MMA: Jussier da Silva
Dodson has envisioned fighting for the 125-pound title; he just didn't know how soon that opportunity would come.
Now he knows: Defeat Jussier 'Formiga' da Silva on the UFC on FX card at the Target Center in Minneapolis, which Dodson expects to do, and flyweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson is next.
Dodson is excited about making that scenario a reality. But his excitement isn't based solely on personal gratification.
Of course, he's motivated by the possibility of achieving his long-awaited goal -- to become a UFC titleholder. There is, however, another source motivating him -- the mixed martial arts students he teaches in Albuquerque, N.M.
Dodson is a professional instructor at Team Jackson-Winkeljohn, where he also trains for his UFC bouts. Each day when he's done with his regular fight preparation, Dodson turns his attention to the students.
"I was teaching until the day I left for Minnesota," Dodson told ESPN.com. "I use [my students] as extra motivation for myself because I like looking in their faces and seeing how proud they are of me. They are actually texting me as I get ready to fight for the No. 1 contender fight and telling me how proud they are of me. That's an excellent thing to hear."
The pride is reciprocated. Dodson loves the enthusiasm and commitment his students demonstrate during classes.
Their progress warms his heart. Dodson says some students aspire to become professional fighters, but most just enjoy working hard to improve their bodies.
Physically, Dodson will be alone Friday night inside the cage with da Silva.
But when the horn sounds to start the fight, Dodson will have each and every one of his students fighting with him in spirit. They have played a major role in getting him prepared for da Silva.
"Competitively, they help me a lot," Dodson said. "I'm there teaching them techniques, but actually I'm relearning it myself -- things that I forgot about doing years ago, like a basic armbar, how to make it tighter. Yet you see people trying to finish an armbar with their feet crossed. They're not supposed to be doing that, that's a big no-no."
Throughout his training/teaching camp, Dodson was reminded of little mistakes he can't afford to make against da Silva, a high-level jiu-jitsu practitioner. It's the lone area where da Silva has a technical advantage over Dodson.
"He's a four-time world champion," Dodson said of da Silva. "You can't get any better in jiu-jitsu than him. The ways that he can get your back, submit and get different positions -- he moves very, very fluidly. I have to make sure that I can pick him apart. What I have to do is stand and bang, not get taken down and don't let him touch my back. And if he does touch my back, make him pay for it.
"But he only has jiu-jitsu. This is mixed martial arts. You have to have more than one art to sit there and think you're the best. I have a well-rounded game. My striking is better, my wrestling's going to be better and my jiu-jitsu is going to be on par with his. I'm not going to say [my jiu-jitsu] is going to be better than his; he's won world championships."
Aside from having more technical skills at his disposal, Dodson believes he has the physical edge as well. Dodson gives up two inches in height to da Silva, but he views being the shorter fighter works to his advantage.
Being able to fight at 125 pounds is a godsend for Dodson. Though he has competed at featherweight and bantamweight, fighting as a flyweight is where Dodson is at his best.
"I am kind of beefy. I'm short, stocky and 5-foot-3. I'm like a tree stump."
Then there is the confidence factor. The support Dodson receives from his coaches, teammates and students at Team Jackson-Winkeljohn is invaluable.
But there were times in his career when that support wasn't enough, giving Dodson doubts about how good he was or could become. That changed in 2011 when he competed on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show.
"Fighting on 'The Ultimate Fighter' and actually winning it built up my confidence," said Dodson, who was TUF bantamweight winner during the "Team Bisping vs. Team Miller" season. "A lot of people said I had no finishing power. And I knocked out three of the four people I fought. My confidence level isn't where it was two years ago, it's much higher. I have more faith and belief in myself. I know where I am now."
And Dodson has a good idea where he will be Friday night after spoiling da Silva's UFC debut -- celebrating somewhere in Minneapolis. Shortly thereafter he plans to return to Albuquerque and begin preparing for Johnson.
When he arrives, there will be MMA students eager to resume their roles in helping him get ready for the next big fight.
Top-ranked Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson likely need no introduction by now, as they're set for the UFC 152 co-main event on Saturday in Toronto, but the rest of the names on this list might.
The flyweight division doesn't carry the most recognizable names in the UFC yet, but let us assure you that its Top 10 features loads of talent.
Here's a closer look at how ESPN.com staff members, including Chad Dundas, Josh Gross, Franklin McNeil and Chuck Mindenhall, see the division.
