It feels unnecessary to break down a fight that already happened just three months ago. After all, everything you need to see is right there. Because there was only 98 days between fights, there wasn’t much time to make adjustments, let alone add anything of major importance to change the complexion of the rematch.
The first time around between Demetrious Johnson and Ian McCall saw a close opening two rounds while McCall blew out Johnson in the third, nearly finishing with ground strikes in the fight’s final moments. It was ultimately ruled a majority draw after scoring errors were corrected, necessitating a second bout between them.
Right now, Johnson is considered a slight favorite in the UFC on FX 3 rematch, a big change from March, when he was a major 3-to-1 favorite to win and advance to a UFC flyweight title fight. It can be argued, though, that McCall was the better fighter that night. Of the two, he certainly came closer to finishing, proved to have the superior wrestling, and somewhat surprisingly, illustrated the better gas tank.
The two are very different kinds of strikers. While Johnson utilizes excellent footwork to dart in and out and side to side, landing and then getting out of harm’s way, McCall is much more likely to anchor himself and fire back with power. Early in the first fight, that led to situations where Johnson was scoring and backing out, leaving McCall swinging at air. Yet McCall was able to make adjustments as the minutes went by, correcting his timing as Johnson came inside and also walking him backwards into more beneficial angles.
The biggest key to his success, however, was his takedowns. During the fight, he took Johnson down four times and was never taken down himself. While Johnson scrambled up quickly from the first two, McCall also made adjustments with his ground work, passing to dominant positions on three occasions in the final round as he attempted to work for the finish.
This might ultimately prove to be the key to victory here for him. In experiencing and then re-watching the fight, McCall had to have learned that taking the action to the ground is the clearest path to winning. According to FightMetric, Johnson only stops 48 percent of takedowns against him, a number that should hurt him in the rematch if McCall brings a smart fight IQ along with him. McCall boasts a strong double underhook inside trip, and also seems like the stronger of the two, allowing him to out-muscle Mighty Mouse in close quarters.
Johnson has a 59 percent takedown success rate, but he was 0-for-4 the first time around, and didn’t really come close to getting McCall down. That’s normally a big part of his offense, so an inability to get the fight down or even threaten with it quickly makes him exceedingly one-dimensional.
That said, that dimension is still a strength for him, so if the fight stays standing, Johnson might still have a slight edge. He’s a high volume puncher, which is why even after a lopsided third round in the first bout, Johnson still finished with more significant strikes (75 to McCall’s 61).
FightMetric research has Johnson as striker with 47 percent accuracy, a number far better than McCall’s 35 percent. In the first bout, Johnson consistently landed a right hand off the scramble. Another advantage he has is his ability to change stances. Moving effectively between southpaw and orthodox is a luxury few have, and he does it well, often changing the look he offer opponents. Because of the wrestling issue, don’t be surprised if he keeps the fight at greater distance than usual, putting his speed at even greater premium.
Let’s face it though, after 15 minutes fast-paced minutes in the cage together, Johnson and McCall know pretty much everything there is to know about each other. They fought standing, against the cage, on the mat and in scrambles. They felt each other’s speed and power.
In the end, I think the fighter who is more likely the beneficiary of that is McCall. He came closer to tasting victory with a stoppage, and he also came closer to tasting defeat with the initial scoring mistake. This rematch is a second chance for him, an opportunity to improve upon the performance he laid out last time. His wrestling advantage isn’t likely to go away, and as long as he properly utilizes it, he should be able to power out a victory.
Remember when it was discovered that the two would have to fight again because of the scoring mistake? Johnson was dejected and McCall was elated, likely not because one had a win taken from him and the other got a second opportunity, but because they knew that what they had just experienced was going to influence what was soon to come. Only one man left with the recipe for victory that night. McCall by decision.
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