Due in large part to his impressive run as flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson has built a solid case to be recognized as one of the pound-for-pound best in mixed martial arts.
Mighty Mouse claimed the inaugural 125-pound title by defeating Joseph Benavidez back in 2012 and became the first flyweight champion in UFC history. Since getting his hands on the strap, Johnson had gone on to successfully defend the title on three occasions, with his most recent outings resulting in impressive finishes.
In the process, the 27-year-old Washington state native has elevated his profile to the next level, and he came into UFC 174 looking to keep things rolling.
That said, Ali Bagautinov had a different agenda.
The highly touted Dagestani flyweight earned his shot at the flyweight title on the strength of a three-fight run through the 125-pound ranks, where he defeated a collection of top opposition. With his first three showings under the UFC banner resulting in victories, the Puncher King bolstered his running total to 11 consecutive wins.
Following his successful showing against John Lineker at UFC 169 back in February, the 29-year-old Moscow-based fighter was given the opportunity to face Johnson in the main event of UFC 174 in Vancouver, B.C.
The two top flyweights' paths finally crossed on Saturday night, and it was Johnson who rose to the occasion.
The flyweight champion once again used his footwork and movement to keep an opponent on his heels as he backed Bagautinov up and battered him with knees in the clinch. The Russian contender found success in patches, but the majority of the 25-minute affair was dominated by Johnson, as he picked up the unanimous decision and his fourth successful title defense.
While the main event on the card determined the champion of the flyweight division, the co-main event looked to shape things up in the welterweight fold.
Rory MacDonald and Tyron Woodley had both been building strong cases toward title contention but were in need of a crucial victory to tip the balance on their future title hopes. And with both men jockeying to be the front-runner at 170 pounds, their showdown in Vancouver held the potential to determine the next No. 1 contender in the welterweight division and who would earn the right to face champion Johny Hendricks later this year.
With fellow contenders Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown in a similar position—and heading toward a collision of their own next month at UFC on Fox 12—the pressure was on both MacDonald and Woodley to perform on Saturday night. The current state of affairs in the welterweight title race is hectic business, but a victory—and an impressive showing while doing so—had the potential to make either fighter's title dreams come true.
And that fighter was Rory MacDonald.
The 24-year-old put a 15-minute steamrolling on the former Missouri University wrestling standout to pick up one of the biggest victories of his young career. From bell to bell, Woodley had zero answers for the attack MacDonald was bringing, and the Tristar fighter poured it on early and often throughout the three-round tilt. With the win, Ares puts himself at the front of the pack in the race for the next shot at the welterweight title.
It was a solid night of fights with a few curious happenings along the way. Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC 174.
Demetrious Johnson added another impressive chapter to his flyweight title reign at UFC 174.
Mighty Mouse led every step of the way through his 25-minute dance with Ali Bagautinov as he battered the gritty Dagestani both from distance and in the clinch. The Washington native put Bagautinov on his heels from the opening bell and kept his foot on the proverbial gas throughout the five-round affair to pick up the unanimous decision victory and successfully defend his flyweight crown for the fourth time.
While there is no doubt Johnson is rapidly rising to be recognized as one of the pound-for-pound best in the sport, the knock on him still seems to be his drawing power with the MMA fanbase. Despite a solid showing against Bagautinov on Saturday night, there appeared to be very little interest about the fight in the social media realm—and even less from the sparse crowd in attendance at Rogers Arena.
With his technical brilliance, there has to be a way to put Johnson over with the fans, and it is something the UFC has to figure out soon.
Until then, he will continue to defend his 125-pound crown, with the next step most likely being a rematch with heavy-handed knockout artist John Dodson.
Shortly after breaking onto the UFC scene in 2010, Rory MacDonald was deemed to be the leader of the "next wave of martial arts." The Tristar fighter came into the talent-rich welterweight division—and despite an early setback against Carlos Condit—quickly solidified himself as a one of the top fighters in the weight class.
Along the way he traded in his prospect tag for that of a legitimate title contender, and he took a strong step toward the welterweight crown at UFC 174 on Saturday night.
With a victory over Demian Maia in his previous fight, Ares needed an impressive showing against Tyron Woodley to remain in the heated race for the next shot at the welterweight title, and he put on a clinic in front of his home Province crowd in Vancouver.
