Demetrious Johnson met John Dodson, the pair went the distance as “Mighty Mouse” secured his first successful title defense. It’s one of only two times that Johnson has been forced to fight a full 25 minutes while defending his crown. Can we expect a repeat of their first fight in this rematch, or will the results be entirely different (i.e. Johnson getting the finish or Dodson winning)? Is Dodson truly the fighter with the best chance at dethroning the dominant champ?

Aittama: Johnson has not looked back since defeating Dodson at UFC on Fox 6. Since then, he has defended his UFC flyweight title five times. The January 2013 main event featured Dodson giving Johnson one of the toughest outings of his flyweight career, dropping the champion multiple times in the first two rounds. Johnson would wade through the knockdowns without looking much worse for the wear, continuing to apply pressure and eventually showing he was the better fighter that night. Finishes over some of the top fighters in the division, including Joseph Benavidez, John Moraga and Kyoji Horiguchi, highlight Johnson’s resume since his first title defense in Chicago.

Will Dodson be able to pull off the upset in the rematch? He certainly has a chance to put his hands to good use, but will it matter? “The Magician” has flashed heavyweight power in the bantamweight and flyweight divisions, holding career knockout victories over current UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, top flyweight contender Jussier “Formiga” da Silva and Darrell Montague. In the first fight, Dodson caught Johnson with a counter right hand while the champion was coming forward, sending Johnson crashing to the mat, albeit for a very brief moment. Dodson dropped Johnson two more times, but was credited with only one knockdown officially.

Johnson has shown two bad tendencies throughout his career — squaring up to his opponent after throwing his strikes and backing out in a straight line. Dodson was able to take advantage of Johnson when the champ left his feet square to Dodson, putting his head in striking distance of Dodson’s big right hand, leading to the knockdown. The southpaw stance of Dodson will give Johnson trouble again, but Johnson switches his stances well, always changing his angle of attack. Johnson will be active in this practice again, never letting Dodson set his feet to land a counter punch.

A counter puncher by nature, Dodson tends to lack volume in fights, focusing more on landing that one strike that will put his opponent away. This will be a large factor in why he loses this rematch. Johnson will be too aggressive, push too hard and dictate the pace of the fight. In the first fight, Johnson didn’t relent from the opening bell. Expect the same here. There is still the chance that Dodson lands the knockout blow, but Johnson has progressed immensely over the past two and a half years, while Dodson has had ups and downs mixed with a myriad of injuries and underwhelming performances. Dodson arguably lost his last fight to Zach Makovsky at UFC 187 in May. What is more likely to happen is that Johnson doesn’t give Dodson any room, takes away the space Dodson needs to land his counter punches and gets a dominant decision win.

So if not Dodson, then who can beat the dominant flyweight champion? There are a few contenders waiting in line to fight the champion. 2008 Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo will next fight Nova União’s Formiga in what looks like a title eliminator at UFC Fight Night Dublin in November. Benavidez could throw his name into the mix with a win over Ali Bagautinov at UFC 192 in October (the win would be his four straight since his title defeat at the hands of Johnson). Whoever lies in waiting for Johnson is hoping Dodson falls short on Saturday night, avoiding the dreaded instant rematch.

Henderson: The possibility of a repeat of this pair’s first meeting does seem likely. Dodson’s combination of speed and power is unlike anything we’ve seen from any of Johnson’s other challengers. Only Benavidez comes close at this point, and he had his lights turned out in his rematch with Mighty Mouse. However, that brings me to another point.

This will be Johnson’s third rematch opponent. His first was Ian McCall. In their first encounter, Mighty Mouse fought to a draw with McCall in one of the best fights in flyweight history. In the rematch, Johnson pulled away a little more, earning a pretty clear-cut unanimous decision. Then there’s Benavidez. The first meeting ended in a split decision for Johnson. The second fight ended in just over two minutes with Johnson scoring the big knockout. The champ is a great fighter in general, but he seems to turn it up a notch in rematches, learning from his first fight with the opponent and improving upon his own game in their second meeting. This rematch could follow suit.

While we will see somewhat of a repeat performance in the early stages of this bout, it’s likely that Mighty Mouse will pull away as the fight wears on. Johnson probably won’t get a finish — Dodson has never been stopped — but he’ll allow Dodson fewer chances to take rounds on the scorecards or threaten with a knockout of his own. Dodson probably is the fighter with the best chance of topping the champ, but that doesn’t mean he will do so.

