Kyoji Horiguchi is one of the greatest flyweights in the world today, but this Saturday, he’s a massive underdog on the MMA odds board for his title challenge against Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson.
It’s been eons since heavyweights roamed the land as the top attractions in combat sports. But there’s a limit to how much box office the smaller classes can draw. Fans in Montreal, one of the truly great cities in the world when it comes to the fight game, are nonetheless feeling a bit grumpy about the card they’re being served up this Saturday (10:00 p.m. ET) for UFC 186. The main event is a Flyweight title bout between champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson and challenger Kyoji Horiguchi. Pickings are slim otherwise.
It wasn’t meant to be this way. The Johnson-Horiguchi fight was supposed to be the co-main event, but the scheduled Bantamweight title match between T.J. Dillashaw and Renan Barao had to be shelved when Dillashaw broke his rib. Then Quinton “Rampage” Jackson was blocked from making his UFC return against Fabio Maldonado. Three other fights had to be scrapped, as well. Can Johnson and Horiguchi save the day with a strong main event? The UFC odds aren’t too optimistic: Horiguchi is a +600 underdog as we go to press.
Fly Like an Eagle
Aside from the obvious challenges that come with promoting a 125-pound weight class, the UFC has to deal with a relative lack of depth in the division. As we’ve seen with Ronda Rousey in her Women’s Bantamweight run – albeit to a lesser degree – Johnson (21-2-1 lifetime) has dominated the Flyweight division since it was created three years ago. Mighty Mouse has defended his title five times thus far, most recently as a massive chalk against Chris Cariaso (+1150), who tapped out to a kimura at UFC 178 in September.
It’s difficult for the books to get a good read on the UFC odds for this division, too. Cariaso was available as low as +582 for last year’s fight, and Horiguchi’s odds for this Saturday range from +500 to +700. For many of these flyweights, their body of work is limited and difficult to judge. Johnson is one of the few notable faces in the Octagon, having started as a bantamweight and appeared three times in the WEC before the 2010 merger.
If you’re willing to look across the Pacific, though, Horiguchi (15-1 lifetime) has made his mark as the Shooto Bantamweight champion – a title he still holds. Horiguchi is also 4-0 in the Octagon and 3-0 as a flyweight, winning all four fights handily, including January’s unanimous decision over Louis Gaudinot (+400) at UFC 182. The man they call “The Supernova” looks like a perfectly viable contender thus far.
But does he really have the stuff to compete with Johnson? That’s difficult to say. Horiguchi, who holds a second-degree black belt in karate, should have the striking advantage. He’s the more powerful puncher of the two, and according to FightMetric, he lands 3.99 strikes per minute to Johnson’s 3.54, while fending off 70 percent of his opponent’s strikes to Johnson’s 66 percent. But Horiguchi has never tried to land a punch on someone as elusive as Johnson.
If and when things go to the mat, Johnson will be in his element. The pankration specialist has a takedown rate of 3.24 per 15 minutes, featuring a wicked double-leg and a 54-percent accuracy rate. Johnson’s top control is excellent, and he’ll occasionally go for the arm (as he did against Cariaso) or lock in a choke. Again, Horiguchi has a more powerful ground-and-pound attack once he gets in position, but while his grappling has been reasonably effective thus far, he’s also put himself in some difficult situations on the canvas. This is something that could come back to bite him against someone as skilled as Mighty Mouse. And it’s why we’re willing to eat chalk with our UFC picks despite our appreciation for Horiguchi’s potential.
UFC 186 Pick: Take Johnson