Demetrious Johnson, often referred to by his nickname Mighty Mouse, is the current, and only ever, UFC flyweight champion (125lbs). He is also the best fighter on the planet, you just wouldn’t know it from the UFC’s and president Dana White’s promotion of him. Johnson is often treated almost as an afterthought, a fixture towards the top of pound for pound rankings who headlines TV cards (as opposed to the higher profile, more lucrative Pay Per View cards) on his way to possibly breaking Anderson Silva’s title defence record.
This is even to the extent that he got into a public spat with Dana White over the summer about a potential fight with former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw. After the man who he ended up being booked to face, Ray Borg, fell ill fight week for UFC 215 in a sold out Edmonton arena, the rematch was booked to take place underneath a fight for an interim title in an oversaturated Las Vegas market at UFC 216. It is puzzling as to why the general fight fan, or even the man who is supposedly his promoter, don’t seem to appreciate the top mixed martial artist on the face of the earth. Johnson deserves this reputation for three reasons:
He defends his title
Demetrious Johnson has defended his flyweight belt 10 times now, defeating Olympic Gold medallists, Jiu Jitsu black belts and the man who the division was arguably created for in Joe Benavidez. This is in contrast to much bigger stars like Conor McGregor, who out of four career titles has never defended a single one, and Ronda Rousey who defended her bantamweight title 6 times before being head kicked into oblivion.
The fact that he won the inaugural title tournament probably does not help matters as he did not get the “rub” that McGregor got in beating Jose Aldo and Georges St Pierre got from defeating Matt Hughes for their belts. He also was less promoted during this tournament as the UFC created the division with the intention that Benavidez (who has twice lost to Johnson) would win the title as a striker with some power from a demographic they have long lusted to break through with.
— UFC (@ufc) September 25, 2017
He is proficient in all three phases
MMA, at its core, is comprised of three phases: striking, the clinch and on the ground. Demetrious Johnson is proficient at all these areas, as well as the extra dimension of the MMA blending of these phases. You need look no further than his last three title defences, he got a TKO against Olympic wrestling gold medallist Henry Cejudo with knees to the body from the clinch, he dominated Tim Elliott on the ground from top position, and he comprehensively out-struck jiu jitsu black belt Wilson Reis before finally submitting him with an armbar.
Most top stars, for better or worse, are largely proficient in one area. Rousey was a judoka with striking that made you grimace, in his fight with Chad Mendes McGregor’s best strategy to get back up to his comfort zone was to throw possibly illegal elbow strikes and look to the official to stand them up.
St Pierre largely had a top control wrestling focused game, with his striking built around an exceptional jab, which isn’t exactly the most exciting strike for viewers. Jon Jones is largely a wrestler with an effective but disjointed striking game who does his best work in the clinch. This is somewhat of a disadvantage as the UFC loves to promote knockout strikers and if you aren’t that then you have to have amazing wrestling or grappling credentials like with Demian Maia or Fabricio Werdum.
Johnson doesn’t have any kind of martial arts belt, coming through school as a wrestler who then trained with Matt Hume and lists himself as a Pankration fighter, and at flyweight knockout power is hard to come by.
He finishes fights
Often when watching fights, fans look for someone who pulls out the finish as opposed to someone who cruises to an easy decision. Out of his ten defences, Johnson has finished six, four by submission. While some of these were late, with two in the fifth round and one late in the third, there was also drama involved with his defence against Kyoji Horiguchi, securing the submission literally at the last second, and submitting Wilson Reis after dominating the contest.
“All in all, Demetrious Johnson is the most complete martial artist on the planet.”
He is always looking for the best chance of the win, which in some cases means going for the finish such as against Cejudo, who he beat in under three minutes. This is similar to McGregor and Rousey, however, some of these finishes come after dominating his opponent from side control on the ground and his contests never feel in doubt but without the explosive finishing you expect from those two (or expected in Rousey’s case).
There are other reasons of course as to why both the general public and the man who is charged with promoting him are not too hot on him. However, some of these are nonsensical or a case of opportunity. Johnson is one of the most charismatic fighters in the organisation when a microphone is put in front of him. However, that is exactly the issue. He rarely has a microphone to be charismatic behind.
While he is a minority racially, he is not Hispanic, which is the demographic the UFC has always been after. He is a video game nerd, which doesn’t mix with Dana White’s loud, Donald Trump supporting brand of masculinity. However, this is a huge and growing market that the UFC could do with pushing into.
Johnson also doesn’t have an entire country or demographic behind him the way previous promotional darlings have, with Conor McGregor being Irish American Dana White’s obvious favourite and St Pierre and Silva having Canada and Brazil behind them respectively.
All in all, Demetrious Johnson is the most complete martial artist on the planet. However, his style and level of dominance aren’t necessarily the most crowd pleasing, and the UFC has never completely got 100% behind him on the promotional front which could have helped to make up this difference.
A more casual viewer will to some degree be put off by the size factor, which cannot be helped. Yet in boxing with fighters like Vasiliy Lomachenko this hasn’t been the case to the same extent. Hopefully, if and when he breaks the record on the 7th October he will do what he has professed a desire to do and challenge the bantamweight champion, which will either be Cody Garbrandt or TJ Dillashaw, who he already has the makings of a feud with.
This, particularly if it’s Dillashaw, may finally be able to get the best mixed martial artist on the face of the Earth over with fans outside of the hard core, and his boss.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.