For three rounds, the 24-year-old repeatedly backed Woodley up and battered him against the cage, nearly scoring at will. The end result was a lopsided unanimous decision that gave MacDonald his seventh win in his last eight showings inside the Octagon.
While the victory over Woodley will put him at the front of the pack at 170 pounds, it won't guarantee him the next title shot. Fellow contenders Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown are set to square off in the main event of UFC on Fox 12 next month, and it's possible the winner of that tilt could emerge as the next No. 1 contender.
Nevertheless, MacDonald certainly picked up a huge victory on Saturday night, and looked as sharp as he's ever looked in the process.
*** After a six-month layoff due to a broken hand, Ryan Bader returned to form at UFC 174. The Ultimate Fighter Season 8 winner worked an efficient game plan and earned a lopsided unanimous decision victory over former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Rafael Cavalcante on the pay-per-view portion of the card.
The victory is the second consecutive notch in the win column for the former Arizona State University wrestling standout and will keep him climbing the ranks of the 205-pound division.
*** Kiichi Kunimoto picked up his first win under the UFC banner and served to further derail a hype train in the process. The Japanese welterweight made short work of formerly touted prospect Daniel Sarafian in the final bout on the preliminary portion of the card.
Kunimoto took the action to the canvas, where he locked in the fight-ending rear-naked choke. The victory puts Kunimoto back into the win column and will be a solid step into the competitive ranks of the welterweight division.
*** While the action was a bit sparse in the early goings of the card, Tae Hyun Bang and Kajan Johnson cranked up the tempo inside Rogers Arena. The two scrappy lightweights wasted no time engaging in a slugfest, and both had moments of success throughout the first two rounds of the tilt.
It was anyone's fight going into the final frame, and Bang was the one to capitalize as he starched Ragin with a big right hand off a caught leg kick. The victory was Supernatural's first under the UFC banner, and his gritty performance should earn him a few new fans as well.
*** There was a solid bit of buzz around Michinori Tanaka's debut at UFC 174. The 23-year-old Japanese fighter came into his tilt with Roland Delorme with an undefeated record, and he was looking to keep his momentum rolling in Vancouver. While there weren't many highlights in the fight, Tanaka dominated The Ultimate Fighter alum en route to the unanimous-decision victory.
*** Making his UFC debut on native soil was apparently the proper recipe for Jason Saggo. The 28-year-old Ontario native put on a solid performance as he picked up the first-round TKO victory over Josh Shockley to kick off the card at UFC 174. The win over the former Bellator fighter makes it five straight for Saggo and put the cap on a noteworthy first step under the UFC banner.
Everything about the fight between Andrei Arlovski and Brendan Schaub qualified for this category. The action—or lack thereof—was awful, and the tentativeness shown by each fighter was beyond awkward. To top it all off, Arlovski was awarded the split-decision victory despite landing only a handful of clean punches and being on his back for the majority of the third round.
That said, Schaub was also unsuccessful on his feet and failed to do much against Arlovski despite having him on the ground for over three minutes. All in all, it was just a terrible showing from both in a fight that had the potential to be outstanding.
While the heavyweight tilt between Arlovski and Schaub was bad, both fighters will wake up Sunday in a better position than Mike Easton.
At one time, Easton was figured to become a major player in the bantamweight division. The Washington D.C. native stormed out of the gates by picking up wins in his first three showings in the 135-pound fold and put himself on the bantamweight radar in the process. That said, things have taken a hard turn south for The Hulk as of late, and that trend continued on Saturday night.
The Team Alliance Member came into his bout with Yves Jabouin with his back pressed firmly against the wall due to his three-fight skid. This made the bout an absolute "must win" for Easton, but he just didn't have an answer for the muay thai attack of the Team Tristar fighter.
Jabouin ate a couple of big punches in the opening frame but bounced back strong as he worked Easton in both the striking and grappling departments. The end result was a unanimous decision for Jabouin, and Easton was handed his fourth consecutive loss.
Where "three" is the magic number of consecutive losses for most fighters, the UFC gave Easton another shot at redemption at UFC 174, and he squandered the opportunity. While a select few fighters have maintained their roster spots on a four-fight skid, it is extremely unlikely Easton will be among this group, which is a severe fall from grace for a fighter who was figured to become a staple in the bantamweight divisional title race.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Daniel Sarafian coming off his stint on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. An injury knocked the Brazilian powerhouse out of the finals, but the UFC showed its belief in him by putting the fighter in a co-main event slot for his promotional debut against C.B. Dollaway at UFC on FX 7.
