Adriano Moraes faces Demetrious Johnson at ONE on Prime Video 1: Moraes vs Johnson II this weekend with the ONE flyweight championship on the line. This bout is a rematch of a fight that took place at ONE on TNT 1 in Apr. 2021 when Moraes knocked Johnson out in the second round.
Moraes pulled off an upset when he beat Johnson in devastating fashion in their first encounter. While many analysts predicted him to give the former UFC champion a tough test with his well-rounded skillset and physical advantages, few would have predicted him to secure the victory.
Johnson has built a large part of his success off his fight I.Q. and ability to make adjustments. Will he be able to overcome Moraes the second time round?
In their first meeting, Moraes was able to frustrate Johnson on the feet with his constant lateral movement. The 33-year-old kept Johnson at range and fully exploited his height and reach advantage. Moraes then showed Johnson that he was a significant threat on the ground. After catching a kick from Johnson, Moraes sat back and immediately got a hold of one of Johnson’s legs. The Washington native was able to survive the submission attempt but this was a statement of intent from Moraes. It showed that Johnson would not necessarily hold the grappling advantage in this bout, unlike the majority of the contests in his career.
Johnson came out much more aggressive in the second frame, closing the distance and looking to land offence on the champion. However, Moraes was still proving to be elusive, utilizing his excellent footwork to evade strikes and takedown attempts. Johnson attempted to take Moraes down, but was intercepted by an uppercut which knocked him down. Moraes followed a hurt Johnson to the ground and landed a knee which knocked the American out.
Johnson’s attempts to take the fight to the ground may have been his downfall in the first contest, but he may be wise to persist with this game plan in the rematch. The 36-year-old’s ability to dictate where the fight takes place has been one of his biggest strengths throughout his career. Refusing to mix in the grappling will make his attacks more predictable and will be one less factor for Moraes to worry about.
Now that he has faced Moraes, Johnson will be aware that the champion will be aggressive on the ground and look for submissions. Johnson is a submission specialist himself, but he may want to neutralize Moraes’ jiu-jitsu by prioritizing control over submissions if he takes him down. Preventing Moraes from getting space to work for submissions off his back will be imperative for Johnson, if he manages to ground the champion.
Johnson’s outstanding conditioning has allowed him to overwhelm many of his opponents and he may benefit from attempting to drain Moraes’ gas tank at an early stage with several takedown attempts. He will have to set his takedowns up carefully and avoid getting caught on the way in. Johnson’s tendency to keep his head on the center line when level changing resulted in him getting caught with an uppercut by Moraes in their first contest.
Moraes is a dynamic fighter who is very offense-oriented. This helped him win the first bout between these two, but Johnson could also use this approach against him. Shortly before Johnson was knocked out, Moraes attempted a flying knee when Johnson level changed. Johnson could feint takedowns and draw out big actions from the Brazilian in order to fatigue him. Another reason why Johnson could benefit from focusing on tiring Moraes out is his greater experience of fighting the distance. Johnson has had 19 fights that have gone to a decision, and he has been the victor in 16 of these contests. He has also displayed an ability to finish fights late on, having three fifth-round finishes, with one of these being the joint-latest finish in UFC history – four minutes and 59 seconds into the fifth round against Kyoji Horiguchi.
Moraes, on the other hand, has only been to a decision nine times in 23 professional bouts. It is notable that all three of his losses have been by decision and that he does not have a single finish beyond the third round. This suggests that the level of danger that Moraes presents diminishes the longer the fight goes on. This reinforces the theory that Johnson should attempt to execute a grinding, grappling-heavy game plan.
On the feet, Moraes frustrated Johnson with his elusive approach in their first fight. Knowing that Moraes likes to be a counter-striker, Johnson could try to imitate this strategy in order to take him out of his comfort zone. Being patient and waiting for Moraes to initiate the offence could present Johnson with easier takedown opportunities. Moraes is likely to implement plenty of movement once again. Johnson could reduce this mobility by targeting Moraes’ legs with leg kicks. Moraes has a slender frame, therefore, Johnson could do some significant damage if he lands a large volume of leg kicks.
This weekend, Demetrious Johnson faces arguably the biggest challenge of his illustrious career against Moraes. Moraes’ unique blend of strong physical attributes and outstanding technique helped him inflict the first knockout loss of Johnson’s career. Johnson has been praised in the past for his innovation and creativity, but this weekend he could be out-matched in this department against Moraes. It would not be a surprise to see Johnson make the requisite adjustments to avenge his defeat and become the ONE flyweight champion. However, the psychological damage that is caused by getting knocked out for the first time cannot be downplayed, and it will remain to be seen if Johnson will ever be the same after losing what was seemingly an aura of invincibility.