The 13-1 Moraga, who challenges Johnson in the main event of UFC on FOX 8 on July 27 in Seattle, didn’t mince words when asked what he thought of the inaugural titleholder in the UFC’s 125-pound weight class.
“I think he’s boring,” Moraga said in a recent interview.
But he was only getting started. Asked to clarify why he considers “Mighty Mouse” dull, Moraga unloaded.
“I think he just bounces around, he runs around so much and he don’t fight,” Moraga said. “You know, he doesn’t put on exciting fights. He has a lot of technique and a lot of skill, but he doesn’t go in there and try to finish people, I don’t feel.”
The champion, meanwhile, is dismissive of his challenger. Asked by Yahoo! Sports in a one-one-one interview to respond to his challenger’s comments, Johnson said, “He doesn't pay my light bills, he doesn't pay my mortgage. His opinion doesn't matter.”
The UFC flyweight division has slowly and steadily built its presence since it was founded at the start of last year. The first champion, Johnson, was crowned in a four-man tournament in 2012.
The weight class has featured action-packed bouts from a host of fighters. It even had its first classic bout, Johnson’s unanimous decision win over John Dodson at UFC on FOX 6 on Jan. 26, which defied critics who said flyweights can’t headline big events by pulling in an impressive network television rating.
Johnson has emerged as the undisputed leader of the pack. He’s fought nine times in less than three years, compiling a 7-1-1 record, with the only loss coming against bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. Since dropping down to flyweight and taking on guys his size, Johnson has been a riddle no one has been able to solve, using his speed, footwork, counter-striking and takedown ability to establish himself at the head of the class.
What the division has lacked, though, is the sort of rivalry that could put it out front and make it stand out in a crowded field. That’s where the brash Moraga steps in.
Moraga, who trains at The MMA Lab in Glendale, Ariz., with lightweight champion Benson Henderson, has finished both of his UFC foes. First he picked apart Ulysses Gomez in a frightening Muay Thai display last August, then he snagged the UFC 155 Submission of the Night bonus for his front-choke stoppage of Chris Cariaso.
Moraga sees himself as a finisher. Johnson has yet to win a flyweight fight via stoppage.
“My main thing is, I don’t like going out there and putting on boring fights,” Moraga said. “For this fight, who knows how it’s going to play out once we get in there. We’ll adapt to whatever goes on in there. I know I’m going to be a little bit patient, I know he moves around a lot and doesn’t really get the fight going right away, as far as big heavy exchanges or anything.”
The bout was originally scheduled for April 13 in Las Vegas, but Johnson pulled out of the date to undergo surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff. It was a tough adjustment, considering how active Johnson likes to stay. But in the long run, Johnson feels it was a good thing.
“I was pretty bummed out at first,” Johnson said. “But, in hindsight this was the best thing that could have happened. For one thing my wife is pregnant, so I got to spend quality time together when I would have been in the middle of camp. For another, all those little bumps and bruises you get, normally you just deal with them, but this gave me time to heal everything up, so I’m feeling good. And in the long run, the big thing is, by taking care of this now before it got out of hand, it ensures I’ll still be able to do my thing down the road. Plus, I get to fight at home at KeyArena, which is sort of the icing on the cake.”
When he realized the weight of his criticisms, Moraga, who helped bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz train for his 2011 victory over Johnson, tried to walk his comments back somewhat, saying there’s a difference between the hardcore fans who appreciate Johnson’s style and the casual fans who might not glean such subtleties.
“I mean, he’s great,” Moraga said of the champion. “Maybe to the educated MMA fan he’s probably not boring, I probably didn’t word that right. But to the people when you’re trying to gain fans for the flyweight division, I think he’s boring to them because it’s always the same thing with him.”
But the cat was already out of the bag. The champion already heard the words. And his reaction demonstrated that he understands he’s the king of the hill until someone else proves otherwise.
“Ask John Dodson if I’m boring,” said Johnson. “Ask anyone who’s fought me if I’m boring. If John Moraga thinks he’s going to get into my head, well, guess what: I’m not going to change a thing for him. I’m not going to go out there and try to prove something or try to fight his fight. It’s not like I’m going to go in there and try to finish the guy who calls himself a finisher just because. He’s going to get same Demetrious Johnson who steps into the cage every time. There’s nothing special coming for him.”
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter @davedoylemma.
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