Three months later, Johnson and McCall ready to settle the score
It's time for Round 4. Finally.
Demetrious Johnson and Ian McCall took breathers of one minute apiece after the first and second rounds of their fight back in March. Between the third and fourth? Their hiatus will have been roughly 139,680 minutes -- that's 97 days -- when they step into the octagon for the main event of UFC on FX 3 on Friday night (9 p.m. ET, FX) in Sunrise, Fla.
How so? When Johnson and McCall met three months ago in Sydney, it was a momentous occasion: the first flyweight bout in UFC history and the first of two semifinals in the fight organization's four-man tournament to determine its inaugural 125-pound champion. And the fighters rose to the occasion, rousing the crowd with 15 minutes of fast-forward action. But in the end, what this bout became best remembered for was not the fistic performance of either combatant but the debilitating damage done by a person who didn't throw a single strike: the Australian commissioner at cageside who erred in tabulating the judges' scores, delivering a metaphoric kick to the groin of the UFC.
You see, the UFC needed winners in both semis in order to move its tourney along. So company president Dana White announced beforehand that in the event of a draw in either three-rounder, the bout would go to a fourth round to determine a winner. That would not be necessary in the evening's second semi, as Joseph Benavidez knocked out Yasuhiro Urushitani early in the second round As for Johnson vs. McCall, it was tightly fought, it ebbed and flowed, and the first two rounds could have gone either way. McCall then took command in the third, twice getting takedowns and ending up on top for significant spells, raining down punches as Johnson did little more than cover up. The second time this happened, referee Leon Roberts hovered nearby, and if he'd jumped in there might not have been much outcry. But he didn't, and when the horn sounded Johnson actually didn't look too beaten up when he jumped to his feet.
"Mighty Mouse" jumped again a couple of minutes later -- jumped for joy, that is, after he was announced as the winner of a split decision.
Johnson's celebration and McCall's despair were short-lived, however. At the post-fight press conference, a visibly irritated White stepped to the microphone to announce that a commissioner had misread one scorecard and counted what should have been a 10-8 third round for McCall as a 10-9. When the math was recalculated, the bout had a new outcome: majority draw. Had this been the result announced to the crowd an hour earlier, Johnson and McCall would have fought a fourth round on the spot. But at this point it was too late.
So now we'll get Round 4. And 5 and 6. Yes, it'll be a whole new fight when Johnson (14-2-1) and McCall (11-2-1) take to the cage, fighting for the right to take on Benavidez with the shiny new belt on the line.
It's a fascinating rematch, this first flyweight main event in UFC history. When first these men met, Johnson had the edge in foot and hand speed, landing more punches and with better accuracy. He even staggered McCall a time or two. But his wrestling, usually an advantage, did not fare so well. Johnson managed to fend off more than half of McCall's takedown attempts, but "Uncle Creepy" still took him to the canvas four times and maneuvered into controlling positions each time. Though Johnson had only recently dropped down from the 135-pound division, McCall appeared to be the bigger man and was the stronger of the two. A draw, as frustrating as it was for the fighters, the UFC and even Benavidez, was an appropriate result.
Friday's fight will probably be swung by the mental game. What did the fighters learn about each other -- and themselves -- the first time, and how has each used the last three months to better his chances? Has McCall worked on staying outside Johnson's punching range or smothering him to nullify that lightning speed? Has Johnson drilled into himself a grappling maneuver that'll keep him out from underneath McCall on the mat?
And then there's the dueling positive mental imagery. In McCall's mind, the enduring image from the first meeting, no doubt, is of the closing seconds, with him sitting on a prone and seemingly defenseless Johnson and flailing away with punches. Johnson probably prefers to picture in his head what happened soon afterward, when he was the one whose hand was raised in victory. Of course, had the scores been tallied correctly, the fighters would have been into Round 4 by then. And McCall had all the momentum.
But that was then, and this is ...
Ninety-seven days later, the longest between-rounds break imaginable.