There's only been one mountain Benavidez hasn't been able to climb, and that's UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz. Benavidez has two losses in six years, both to Cruz, and both very close. Now he's at his natural weight class and is the near-consensus pick to reign over the division. Wondering what he does well? Everything. He's one of the most composed fighters in the UFC, and his game has no holes. In fact, he's the only flyweight you'll find in the pound-for-pound rankings at ESPN.com.
McNeil: The flyweight division's most fearless fighter also happens to be its most aggressive.
Mindenhall: The division was created for him to dominate. With his diversity and strength, he will do just that.
No. 2 Demetrious Johnson (15-2-1)
Meet the fastest fighter in the UFC. Johnson's speed is one of the most talked-about advantages in the sport. Add in the fact he's also extremely technical, and it's almost not fair. Maybe the only way to slow him down is to keep him on the ground, which no one seems capable of doing. Even when Johnson gets put on his back, he's usually to his feet before judges even notice. And by the way, at 26, he probably hasn't hit his peak yet.
Dundas: I'll consider it an upset if Johnson beats Benavidez, but not much of one.
Mindenhall: The second McCall fight showed that Matt Hume's guy isn't all flash and thunder, but that he's a smart fighter who can execute tactically under pressure.
McCall won't match the speed of his fellow flyweights, but he makes up for it with size and wrestling ability. He's a fighter's fighter -- the guy in the division (always seems like there's at least one) who seems to genuinely enjoy getting hit. McCall can be a bit of a slow starter, but he turns into a monster as a fight goes on. No one on this list is more influenced by the crowd, and his outright crazy side has a visible effect on some opponents over 15 minutes. He's had a bumpy road outside the cage, which could very well end up being the one thing that holds him back. In the cage, his ground-striking, takedown defense and boxing make him tough to deal with.
Dundas: McCall spent 17 days in jail in August after his arrest for driving with a suspended license. If he can keep it between the lines, he's a potential champion.
Gross: McCall may be his own worst enemy, and with competiveness brewing at 125, he won't do well in the long run fighting himself and the competition.
No. 4 Jussier da Silva (14-1)
The perception is da Silva poses no threat on his feet, but that's inaccurate. No, "Formiga" is no knockout threat, but watch him transition to an opponent's back without even needing a full takedown and you'll see what we're talking about. Ultimately, da Silva does need to improve his hands if he wants to topple the best, but his submission skills alone warrant this spot on the rankings. If the well-rounded UFC opposition can keep him on the outside, he's in trouble. But give Da Silva an opening to get where he wants and the Brazilian will be super-glued to your back. His only loss came at the hands of the man ranked right above him on this list.
McNeil: That high-profile loss to McCall last year still haunts Formiga.
Mindenhall: We know he can finish, but the question is, how does he handle the step up in competition?
Cariaso represents one of those situations where he really didn't need to drop a weight class, but the title path is more open at 125. He'll throw kicks to the leg and body like they're jabs, and he has good defensive instincts on his feet. He likes to counter with the right hand, which won't cause much damage on its own, but he lands it often and it's a rhythm disrupter to opponents. Only two submission wins in his career, so he's not known for his grappling, but this guy can be sneaky-good off his back. If you fall asleep in his guard, he'll take advantage of it.
Dundas: Losses to Michael MacDonald and Renan Barao are nothing for Cariaso to hang his head about.
Gross: Fighting at flyweight provides new life for Cariaso, who will never go down without a fight.
No. 6 John Dodson (13-5)
The hyperactive Dodson has said he'd like to win titles at 125, 135 and 145 at some point. Those aspirations might seem a little high, but 125 is certainly within his reach. He sets a pace that can wear out an in-shape flyweight (not easy to do), and he packs more power in his standup than you'd think by looking at him. His takedowns are actually incredibly explosive, but they often go overlooked because he rarely does much with them. Mostly, it feels like Dodson looks at them as a way to score a few points before getting back to business on his feet. He's fun to watch and has so much experience fighting talented, bigger opposition.
Gross: The potential is there, no doubt about that, but it takes more than that to assert yourself in a weight class.
Mindenhall: He was the smiling fink of the TUF 14 house. His height is a liability, but the dude's a rare combination of acrobatics and mean.