It’s 2015. Andrei Arlovski and Frank Mir are fighting in the co-headliner of a UFC pay-per-view. No, there’s not a time machine involved. Surprisingly, though, these two big men never met during the prime of their careers. Long overdue dream fight or just another “legends” bout that we shouldn’t get too excited about?

Henderson: I’ll bite and say it’s a dream fight. It should have happened about a decade ago, but timing was everything. Mir’s horrible motorcycle accident put him on the sidelines beginning in late 2004, and he didn’t return to full form for several years. By then, Arlovski had migrated to Affliction and underwent a rough patch of his own.

These two heavyweights are far removed from their championship runs, but Arlovski has made himself relevant again and Mir, while suffering a four-fight skid that only ended in 2014, is proving to be capable of knocking people out even at this advanced stage in his career. Neither fighter can be counted out, which is a great thing for this type of long overdue dream fight. It might not produce the same results or carry quite the same weight as it would have in 2005, but it’s still a very competitive match-up.

As much as Mir has shocked with his recent wins, I don’t feel that he’s pulling together quite the resurgence that we’re seeing from Arlovski. Yet, Mir has taken advantage of two questionable chins in his victories over Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Todd Duffee, and Arlovski hasn’t always had the most granite of chins either. Could Mir pull off the win? Sure. However, Arlovski’s run has made me a believer. The Belarusian has a lot of momentum, and he’ll continue to build toward an unexpected title run with a quick knockout finish of Mir.

Aittama: Whether in 2005 or 2015, Arlovski vs. Mir is a showdown of top-10 heavyweights, former UFC champions and two contenders making a case for a title shot against the winner of the fight between Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez an entire 10 years after they held the same title.

I don’t know if I would consider this a dream fight personally, but I will tell you exactly what it is: an incredibly fun fight that has the potential to be finished at any point. Despite my counterpart’s opinion that this fight will be over quick, I see Mir being a much tougher out than his 2012-14 slump would suggest. Yes, Mir has taken advantage of fighters who have been knocked out before, but that’s not the reason he was able to send Bigfoot and Duffee crashing to the mat. Mir’s steady improvement throughout the years in his boxing and striking fundamentals has proven to be a catalyst for wins far beyond what most would have expected following his motorcycle accident and his lackluster 2006 stretch.

These striking fundamentals could allow the former champion to take advantage of Arlovski’s weathered chin. Travis Browne put Arlovski down while on rubber legs in their UFC 187 bout. Will that happen for Mir? It certainly could, but what would be more likely is that Mir uses his striking to hurt Arlovski, capitalizes on his fallen foe and uses his world-class submission attack against the Jackson-Winkeljohn product. Mir is one of the greatest heavyweight submission artists in MMA history, trailing only Fabricio Werdum and maybe Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, a fighter who he stopped with a brutal kimura finish.

With all of that said, Arlovski is no slouch on the mat and certainly carries the momentum coming into the bout — momentum that had many fans clamoring for an Arlovski title shot against Werdum. Can Arlovski land his right hand and cement himself as the No. 1 contender, or will Mir be able to submit Arlovski, putting an end to his six-fight winning streak? I guess that’s why we watch the fights.

The main card contains two light heavyweight contests that feature top-15 fighters. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson is set to clash with fellow top-15er Jimi Manuwa and Jan Blachowicz, who currently resides in the No. 12 spot in the UFC polls, draws Corey Anderson. Which underdog — Manuwa or Anderson — has a better chance at upending the favorite?

Aittama: Johnson was originally scheduled to meet the former KSW headliner Blachowicz in his return from an unsuccessful title challenge against Daniel Cormier at UFC 187 in May. However, the English fighter Manuwa, who tore three ligaments in his leg while defeating the Polish fighter in their co-main event bout in the UFC’s first trip to Poland, replaced Blachowicz when he was cleared from injury. The tentative three-round affair between Manuwa and Blachowicz left many fans wanting more from the strikers. Despite the lackluster contest, Manuwa has amassed a 4-1 record in his UFC run, losing only to title challenger Alexander Gustafsson. Johnson earned his May title shot after three straight wins since rejoining the UFC in 2014. Johnson’s winning streak ended at nine when Cormier survived an early knockdown and eventually submitted the Blackzilian fighter.

