Demetrious Johnson, MMA legends

Revisiting Demetrious Johnson vs. Adriano Moraes: How Can DJ win?

Earlier this month, it was announced that part of the ONE Championship debut on Amazon Prime would be a rematch between Adriano Moraes and Demetrious Johnson. In that fight, Moraes caught Johnson coming in off of a spin and dropped him with a right hand. Then, as per ONE Championship rules allow, Moraes caught Johnson with a knee as he was down and put him away. Today, I want to take some time to revisit that fight and see what could be done different by Johnson to take home his second belt in a major promotion. First, I will recommend you rewatching the fight on YouTube below!

How Demetrious Johnson Can Beat Adriano Moraes in the rematch

With Demetrious Johnson being much smaller than Moraes, much was made of Moraes simply being the bigger man. While that may be partially true, the mistake that cost Johnson the fight wasn’t that of size, it was that of impatience. Early in the fight, Moraes was hesitant to engage, opting to circle out both sides of the exchanges Johnson was looking for. He didn’t give Johnson time to get the range and it caused Johnson to rush later on in the fight. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

In this section I am going to look at what happened in the fight and see what Johnson could have done different. I’ve been working on several diagrams for my Aftermath sections with the intention to use them as reference later on. With the range of techniques used by the ever-masterful Johnson, I get to dive in on two of them! Let’s begin.

In round one, Moraes didn’t want to engage with Demetrious Johnson, as mentioned above. He circled out and opted to kick, the longest range strike in mixed martial arts. Johnson, being the smaller guy with the smaller reach, struggled to get in on Moraes to get to a clinch. With the strength of Moraes, I don’t think this will be optimal early on. Instead, Johnson needs to immedately punish Moraes for throwing naked leg kicks.

The perfect counter to a low kick is the cross. It’s straight down the pipe and quick. It has your opponent off balance because they’re on one foot and it just plain hurts. Tenshin Nasukawa did a great job of this against Rodtang. But in his own fight with Rodtang, Johnson didn’t fire the cross. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt there, however, because Rodtang doesn’t telegraph things at a level Johnson can perceive.

Johnson can punish those first early strikes and get Adriano Moraes stressing over his primary attack being punished early.

Jiri Prochazka wall walking
Figure 1 wall walking from the bottom

At the end of round Moraes managed to catch a kick and get Johnson flat on his back. We saw Johnson using his feet to walk up and bridge out.

I would like to have seen Johnson take the approach of Jiri Prochazka at UFC 275. When Glover had Prochazka on his back, Prochazka walked up the wall, got his hips way above Glover and was able to bridge out.

While the bridge Johnson was different fundamentally with Johnson being in guard and Prochazka being mounted, the fundamentals are still there. Johnson can use the wall walk to bump his opponent in a bad spot to create a scramble.

However if Johnson were to do this in full guard, Moraes would have had his hips lower than Johnson and could have rolled him over and ran to his back.

Next I want to talk about the stances. Johnson can fight well from either side of the plate, both soutpaw and orthodox, and he did that against the orthodox Moraes who fights with his left hand forward. I’d like to see Johnson stay more southpaw here. With the two lead legs on the same side, it makes it easy for one of the fighters to reach down and grab the leg for a high crotch single. Demetrious Johnson should absolutely be looking for this. If he can get the fight to the ground, he can eat up some clock and start to wear out Moraes while looking for his electrifying submissions.

In addition to the takedown, Johnson will also be able to set up strikes like Kevin Holland did a couple weeks ago against Tim Means.

In the fight, Holland set up the expectation of a level change, just what grabbing the single leg out of southpaw would do. There, Holland threw a jab to the body but the function is the same. It gets Means, or Moraes if you’re Johnson touching the single, lowering the hands to block the shot or attempt.

In the second round, we saw Holland go to the body again, but it was a ruse. He then comes up top and knocks Means out cold. While Holland is a bit less deceptive and is the same setup both times, Johnson will have a little more depth to it.

For Johnson, grabbing the single would put the idea of a takedown into the head of Moraes and cause him to keep his hands a smidge lower. When Johnson goes for another single, he will want to have his hands closer to the takedown to get the underhook and stop the attempt.

It doesn’t matter how many times Johnson does it, weather it’s three or a hundred times, if he attempts the takedown a few times and then comes up top with a left (remember he’s southpaw so it’s a cross), he can catch Moraes with his hands and his eyes down, landing some good shots and setting up a finish.

Patience is a virtue

Lastly, patience is of the upmost importance for Demetrious Johnson. He rushed in on a clinch situation, something he’s admittedly strong at, and got caught with a right that ultimately ended his day. This was all the doing of Adriano Moraes. He created the condition that had Johnson wanting to get in and land some damage by being evasive in the first round.

Johnson ultimately needs to make sure he’s not rushing in for a clinch where Moraes is seemingly stronger. He reversed Johnson a couple times in their first fight. Should Johnson stay patient and change a bit of how he fights, he can come home with the belt. But even if he implements the level change and the cross against Adriano Moraes like we talked about above, there’s no point and he will get caught by the bigger and stronger man.

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Blaine Henry
Your friendly neighborhood fight fan. I watch way too many fights and my wife lets me know it.