The only name on this list not currently contracted by the UFC, but it's likely only a matter of time before the 24-year-old hits the Octagon. He's been a menace in the flyweight proving grounds that is Tachi Palace Fights, with one signature loss you know he'd like back against McCall in 2011. A southpaw, Montague likes to take the center of the cage and stalk his prey. He trusts his hands and that makes him fun to watch. Good counterpunches and a high comfort level in stringing together combinations as opposed to single power shots. You will see Montague knockout highlights inevitably pop up in years to come.
Dundas: He figured to be among the first crop of flyweights snapped up by the UFC until the loss to McCall. Back on track with two wins, it likely won't be long until he's bound for the Octagon.
Gross: This confident kid will get his shot at the big time someday soon.
No. 8 John Moraga (11-1)
A lot to like about this dark horse in the flyweight division. Moraga isn't going to bounce around the cage like a Demetious Johnson, but he's got speed where you want it -- in his hands. This guy can unleash punches opponents never see coming and his power is undeniable. No glaring holes to speak of, and keep an eye out for a strong guillotine, much like the one we've come to learn his teammate Ben Henderson possesses.
McNeil: Despite showing off his striking prowess against Ulysses Gomez in August, UFC fans will soon learn that Moraga has solid submission skills.
Mindenhall: Great submissions, and he has been packing a better punch since losing to Dodson back in 2010. Verdict's still out on how he stacks up with the top guys.
Urushitani didn't exactly sparkle in his UFC debut, but he gets a semi-free pass for that loss, considering it was against Benavidez. That said, expectations are high for the Japanese fighter early, so a strong sophomore performance in the UFC is key. Urushitani is known for his counter striking, but he's actually capable of moving forward when his confidence is high. He's got a nice straight left he'll throw down the pipe, but watch that left hand when it's not being used. Urushitani tends to keep his hands around his waist and rely on elusiveness to avoid strikes. Sometimes it works and sets him up beautifully for counterstrikes. Other times, well, he wakes up to the sounds of a fired-up Benavidez running around him.
Gross: A veteran of the division, he failed to do much against Benavidez, further cementing the weak reputation of Japanese fighters in the Octagon.
McNeil: He's a much better fighter than the guy who appeared lost in his Octagon debut against Benavidez.
No. 10 Louis Gaudinot (6-2)
What a difference 10 pounds can make. Any fighter on this list likely knows that feeling from competing at 135, but Gaudinot might know it best. His particular style just doesn't bode well against bigger guys -- but it should be darned effective on smaller ones. Gaudinot is not fleet of foot. He's got a flat stance, and he's unafraid to sit in the pocket. At 135, walking down bigger guys just wasn't going to get him to the top. At 125, the green-haired Gaudinot is going to be an imposing figure. He'll take one to land one, and if he can catch up with the speed of the other flyweights and work a takedown here and there, his tenacity and bullish attitude will win fights. A Gaudinot-McCall fight would produce fireworks.
Dundas: Had the heart but not the size to be UFC bantamweight champion. His high-octane style likely makes him a matchmaker's favorite.
Gross: If you can get past the green hair, you'll see a hard-nosed powerhouse benefiting from fighting at his natural weight.
A blockbuster flyweight scrap between Jussier da Silva and Mamoru Yamaguchi is set to go down on Aug. 5 at Tachi Palace Fights 10.
Sherdog.com on Wednesday confirmed the matchup with a source close to the bout, who also stated that Tachi Palace has signed Yamaguchi to a multi-fight contract that is exclusive in the United States.
The bout joins another pivotal 125-pound affair on the card, as TPF flyweight champion Darrell Montague defends his strap against surging WEC veteran Ian McCall at the Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Lemoore, Calif. Additionally, former titleholder “Useless” Ulysses Gomez will square off with undefeated Drew Bittner.
Formerly the world’s top-ranked flyweight, Da Silva was dealt a setback in his sophomore Tachi Palace effort, as the Brazilian was outpointed by McCall at TPF 8 in February. Unbeaten prior to that fight, Da Silva won Shooto South American 123-pound title before beating then-Shooto world champion Shinichi Kojima in a non-title bout in 2009. “Formiga” made his Tachi Palace debut in December, outpointing Danny Martinez in a unanimous verdict.
Known for his superb striking skills and trademark Afro, Yamaguchi is the reigning King of the Cage 125-pound champ and a former dual-division Shooto titleholder. The Shooting Gym Yokohama representative has won his last six bouts, finishing five of his foes in that span by either knockout or submission. The 33-year-old made his Tachi Palace debut in his most recent outing, knocking out Kevin Dunsmoor in the second round of their May 5 clash.