LOS ANGELES — There are a couple things on which the competitors in Saturday night’s UFC 227 card agree: One is that the first fight between T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt was an absolute barnburner; and two, that none are willing to bet against flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson until someone comes along who can prove otherwise.
But despite the fact that no one seems to think Henry Cejudo will be the one to end Johnson’s record run, everyone’s interested in seeing both title rematches at Staples Center — the second bantamweight title fight in less than a year between Dillashaw and former champ Garbrandt, and Johnson vs. Cejudo in the co-feature.
Veteran featherweight Cub Swanson, who meets Renato Moicano in a pivotal showdown on the evening’s main card, points to his years of experience training in many of the top gyms around North America. Swanson says he knows true work ethic when he sees it, that Dillashaw has it, and that’s likely to spell the difference the second time around.
“I’ve trained all over, I’ve seen a lot of things,” Swanson said. “You see guys who are so talented naturally that they maybe don’t train as hard and don’t do all the things. And then you see guys who just work hard, work hard, work hard, and they pick it up. So I know that the longer the fight went, the more it favored T.J., and that’s what happened. And I think the same thing in this fight. T.J. trains way too hard, he’s ready, even if you catch him with something, he’s so well-trained that he’s going to pop right back up.
“If Cody wants to get it done, he’s gotta do it early, because he’s just going to rely on his God-given ability. But T.J. is just too good everywhere.”
“Mighty Mouse,” for his part, is a more interested observer than most, as he’s made it clear he’s open to the idea of a superfight with the bantamweight champion if the UFC is willing to pay up. Johnson believes the fight will be similar to the first in that there are likely to be wild swings in the fight and the person who can first capitalize on a major mistake will be the one who leaves downtown LA with gold.
“That’s a good fight between both of those guys.” Johnson said. They both have great skill sets. The first fight, you know, Cody landing that big shot, T.J. got wobbled, he got dropped, but he recovered. That’s fighting. T.J. was able to go out there and put Cody away. I’ll see how this fight goes, I think they’re both great mixed martial artists and both of those guys can win the fight. It’s going to come down to whoever makes the mistake first and whoever can capitalize.
“He’s just gotta go out there and fight his fight, and not let his emotions get to him, and I think T.J.’s gotta fight his fight and mix it up.”
Moicano, though, believes that we could see a Garbrandt who corrects his mistakes and becomes a two-time champ.
“I think maybe Cody would bring a more conservative style,” Moicano said. “I think he goes to the ground. He’s bigger, but, you never know. It’s a big fight. Maybe Cody wins this time.”
While the first fight between the bantamweight competitors played out in such a manner that nearly all of the fighters wanted to hedge their bets and say anyone can win, there’s little such equivocation for the flyweight title fight.
And that’s not a knock on Cejudo. It’s just that no one can appreciate what “Mighty Mouse” has been able to accomplish like his fellow fighters.
“I wouldn’t bet against Demetrious Johnson unless he was fighting my five-year old child at 125 pounds because he’s biting and scratching at all that stuff,” said Kevin Holland, who meets Thiago Santos on the evening’s main card. “But for real, I’m looking over at him, for a guy to be that small and that much of a badass, I am scared of him, he is an absolute animal, and I’m not scared of anybody. That little dude can demolish anybody.”
That said, Cejudo has shown great strides as a fighter since his first-round stoppage loss to Johnson two years ago. So some UFC 227 competitors, even if they are still making the call in favor of DJ, believe Cejudo will give the perennial flyweight titleholder a solid challenge before “Mighty Mouse” prevails.
“I think Henry is the last chance of anyone beating Demetrious,” says strawweight J.J. Aldrich, who squares off with Polyana Viana on the evening’s main card. “And I say that because Demetrious has become so much better, just watching as a fan. We’ll see, but Demetrious is just great.”
And that brings us to the evening’s other champion, Dillashaw. He’s had the unique experience of winning the bantamweight championship, losing it, and then having to bide his time before capitalizing on a second opportunity. So he’s in as good a position as anyone to appreciate what Johnson has accomplished over the years.
“That’s why I want to fight him,” said an admiring Dillashaw. “Because I appreciate what he’s done. He’s the pound-for-pound best. Not only each fight, where you’re fighting the next-best guy, but, all the media you gotta do, the things that just come with being champion, its impressive.”
If the evening goes the way Dillashaw envisions it, he retains, Johnson retains, and then who knows, maybe the lighter-weight superfight will happen after all.
“I think Henry has improved a lot since they fought the first time.” Dillashaw said. “I still think Demetrious gets this one, he’s more well-rounded, experienced fighter over the five rounds, and he’s going to be able to outpoint him.”