Fans tuning in to watch UFC London this weekend will be in for a treat.
Former IMMAF champion, former BRAVE CF fighter, and possibly the most exciting addition to the UFC flyweight roster in recent memory, Muhammad Mokaev returns to action after a stunning jumping knee to submission finish in his UFC debut. Standing across from him in his second outing will be another new addition to the organization, Charles Johnson, a highly touted prospect coming over after three back-to-back title fight wins in the LFA.
Although born in Dagestan in 2000, Mokaev has since relocated to England under refugee status, now calling Greater Manchester home. It will be Johnson who will be walking into enemy territory when the two face off at 02 Arena.
Mokaev’s dominant wrestling and submission approach has earned him the role of betting favorite in almost all of his fights to date. This weekend’s card will be no different where he will enter the cage, currently looking to be at -490.
Few records are as misleading in terms of experience as Muhammad Mokaev. With just one UFC fight inside a total professional record of 6-0, the young fighter would seem relatively green. However, what these numbers do not show is the vast history of fighting, in which he grew from a young age. He is a two-time amateur MMA junior world champion on top of another equivalent European title at bantamweight. With a record of 23-0, he currently maintains one of the longest undefeated streaks in all of junior amateur MMA. In 2015, he became the European junior champion in BJJ, just before securing the NAGA championships in Gi and NoGi grappling the following year. He is also a five-time British wrestling champion and an ADCC tournament winner from Manchester 2019.
Johnson also has an unusual sports background which has fed his skills in his fighting career. From an early age, Johnson had other athletic aspirations separate from fighting; his father acted as coach from early on in his Olympic pursuit in Steeplechase. Although the five rings never materialized for the American, the sport, which for the unfamiliar, is an intensive obstacle race equivalent to that of horse racing and one of the most unforgiving endurance sports in the world. It involves 28 barriers and 7 water jumps. Johnson rose to the peak within the United states, winning national titles twice. While this sport has little in common with MMA, it does provide some insight as to how Johnson later built his unique fighting style which heavily leans on his extraordinary cardio and endurance, breaking down his opponents over the duration of the fight.
On top of this, he also owns a professional boxing record, which, although not the most successful, can also be attributed to his unique style of elusive head movement. Together, his background in both boxing and endurance racing paints a good picture of what makes him such an effective fighter. Johnson primarily likes to sit in a boxing stance, constantly fainting and switching and sitting on the outside until he is confident he has read the range and timing of his opponent. At this point, he will move forward and is particularly good at only slipping barely out of range and back into it in order to land. There is little wasted movement in his style, which is in part how he sustains his pace almost perfectly over 25 minutes. He tends to keep a low guard to protect the body and is confident in his head movement to protect himself upstairs, his movement is very similar to that of Bobby Green in this regard.
He utilizes a lot of kicks, exclusively to the body and legs, as he wants to chip away at his opponent instead of finding a one-strike KO, but his stabbing front kicks and slapping low kicks also set up his hands to the head. However, because he works at a consistent pace in order to pay dividends later in the fight, he does not always throw with substantial speed, especially kicking to the body he has been caught on multiple occasions and taken down as a counter. This is something that Mokaev will look for as the superior grappler. Many of Johnson’s attacks are built around his head movement, he likes to slip and rip counters, but he also hides his level changes behind his ducks, allowing him to avoid telegraphing takedowns. The problem with this is because he is so often ready to lead on the front leg and slip forward or lean backward, his body is almost always open to be hit, even if he is covering up.
Mokaev’s style is much different than the American’s. He is fast and explosive right off the bat but much less polished as a striker than Johnson. He likes his left switch kick to the body and head, and although less technical, he is more unpredictable. A flying knee could come at any time, and part of the reason he has the added benefit of taking risks is because he is so confident in his ability to counter takedown attempts to his advantage. While his offensive wrestling is highly acclaimed, many of his dominant performances in top position prior to the UFC came when he was able to reverse position on his opponents. He, like many of his Dagestani contemporaries, is a fan of figure-fouring the legs immediately after the takedown is secured. This allows him to maintain the lace and release ground and pound or take his time scooting up into position in search of the submission. Typically he likes to offer just enough room for his opponents to push a difficult scramble allowing him to transition into triangles or float to mount before securing a choke. He is also a master at attacking submissions quickly from scrambles on the feet, mostly either jumping onto a neck or scrambling to the back clinch and dragging his opponent down into his back control.
Ultimately, it would be difficult for Mokaev to go head to head with Johnson striking for the duration of the fight, but I don’t think he will need to do such a thing anyway.
If the fight was over five rounds, Johnson’s experience in championship fights would go further, but having to change his approach for the first three rounder in his last four bouts changes things. He will have to start faster than usual, which forces him to compete with Mokaev’s explosiveness a bit more than he would want to, which in turn forces him to likely have to defend more scrambling situations than usual.
Johnson is a confident fighter off of his back, but he has shown he is willing to give up his back or stretch out limbs as he bodies his way up, he has gotten away with this against fighters on the level of BJJ black belt, but Mokaev is a different animal, and these risks may not pay out the way they have in the past.
Prediction: Muhammad Mokaev to win (-490 odds at MyBookie)
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.