While The Doberman would go on to pull off the upset, there was still a solid amount of buzz behind Sarafian's potential.
Nevertheless, that energy surrounding Sarafian has quickly evaporated and has perhaps disappeared entirely with his first-round submission loss to Kiichi Kunimoto on Saturday night. After dropping a split-decision to Cezar Ferreira in his last outing, the 31-year-old made the decision to drop down to compete as a welterweight.
Once again the expectation followed him, and Sarafian failed to deliver, as he was quickly submitted by Kunimoto.
While it is unlikely Sarafian will lose his place on the roster following his defeat at UFC 174, three losses in four showings under the UFC banner will put him in a dubious position going forward, and the road will only get tougher.
By dropping down into 170-pound waters, Sarafian has put himself in the most competitive division in the organization. With his room for error having dissipated, that choice could prove to be a costly one.
*** Although Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante rose to the top of the heap under the now-defunct Strikeforce banner, he's struggled during his time in the UFC. The Team Black House fighter picked up his second loss in three showings inside the Octagon when he was defeated via unanimous decision by Ryan Bader on Saturday night.
Where Cavalcante was once creeping toward top-10 status in the light heavyweight ranks, this recent rough patch will keep him out of elite-level status for some time.
*** First impressions are crucial in MMA, and Josh Shockley probably wishes he could get a redo on his UFC debut on Saturday. Not only did he come into the matchup with Jason Saggo sporting one of the worst hairstyles ever to grace the Octagon, but he was also drubbed by the Canadian prospect as well. Saggo earned the first-round TKO finish and made Shockley's "one-two combo of bad" official.
The Canadian fanbase is widely regarded as one of the most passionate collectives in all of mixed martial arts, and the UFC has consistently visited the Great White North several times a year for the better part of the past decade.
Much like their Brazilian counterparts, the Canadian fans are well-known for showing up for the first bout on the card and keeping the energy pumping until the final bell sounds for the main event. Yet, despite the organization's first two visits to Vancouver getting huge turnouts (UFC 115 and UFC 131), that just wasn't the case for Saturday night's events.
Even with British Columbia native Rory MacDonald on the card, the buzz that typically accompanies a UFC event in Canada was slow to develop. Another element that bucked the normal trend was the Canadian fans being slow to pile into Rogers Arena on Saturday. The seats began to fill up by the time the main card rolled around, but that is much later than the Canadian fanbase typically arrives.
When Canada's fighting faithful aren't turning out in droves to watch some face-punching, that certainly warrants a mention in the strange department.
Moving on to action inside the cage.
In the hectic and unpredictable world of mixed martial arts, fights can end in a wide variety of ways. On Saturday night, in the bout between Ovince St. Preux and Ryan Jimmo, the action ended in one of the more curious manners to occur in recent memory.
The two fighters exchanged punches and kicks on their feet before the former University of Tennessee football player took the action to the canvas.
Once OSP put Jimmo on the mat, he immediately set about looking to work his submission game and went after the Canadian's left arm. With St. Preux working to lock in a kimura, Jimmo chose to shout to the referee that his arm was broken rather than use the traditional tapping method.
It took the official several moments to pick up on what Jimmo was yelling, which meant that the former Strikeforce fighter continued to crank on Jimmo's injured arm. While contorting a broken appendage could have had a disgusting result, luckily the referee was able to jump in before things hit gross levels.
Better late than never, I suppose.
On a final note, Joe Rogan's suit jacket disappeared for UFC 174. While the longtime commentator had put together a solid run of three straight events wearing the suit jacket, on Saturday night in Vancouver, said jacket was nowhere to be found. Rogan is a man obsessed with life's great mysteries, and the former Fear Factor host has given us one of his own.
On the previous installment of "Good, Bad and Strange," I announced there would be an official "Tweet of the Night" handed out at the end of every card. While there was plenty of snark and deep insight provided on social media time lines on Saturday, the action was relatively low when compared to the normal flow of things on a fight night.
Nevertheless, there was one gem that sparkled more than any other from Ben Fowlkes.
Tweet of the Night
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.