By Adam Martin
There’s often so much going on during UFC on FOX events that some of the more intriguing storylines get lost amongst all the glamour and glitz of network television. Here are four important themes surrounding UFC on FOX 8: Johnson vs. Moraga that have been flying under the radar heading into this weekend’s show. Let us know what you think, and be sure to come back to CagePotato.com this Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT for our liveblog of the main card.
Is UFC on FOX 8 Make or Break for the Flyweights?
UFC on FOX 8 is headlined by the flyweight title fight between reigning champion Demetrious Johnson and challenger John Moraga, and it’s a fight that could help the flyweight division explode if it’s exciting — or hold the division back if it’s a bore.
The last time that 125-pounders headlined an event was at UFC on FOX 6, when Johnson defended his title against John Dodson. The match won “Fight of the Night,” but that might not be the first thing that fans think of when they remember the event. Instead, they think of Anthony Pettis’s body kick KO of Donald Cerrone, or (for less positive reasons) Rampage Jackson’s last Octagon fight against Glover Teixeira.
It may be because flyweight fights so often go to decision, and the fans, especially casual fans, love to see knockouts and submissions. But it’s rare to see true KO power among 125-pound fighters, and the fact that flyweights tend to be extremely quick and nimble makes it harder for submissions to get locked in.
Demetrious Johnson certainly fits this stereotype, as he’s managed to go 27 rounds in his UFC career without securing a single stoppage victory. But Moraga has been an exception to the rule. Both of his Octagon appearances have ended in pleasingly violent finishes. Unfortunately, those finishes — a knockout of Ulysses Gomez at UFC on FOX 4 and a guillotine-choke submission of Chris Cariaso at UFC 155 — were both buried on the opening preliminary bouts of the cards they were on. In other words, even if you attended those events in person, you might have missed them. Despite being a title challenger in a main event fight on FOX, Moraga is still a stranger to most fans.
Johnson and Moraga are definitely under pressure to perform this weekend. If the fight ends in a boring, five-round unanimous decision, I don’t think the fans are going to be buying the flyweights going forward — and the UFC is already planning to have them headlining pay-per-views in the future. But if the fight ends in a spectacular finish? That could be the first step towards real interest in the division.
It’s make-or-break time for the flyweights at UFC on FOX 8. Now let’s see if they’re up for the challenge.
Will Rory MacDonald Be the Man to Dethrone Georges St-Pierre?
Canadian Rory MacDonald, who just turned 24, is quickly moving up the welterweight ranks, and a fight between MacDonald and UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre is going to be bandied about should “Ares” win in impressive fashion against Jake Ellenberger this weekend in the co-main event of UFC on FOX 8.
Of course, there’s a big problem with that matchup and it’s the fact that MacDonald and St-Pierre are longtime teammates and friends at TriStar Gym in Montreal. As MacDonald recently said on The MMA Hour: “We’re not fighting. Me and Georges are friends, we’re training partners. We’ll have our own arrangements and figure it all out when the time comes. It’s not going to come to us fighting.”
Then again, money has a way of changing people’s minds. (See also: “I back.“) Right now, there are only a few fresh contenders left for St-Pierre at welterweight: Johny Hendricks, who GSP faces next at UFC 167 in November; Ellenberger, who may get a title shot with a win over MacDonald; Demian Maia, who is quickly moving up the 170-pound ladder; Erick Silva, who the UFC would love to fast-track to a title shot thanks to his growing popularity in Brazil; and MacDonald, the quiet Canadian with a killer’s glare in his eyes.
After watching MacDonald embarrass BJ Penn, Che Mills, Mike Pyle, Nate Diaz and Mike Guymon, and put up a hell of a fight against Carlos Condit, MacDonald could be the UFC welterweight champion in a few years. It’s not Hendricks or Ellenberger or Maia who has the potential to take the belt away from St-Pierre, it’s the young Canuck MacDonald, and he can solidify his position as heir to the welterweight throne with a victory over Ellenberger this weekend.
Michael Chiesa: From TUF Winner To Potential Lightweight Contender
Michael Chiesa has one of the best stories in sports, but the UFC has done a terrible job promoting him even though he is on his way to becoming a contender in the lightweight division.
Just days after entering the TUF 15 house, Chiesa’s father passed away, but instead of letting the tragedy paralyze him, Chiesa instead used it for strength, and ended up running the table by defeating all of his opponents on his way to capturing the Ultimate Fighter crown. Not bad for a 25-year-old from Spokane, Washington.
After defeating Anton Kuivanen at UFC 157 in his first post-TUF fight in the UFC, Chiesa is now 9-0 as a professional (with seven of those wins by submission inside the first two rounds) and he takes his undefeated record into the cage this weekend in a lightweight battle against Jorge Masvidal that headlines the FX prelims.
It’s obvious the UFC sees the tremendous talents that Chiesa has, and wants to test him against a tough opponent like Masvidal. And it’s a fight that, if he wins, will move Chiesa up from the list of TUF winners who never amount to much to that rare class of TUF winners who have a legitimate shot of holding a UFC title.
Look for Chiesa to use the hometown crowd to his advantage this weekend as he attempts to overcome the odds yet again and take out the far-more experienced Masvidal. And if he does, look for Chiesa to be fighting someone in the top 10 in his next fight, something which seemed unthinkable just over a year ago when the scraggly, lanky, Cody McKenzie-lookalike who no one ever gave a chance first appeared on the UFC’s reality show.
Aaron Riley’s Last Stand
It’s possible that one of the pioneers of the sport will be competing in his last mixed martial arts bout this weekend, as veteran Aaron Riley returns from a two-year injury layoff to take on Justin Salas on the Facebook prelims of UFC on FOX 8.
The owner of a 30-13-1 MMA record, Riley has been competing in the sport since 1997, and despite having an up-and-down career he’s somehow managed to keep a job with the top fighting promotion in the world. It’s a testament to the excitement he always delivers in the cage and his will to overcome injuries and continue on with his career when it likely made more sense to retire, especially following broken jaws in his fights against Ross Pearson and Tony Ferguson.
Whenever I look at a fighter’s record and I see that they’ve fought for promotions like HOOKnSHOOT (watch his epic fights with Yves Edwards if you haven’t already), Shooto and PRIDE, I automatically develop a higher level of respect for them. These are the types of fighters who set the table for the thousands that followed. It’s guys like Riley who are the reason that many young men and women around the world realized they could make a living out of doing what they love to do — being a mixed martial artist.
Hopefully it’s not the end of Riley’s career this weekend, but with another loss, his UFC record would drop to 3-6 and that’s likely not good enough to stick around any longer. For a guy who first appeared in the Octagon at UFC 37 in 2002, Riley has nothing to be ashamed of if this is truly the last time we see him fight. But let’s not count him out just yet.