UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson continues his march toward immortality, but Ray Borg may just not be the notch he needs on his record to reach that goal.
On Saturday night, Demetrious Johnson will pursue a hallowed mark of 11 title defenses when he meets Ray Borg in the co-main event of UFC 216. It should be considered the night “Mighty Mouse” etches his name into mixed martial arts immortality, but instead Johnson has somehow been relegated to the background due to circumstances outside the cage.
Johnson is not the biggest draw in the UFC despite his utter dominance, that has long been well chronicled. There is much speculation as to why. One reason is perhaps that Johnson is so dominant that most of his title reign has been comprised of mismatches. The other is that Johnson at times seems unconcerned with his status as a draw and fans seem to follow suit.
2017 should have changed that, as Johnson reached ten title defenses and continued his impressive sweep of the flyweight division to tie Anderson Silva’s impressive record. Instead, the headlines surrounding Johnson have revolved around controversy outside the cage.
Johnson entered a public spat with Dana White, refusing to fight TJ Dillashaw at flyweight without an increase in pay earlier this year. That led to the infamous headline that White threatened to close the division if Johnson refused. The situation resolved itself privately, and the UFC moved forward with a fight with Ray Borg. Borg fell ill during fight week for UFC 215 a month ago, but it was not so serious to keep him out long and the fight was moved forward to this Saturday.
Adding insult to injury, Johnson has now been relegated to the co-main event while an interim title fight between Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee gets top billing. While the UFC has historically favored the heavier weight class when there are multiple title fights on the card, it speaks volumes to the organization’s opinion of Johnson that he is not the top name on the marquee.
Johnson is heavily favored, as per usual, against Borg. Barring a monumental upset, “Mighty Mouse” will not be without options going into 2018. Both Dillashaw and bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt have said they are open to dropping down to challenge for the 125 title. Top flyweight contenders Henry Cejudo and Sergio Pettis are also colliding in December in what is being unanimously considered a title eliminator.
For Ray Borg, he will attempt to do what all other flyweight contenders have failed to accomplish. By process of elimination, he enters the title fight at 5-2 in the UFC. It should be noted, he has not faced a previous title challenger en route to Saturday’s bout. To defeat Johnson, he will have to demonstrate skills at a level above what he has shown throughout his career.
His reputation has certainly taken a hit; the withdrawal from UFC 215 was his latest in a career that has had several late drop outs. An upset over Johnson erases any discussion of that, and easily opens the floodgates for the entire flyweight division. An immediate rematch would likely be in the cards, and there is no shortage of contenders eager to get another shot at gold with Johnson removed from the throne.
Stylistically, Borg presents more challenges for Johnson than many would assume at first glance. He is an exciting fighter who isn’t afraid to diversify his strikes. In his most recent outing against Jussier Formiga he put on an impressive display on the feet. His main struggle was on the ground where Formiga gained the better of the scrambles and put Borg in a defensive position for long stretches.
Against Johnson, Borg is facing easily the most multi-faceted fighter in the world today. His skills are formidable in every area and he has arguably the best conditioning in the game today to match. Most importantly, he blends them together and is able to make huge adjustments during the fight. He is comfortable switching from his striking to his grappling and thus makes opponents hesitant due their being unable to predict where his next attack will come from.
The key for the flyweight champion will be to overwhelm Borg with his skills. Changing up his strikes and takedowns will disrupt Borg’s ability to set up his combinations in the center of the Octagon. On paper, he has a significant advantage on the ground which should could be the most crucial statistic. If Borg knows he can not escape on the ground or mount an offense, it will make him hesitant on the feet for fear of ending up on the mat.
For the challenger, he should look to strike first and put pressure on early. He has dynamic strikes on the feet and he can not be afraid to throw them when he has room in the center of the Octagon. The second option is to cut off the cage and force Johnson to fight with his back to the fence. Doing so will limit his striking and make it difficult for him to set up a clean takedown. Borg should look to avoid the clinch and instead try to score points with strikes rather than tie up the champion against the fence.
While Johnson could continue his historic run, it is likely that his landmark victory will not come until 2018. He has nothing left to prove regarding his skills at 125. The only way to add to his reputation would be if he could turn away challengers with name value like Dillashaw and Garbrandt whose skills have been proven to be at the elite level at a higher weight class. Ray Borg has nothing to lose and could change the complexion of the weight class. There’s no question about which Johnson we will see on fight night. It’s about whether Borg can put on an all-time great upset and elevate himself beyond anything expected.