The flyweight division will be firmly in the spotlight this weekend at UFC 174 as for the first time in UFC history a 125-pound title fight will serve as the headlining act for a major pay-per-view. Champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson has evolved into one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the promotion but should face a stiff challenge from rugged Russian Ali Bagautinov.
While Johnson has served as the main event on a number of events on FOX, this will be the first chance he’s had to headline a PPV offering. The tremendously agile and skilled champion enjoyed an exceptional 2013 with three successful title defenses. His most recent effort was a stunning first-round destruction of Joseph Benavidez at UFC on FOX 9.
Johnson is a tremendously talented competitor who delivers plenty of action in his fights. He hasn’t lost since 2011 when he was beaten by Dominick Cruz in a bantamweight title affair. The creation of the 125-pound division has been the perfect opportunity for Johnson to take his career to another level.
“Mighty Mouse” is looking to snuff out all existing challenges and is well on his way to accomplishing that goal. He’s already beaten Benavidez twice and owns victories over fellow top-5 contenders Ian McCall, John Dodson and John Moraga. Bagautinov is one of the few fresh challenges that remain. Johnson has compiled an impressive 19-2-1 career record with 11 finishes by knockout or submission.
“Puncher King” has been able to meet the high expectations so far in his Octagon tenure by delivering three consecutive victories. He came to the promotion highly touted because of his Combat Sambo background and hasn’t disappointed. He has good power for the 125-pound division and is on a significant run with 11 consecutive victories. Bagautinov is a physically imposing flyweight but will face a definite speed disadvantage against the champion.
Bagautinov earned this opportunity by shutting down the dangerous John Lineker at UFC 169 and earning a hard fought unanimous decision. His other Octagon wins came against Tim Elliott and Marcos Vinicius. Bagautinov has nine finishes to his credit in 13 career victories and has showcased his power during his UFC tenure.
There might be a little more added pressure on Johnson and Bagautinov to produce a solid show given their headlining PPV status, but there should be no worries about them delivering an entertaining battle. Both are proven winners and highly driven which should lead to a tremendous title fight in Vancouver.
Bagautinov will be looking to pull off the type of upset that fans recently saw at UFC 173 when decided underdog T.J. Dillashaw stunned bantamweight champion Renan Barao. Meantime, Johnson will be looking to solidify his current status as one of the organization’s most dominant titleholders.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports