SEATTLE — Dana White can see it coming, a day when the speed and athleticism of the fighters in the UFC’s flyweight division are enough of a draw that the smaller fighters can be the centerpiece of a pay-per-view event.
For now, flyweights like champion Demetrious Johnson will have to settle for top billing on network TV.
“(Johnson) has been on a lot of big cards and he’s going to fight on Fox again,” White said. “We’re in the building phase of that division.”
Johnson will make the second defense of his flyweight title on Saturday night in front of a hometown crowd when he faces John Moraga as part of the UFC on Fox card at KeyArena. Johnson’s first title defense also came on Fox when he dominated John Dodson in a unanimous decision victory.
Now comes Moraga in a fight that was delayed a few months after Johnson needed shoulder surgery.
“John Moraga possesses great skills. He throws good, great combinations, but as far as me, when it comes to my training and preparing for fighters, or fights, we don’t bring anybody in to emulate my opponent and we don’t go out and seek information on my opponent,” Johnson said. “We just train hard. I believe in my training partners and my coaching, and that’s what we’ve done and it hasn’t let us down yet.”
The co-main event features rising welterweight stars Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger. The rest of the main card to be shown on Fox includes a fight between welterweights Bobby Voelker and Robbie Lawler, with Voelker stepping in as a late replacement, and a women’s fight between Liz Carmouche and Jessica Andrade. Carmouche was a headliner just a few months ago when she lost by submission to women’s champ Ronda Rousey at UFC 157.
Moraga is unbeaten in his last seven fights, including a submission victory over Chris Cariaso at UFC 155 in December that set up his shot at the title on Saturday. That was just his second fight under the UFC banner and Moraga is well aware of Johnson’s history of taking fights the distance and using conditioning as much as fighting techniques to his advantage.
“Probably the thing that I’ve been working on most is cardio, making sure I’m able to go hard for all five rounds,” Moraga said. “That’s what I think he’s shown is his best fighting ability or whatever, that he may tire people out. So, that’s not going to happen in this fight.”
While the title fight will get top billing, the co-main event featuring MacDonald will get just as much attention. The last time MacDonald walked into KeyArena in December, he took apart former UFC champion B.J. Penn with a dominating unanimous decision victory. Penn was so battered that he had to be taken to a hospital following the fight.
MacDonald’s task now is trying to slow Ellenberger, who comes into the bout having won eight of his last nine fights. Ellenberger needed just 13 strikes to stop Nate Marquardt with a first-round knockout at UFC 158 in March.
MacDonald’s combination of size, athleticism and martial arts techniques have many in UFC believing he can be the heir apparent in the welterweight ranks to his mentor and current champion Georges St. Pierre.
“I’m just going to focus on this fight for now. My whole career has just kind of been going with the flow,” said MacDonald, who has stated he has no desire to fight St. Pierre. “Everything changes after each fight, so I’ll see where I am after this fight, and it’s just the options from there. Nothing’s out of the question.”
To continue his ascent up the welterweight rankings, he’ll need to avoid Ellenberger’s heavy fists and knack for knocking out opponents.
Despite MacDonald’s 14-1 record, Ellenberger has not been impressed.
“I’m going out there to perform and to win. Rory doesn’t have a choice where this fight goes,” Ellenberger said. “This fight goes where I want it to go, and I’ve shown that in past fights. I’m excited. He surely has potential, but he has not faced anybody like me, so I’m stoked to get in there.”