The Ultimate Fighter 19 light heavyweight winner Chris “Beastin 25/8” Anderson steps in to meet Blachowicz. During Anderson’s run through the TUF house, he was unable to finish a fight, a problem he quickly solved when he finished Matt Van Buren with punches during the TUF 19 Finale in July 2014. Fighting only twice since the show’s finale, Anderson defeated Justin Jones by decision before losing his most recent fight to Longo-Serra product Gian Villante, who knocked out Anderson in the third round. Anderson has shown promise, but Blachowicz has also impressed in his career, holding wins over UFC veterans Goran Reljic, Mario Miranda, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and Houston Alexander. The Polish fighter’s most recent loss against Manuwa came five months ago. In his UFC debut, Blachowicz stopped Ilir Latifi with a body kick in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 53 bout in Latifi’s home country.

Both fights bring excitement, both bring the potential for a knockout and, most importantly, the potential for a big upset. Manuwa will be fighting uphill against the top-five ranked Johnson, especially coming off an injury just months ago. Anderson will be doing the same against Blachowicz. The young prospect will be making a significant leap in competition when he steps into the Octagon against the Polish fighter. Both fighters have opportunities to win, but Johnson and Blachowicz won’t make it easy for them, likely putting another loss on the resumes of Manuwa and Anderson.

Henderson: The option of neither underdog having much of a chance sure seems attractive. If I have to pick, though, I’m going with Anderson.

Manuwa, who can be a vicious striker, always has a puncher’s chance. However, Rumble has established himself as an intimidating force in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, and Manuwa doesn’t have the size, aggression or all-around skill set to counter what Johnson brings to the Octagon. Manuwa’s best asset is his striking, but he was tentative enough against Blachowicz. Now, imagine putting him up against a beast like Johnson, who also has the wrestling to plant the British striker on the mat if the stand-up isn’t tilting in his favor. Nothing good can come of that.

Anderson has demonstrated his own power, but he’s also displayed the grinding nature that could allow him to squeak past Blachowicz on the scorecards if he can’t knock the Polish fighter out. Is either outcome very likely? Of course not, but we’re speaking in the hypothetical sense of which underdog has the best chance of emerging with a win, and in that context, Anderson comes out with the slight edge over Manuwa.

Paul Felder fell just short in his UFC on FOX 16 bout against No. 7-ranked Edson Barboza, losing for the first time in his career. The loss didn’t deter any potential the 25-year-old Felder earned on his way to the UFC, proving he could hang with a top-10 lightweight. Will Felder be successful in his quick turnaround just a month after his first career loss? Can Felder put Ross Pearson down and out for his eighth career knockout victory?

Henderson: Pearson is another good test for Felder. The British fighter has seen his shares of ups and downs over the last six years inside the Octagon. He has defeated the likes of Dennis Siver and Gray Maynard, but lost to the aforementioned Barboza and, more recently, Evan Dunham. However, he’s also the perfect type of fighter to serve up to Felder in order to renew the prospect’s momentum and confidence.

Felder was stymied by Barboza’s kicks and hand speed, but he was otherwise able to stay in the thick of things for three full rounds with the Brazilian. Pearson doesn’t offer any of those same qualities in the striking department. Felder should have the Alliance MMA fighter outmatched on the feet, and Felder’s takedown defense is sufficient enough to allow him to dictate where this fight takes place.

The knockout might be a little harder to come by, but Pearson is vulnerable in that area, especially against someone with the power and dynamic attack of Felder, who utilizes plenty of spinning maneuvers. Felder is definitely poised to get things back on track with a rebound win here. The knockout isn’t a sure thing, but the odds are in Felder’s favor.

Aittama: The kicks of Barboza played a major factor in Felder’s first career loss. Both men were landing strikes while in striking range, but Felder was better inside punching range and Barboza much better outside, where the Brazilian was able to keep the fight.

While Pearson is no slouch in the kick department, The Ultimate Fighter 9 winner prefers to strike with his hands. Pearson does carry power in his punches, but his advantage on the feet in this fight lies in his striking defense. Both men absorb just amount as much punishment as they dish out, but Felder tends to leave his head in range following an exchange. The toughness of Felder could be a factor in Pearson landing scoring strikes, but the “Irish Dragon” won’t back down. Felder will continue to press forward and, with Felder holding a slight reach and height advantage, Pearson could find himself on the end of Felder’s punches.

Questions of the quick turnaround have arised, but as we watched with Neil Magny in Saskatoon, a quick turnaround after a loss could be just what the doctor ordered. Felder should be able to find his rhythm and score throughout the fight. I agree that “Real Deal” will be a tough out, but Felder could be just the guy to crack the Englishman’s chin in what is going to be an exciting back-and-forth affair.

