On Saturday night, the world will once again see the return of one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, as he attempts to hold onto his strap against an extremely fierce up-and-comer. Live from Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, UFC 174 highlights one of the best championship match-ups of the year as Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson looks to defend his flyweight title for a fourth time when he goes up against Russian challenger Ali “Puncher King” Bagautinov.

Bagautinov will be making his fourth Octagon appearance, after going undefeated in his last 11 fights. Coming off a win over Brazil’s John Lineker, the Jackson’s MMA prospect, who is also a champion of sambo, several styles of wrestling, jiu-jitsu and hand-to-hand combat, will be looking to upset the champ and capture the coveted UFC flyweight title that has only been held by one man ever.

Johnson is undefeated in his last six fights. His only UFC loss came in a bantamweight championship bid against Dominick Cruz in 2011. After becoming somewhat of a decision machine, going the distance with Ian McCall, Joseph Benavidez and John Dodson, Johnson earned his first UFC submission with an armbar of John Moraga last July. He followed that performance up with his first knockout in a long time, taking out Benavidez at 2:08 of the first round in their rematch last December.

Johnson is one of the best fighters in the world, and Bagautinov is a dangerous up-and-comer with some very prestigious titles of his own. As these two clash for Johnson’s strap on Saturday night, the fireworks are sure to fly.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up, and as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Johnson – 10, Bagautinov – 9

Until his last fight with Benavidez, Johnson’s knockout power had been questioned by a lot of folks. Then came the shot heard around the flyweight world, as the champ knocked out the challenger just over two minutes into the fight. However, before stopping Benavidez, Johnson had gone 11 fights with no knockouts. His last knockout, a head-kick finish, was four years ago. Johnson has never been stopped, primarily due to his superior lateral mobility and ability to get in and out of the pocket quickly.

Bagautinov has five knockouts under his belt with three TKOs in a row during his last five fights, including his UFC debut. The Russian fighter is also 1-0 as a pro boxer and holds high rankings in hand-to-hand combat and pankration. His current training camp is at Jackson’s MMA with top striking coach Mike Winkeljohn. Bagautinov will have the more powerful striking, but it will be very difficult to get anything going against the champ, who is so crafty with his movements.

Johnson is a very difficult target to hit, but if Bagautinov can get in on him, he may be able to inflict some serious damage. The striking game is slightly in favor of Johnson, only for the fact that he would win on points if this one goes the distance.

Submission Grappling: Johnson – 10, Bagautinov – 10

Both of these fighters are forces to be reckoned with on the ground, but in a much similar fashion. Johnson is an all-around athlete with great positioning on the ground, and a quick, slickster-type grappling game. Bagautinov is an accomplished sambo champion with four MMA submissions on record. Both men typically win via submission using the big finishes for guys with wrestling backgrounds: the guillotine and rear-naked chokes and the straight armbar.

In this battle, neither man really has an advantage in technique or skill, but it really comes down to how either one gets the submission attempt. Top-side damage will be the setup for a tapout in this battle, and whoever is doing the damage will be more likely to get a submission, making this category a toss-up.

Wrestling: Johnson – 10, Bagautinov – 10

Although he never wrestled beyond his high school state championships, Johnson has some of the most highly touted wrestling skills not only in the flyweight division, but as a pound-for-pound fighter. Between Benavidez, Moraga, Dodson and McCall, he has dominated some of the top wrestlers in the sport with ease. However, Bagautinov has a completely different pedigree.

The Russian fighter has high rankings in sambo, freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling, in addition to his other fighting modalities, which weigh heavily in the wrestling department. He is a World and Russian national champion in wrestling, sambo, pankration and FILA grappling. He is one of the physically strongest guys that Johnson will have yet to face.

It is very difficult to put anybody in the same category as Johnson when it comes to MMA-centric wrestling skills, but Bagautinov has the background to put himself neck-and-neck with the champ in this category. Both men are high-level grapplers with nasty clinches and fantastic ground positioning, which makes it even harder to predict what will happen when this one hits the mat.

Stamina: Johnson – 10, Bagautinov – 9

Bagautinov has been in fights that go the distance, but they have all been three-round bouts. Johnson has gone the distance many more times, including in four five-round affairs. Also, a strange thing happened a couple years ago with the Russian.

After winning the World Sambo Championships in 2012, Bagautinov tested positive for a low-level stimulant, similar to the now-outlawed ephedrine-based products that used to be widely available in the United States. This positive test caused him to be stripped of his sambo titles and suspended from sambo competition for two years. Since this ban took place, Bagautinov has gone the distance in his last two UFC fights and seemed to hold up just fine, taking both by unanimous decision. However, it begs the question: was he taking this for energy or simply to cut weight?

Either way, both men should hold up fine for five rounds. But after his previous championship decisions, Jonhson always looked the fresher fighter, thereby giving him the nod here in the stamina category.

Speed: Johnson – 10, Bagautinov – 9

Speed kills in many sports, including MMA. In that respect, Johnson is a murderer. He is quick on his feet, quick on the ground, and it’s difficult to get a hand on him wherever he goes. That being said, he gets in quickly to put his hands on his opponent’s face, and he has a 62 percent proficiency in takedown defense due to his amazing ability to react quickly. This is not to say Bagautinov is slow, by any means, but Johnson’s speed is one of the big reasons he’s one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world today.


The x-factor in this match-up is Johnson’s experience. The guy has been around a long time. Had the flyweight division been around longer, he would most likely have been the champ sooner. Starting under Zuffa with the WEC and transitioning into the UFC, Mighty Mouse worked his way up to a bantamweight title shot against Cruz in a weight class where he was slightly too small. Not long after he came up short in that title bid, the UFC opened up the flyweight division.

After going to a draw in the tournament with Ian McCall, Johnson has gone on a 5-0 winning streak against the best 125-pound fighters in the world. He has also beaten the likes of Miguel Torres, Damacio Page, Nick Pace and Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto as a bantamweight, and he is ready to stop anyone that gets in his way. Bagautinov has some great competition experience in global fighting arts, but he has yet to face anyone that is nearly as accomplished in MMA as the champ.

Total: Johnson – 50, Bagautinov – 48

Verdict: Much like the world saw when UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones faced Glover Teixeira last month, there are a few cards that have the ability to fall in the right place on Saturday night. The deck, however, is definitely stacked in favor of the champ. Bagautinov will bring his world-class skills and toughness, along with his Jackson’s strategic approach to the cage, but ultimately, Mighty Mouse will do what Mighty Mouse does. He will get in and out of the pocket, inflict as much damage as possible, fend off takedown attempts and retain his belt. He probably will not get a stoppage, because the Russian can take a punch and is not an easy submission. Points will rule this contest for sure.

Johnson by unanimous decision.