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UFC 174 Breakdown

Cagewriter
MMA: UFC on FOX 9-Johnson vs Benavidez
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Demetrious Johnson [L] defends his flyweight title tonight at UFC 174. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Today we're taking a look at three of the biggest match ups on tonight's UFC 174 pay per view card. This event may have flown under your radar because of all the controversy this past week.

If that's the case - correct that issue right now by reading on and getting primed for a truly solid card, headlined by a flyweight world title bout between...

Demetrious Johnson vs. Ali Bagautinov

Flyweight world champion Demetrious Johnson looks better with each fight and is steadily making his case to be considered the best fighter on the planet, pound for pound, with each win. He’s got five in a row, with his last loss coming a weight division up, at 135 pounds, when he challenged former champion Dominick Cruz.

In fact, Johnson has never lost at flyweight in the UFC, and he’s built steam by impressively finishing his last two fights. All that momentum, in addition to his considerable speed, power and well-rounded skills make “Mighty Mouse” a tough champ to bet against in this, or any fight.

Surely, most fans won’t be laying down money on the little-known Bagautinov. The Dagestani fighter hasn’t been vocal but he’s earned a title shot on the strength of an undefeated 3-0 record in the UFC.

There have been rumors that Bagautinov faced some recent adversity in his Albuquerque training camp at Jackson/Winkeljohn in the form of an angry brawl against lightweight contender Rustam Khabilov, but the 29 year-old nonetheless appeared in Vancouver this week for UFC 174 without any visible scrapes or bruises and apparently ready to grab his shot at gold. It would be a shame if Bagautinov has indeed had to withstand more than the normal amount of strain in camp to prepare for the favorite champion but the Russian does certainly have some big up-sides.

One is his wrestling. For all his submission and striking ability, the champion is, at his base, a wrestler, and he’s used his wrestling to great effect throughout his career. In Bagautinov, he may be facing a man who could equal or exceed his own take down and scrambling abilities.

Should Bagautinov be able to wrestle Johnson to the ground consistently, we may have an interesting fight. What’s more, he’s nicknamed “Puncher” for good reason.

Bagautinov possesses scary punching power and has five KO wins to show for it. Of course, Johnson is a bigger believer than ever in his own striking power, coming off a one-punch KO of Joseph Benevidez in his last bout.

Rory MacDonald vs. Tyron Woodley

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Rory MacDonald fights in his home town at UFC 174

Rory MacDonald fights in his home town at UFC 174

There’s no telling how this fight will turn out but everyone agrees that it’s an important one. The winner of Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown next month is supposed to decide the next number one contender to Johny Hendricks’ welterweight title but, with how unpredictable things get in the UFC, the winner of tonight’s scrap between MacDonald and Woodley could very well find themselves in a title fight sooner than later.

MacDonald, once the main sparring partner for former welterweight king Georges St. Pierre, has long been considered a future champion. He couldn’t get past Lawler last fall and missed his chance at competing for the belt in March.

However, MacDonald righted his ship with an excellent come-from-behind win against Demian Maia in February. For his part, Woodley has been on a violent tear since losing a close split decision to Jake Shields a year ago.

The St. Louis fighter has finished two straight fights in brutal fashion – the first against two-time title challenger Josh Koscheck and the second over former title-holder Carlos Condit – and become perhaps the division’s most feared match up. This fight may also not just be a clash of title dreams but also a clash of fight styles.

Woodley has become an outright bomber of late, whipping ferocious strikes at opponents at an aggressive pace. MacDonald usually seems to prefer a more guarded and measured pace, where he can pick at opponents and slowly break them down before unleashing his own violent offence.

If Woodley gets off early with big punches, knees and take downs, MacDonald will certainly have his resolve and abilities pushed to the max. But, if the Canadian can some how manage to keep Woodley at bay with his jab, early on, he may be able to frustrate and tire the American Top Team fighter.

Andrei Arlovski vs. Brendan Schaub

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Andrei Arlovski makes his UFC return tonight

Andrei Arlovski makes his UFC return tonight

This is the night’s big heavyweight show down and pairs an elder former champion against an up-start young, super athlete who wants to make his name. Arlovski hasn’t fought in the UFC since walking away from the organization after a TKO win over Jake O’Brien in 2008.

“The Pitbull” would then go on to hit a rough patch, to say the least, losing four straight fights between 2009 and 2011, three by brutal KO. But the proud Belarussian refused to quit and began to win again in smaller organizations.

In all, Arlovski has only lost once in his last eight outings, and earned a call back to the big time. The former football player Schaub has turned himself into a new fighter – fighting efficiently and looking to work on the ground, after losing back-to-back fights via KO.

His plan has worked, as Schaub now rides a two-fight win streak where he’s shown off his newfound grappling and submission prowess. Both heavyweights are capable of knocking the other out, it would seem, and both camps have confidence in the other’s ability to get the advantage in grappling.

It would seem, however, that the fight will come down to whether or not Schaub will be able to take and hold down Arlovski repeatedly and often. If he can, he may very well end up getting the win.

If Arlovski can defend the take down, his hand speed and technical punching could turn the fight his way. However, he’ll have to be careful not to back straight up (as he did against Brett Rogers) should Schaub come rushing forward with his own shots, and instead cut angles to get out of danger.

Who are you picking? Let us know in the comments section. And, don't forget to visit with us all night long for UFC 174 coverage as it happens.

Follow Elias on Twitter @EliasCepeda & @YahooCagewriter

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