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

Aittama: Two of the heaviest hitters at bantamweight collide when former flyweight title contender John Lineker moves up to 135 pounds to fight knockout artist Francisco Rivera. Punching power will not be lacking in this battle of “small” fighters — both men have combined for 20 knockouts in their careers.

“Hands of Stone” has a wealth of experience for a fighter who is just 25 years old. He has fought in more than 30 fights. Lineker is 6-2 in the UFC, losing only to former title challenger Ali Bagautinov and Louis Gaudinot in a back-and-forth “Fight of the Night” performance. A win over the former top flyweight Ian McCall at UFC 183 in January highlights his impressive resume. However, Lineker missed weight for the fourth time, forcing his move up to bantamweight. Lineker, who lands more than five significant strikes per minute, will be hunting for the knockout.

The Brazilian bomber will welcome “Cisco” back to the Octagon after Rivera turned in a 26-second knockout over Alex Caceres at UFC Fight Night 68 in June 2015. Rivera put forth a solid performance against Urijah Faber before an eye poke and subsequent submission led to his second straight loss, the first being a decision defeat at the hands of Takeya Mizugaki. Despite an appeal of the loss at UFC 181, the NSAC upheld the decision because the referee didn’t stop the fight, negating the ability to use instant replay to review the incident. Negatives aside, this fight is all positive. Both men are going to exchange punches until the final bell. The fans will be the true winners in this fight.

Henderson: I’m always a sucker for prospect battles. UFC newcomers can lay complete stinkers, granted, but the potential carried by a fight between Nazareno Malegarie and Joaquim Silva is too much to pass up.

Malegarie has just three losses in a 26-fight career, and those defeats came against tough Bellator opponents Daniel Straus, Marlon Sandro and Rad Martinez. The Team Tavares fighter has posted 15 submission wins and tacked on an additional five wins via strikes.

Silva is undefeated through just seven contests. The 26-year-old has never seen the scorecards. In fact, he’s never seen the second round. He has four victories via strikes and three wins by way of submission. He has faced and defeated a couple of veteran fighters, but nobody with a head-turning record.

Silva’s quick finishes provide the potential for a highlight-reel finish. However, his inexperience could be a factor. If Silva makes a mistake, Malegarie is bound to capitalize on it. With the finishing rates of both fighters, this contest could be one of the more entertaining affairs on the card.

Pair this card with…

Henderson: The rewind button. We all hear about the speed of the flyweights. Well, UFC 191’s headlining bout features two of the fastest among the bunch. Furthermore, this card contains the potential for some big finishes that require repeated viewing. Andrei Arlovski and Frank Mir has knockout written all over it, and the light heavyweight battle between Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Jimi Manuwa could also deliver. With a lineup that also features Paige VanZant, Paul Felder and John Lineker, UFC 191 is sure to have viewers reaching for their remotes and thanking themselves for the ability to rewind live TV at least a couple of times throughout the night.

Aittama: Beer and plenty of it. This is a fight card where you want to head to the grocery store, call up a few of your friends and make a collective effort to watch the fights as a group. Splitting the $60 pay-per-view between friends makes for an affordable experience and will free up money to purchase pizza, steaks, ribs and, oh yeah, copious amounts of alcohol for an evening amongst friends. Tell your friends, the excitement begins at 7 p.m. ET and don’t forget to keep your fridge stocked!

Fight Picks

Fight Aittama’s Pick Henderson’s Pick
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
FlyW Championship: Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson Johnson Johnson
HW: Andrei Arlovski vs. Frank Mir Arlovski Arlovski
LHW: Anthony “Rumble” Johnson vs. Jimi Manuwa Johnson Johnson
LHW: Corey Anderson vs. Jan Blachowicz Blachowicz Blachowicz
Women’s StrawW: Alex Chambers vs. Paige VanZant VanZant VanZant
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
LW: Paul Felder vs. Ross Pearson Felder Felder
BW: John Lineker vs. Francisco Rivera Lineker Lineker
Women’s BW: Jessica Andrade vs. Raquel Pennington Pennington Andrade
FW: Clay Collard vs. Tiago Trator Trator Trator
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)
MW: Joe Riggs vs. Ron Stallings Stallings Stallings
LW: Nazareno Malegarie vs. Joaquim Silva Malegarie Malegarie