Demetrious Johnson is a living legend for MMA fans, a fighter who is always in people’s top 5 Greatest of all-time lists. Looking at how good he is, this is possibly the most excited I’ve ever been to do one of these articles.
After winning the belt off the back of a quickfire rematch with Ian McCall, Benevidez was up next. A perennial title contender for the majority of his career, it was no easy task. After winning a split-decision, Mighty Mouse, as he is commonly known, went on a history-defining run. 12 title-fights in a row, all resulting in a victory for the Flyweight king.
This all came to a sudden halt in the UFC after a controversial decision loss to Henry Cejudo. Following the loss, Demetrious Johnson was involved in another bit of history. The UFC concluded their first-ever official swap between promotions. Ben Askren came the UFC’s way, and Demetrious Johnson went the way of Asia’s ONE FC.
It was surprising on the surface, but when you look at the possible star in the making they had in Cejudo and the sheer dominance that caused many casual fans to lose interest in the 125lb division, meaning it was a logical decision from the UFC brass from a business perspective. It was also logical for Demetrious Johnson. He had already cleared out the division, not just once, but twice and even maybe a third time. Also notable, ONE FC has presented the highest levels of 125lb fighters outside of the UFC. Being traded in the promotion gives a new challenge as there a lot of whom Demetrious Johnson hasn’t had the pleasure of defeating yet.
Demetrious Johnson’s early days of his MMA career was spent jumping around local promotions, collecting W’s along the way, even ending up in Alaska for Alaska Fighting Championships. Next up was a debut shot at the bigger promotions, taking on a UKMMA legend in Brad Picket, at WEC 48. This was one of only 3 losses for Johnson, losing via unanimous decision in his promotional debut.
He then went on to rack up wins versus the likes of Nick Pace, Damacio Page, Norifumi Yamamoto, and Miguel Torres. The Yamamoto victory being his debut in the promotion. Little did he know, he was about to smash all the records in, at UFC 126. Take note that all these fights were fought at 135 lbs. And whilst the greatness of Demetrious Johnson was evident, so was the height disparity. He was the smaller man in most 125 lbs bouts, so to be fighting at a weight class above, and landing 10+ takedowns in some fights is just astounding.
The next fight was where we have really seen the size difference come into effect. Dominick Cruz, one of, if not the greatest 135 lbs fighter ever. Demetrious Johnson gave a great account of himself although struggled with the size of Cruz. Demetrious lost via unanimous decision.
Introduction to the 125 lbs division
The UFC introduced the flyweight division (125 lbs) during the summer of 2012. The first-ever flyweight fight was between Ian McCall and Demetrious Johnson. In a fight that was razor close, Johnson was awarded the victory before Dana quickly corrected that at the post-fight presser by saying the scorecards were originally read out wrong. The result was changed to a majority draw. They would rematch a mere 3 months later, with Mighty Mouse coming away from the fair victor this time.
Next up was the first-ever UFC men’s Flyweight title fight in the history of the promotion. It was contested by previously mentioned Joseph Benevidez and Demetrious Johnson. The fight was a cracker although the gulf in class was evident. Johnson landing takedowns and out-striking Benevidez was to be a regular occurrence in time to come. At the end of the bout, the new Flyweight king was crowned, and it wasn’t just any old champion. This champion would reign over the division for 6 years, defending his belt 12 times in the process. Demetrious Johnson’s reign of terror was so impressive, the UFC made an Ultimate Fighter show purely to find DJ a title contender that he hadn’t already dismantled with ease.
Defending the 125 lbs belt
Upon winning the title, Demetrious Johnson would go on to face a stern test in John Dodson in his first defense. Dodson, a long-time UFC vet, along with Benevidez was considered as the best contenders in that division, at that time. After Dodson, Johnson would go on a streak of destruction wiping out the likes of Benavidez (for a second time), Ali Bagautinov, Chris Cariaso, Kyoji Horiguchi, Henry Cejudo, Tim Elliot, Wilson Reis, and Ray Borg to name a few.
Among this list, there are multiple time title challengers in Dodson, Benavidez, (a future double champion) in Cejudo, and 2 BJJ black belts in Borg and Reis. Both of the BJJ black belts were ironically submitted by the BJJ brown belt, Demetrious Johnson. Johnson had an Anderson Silva/Jon Jones-Esque knack for wanting to go and beat people at their own game. Outstriking and wrestling Benavidez, out striking Dodson, submitting BJJ black belts. Whether it was part of the plan or fantastic timing or even meticulous planning from Johnson and his stellar cornerman in Hume, Johnson always seemed to want to try and beat his opponents at their own game. Whether that be striking or grappling, a true testament to just how good he is.
The most notable of his victories is probably the Ray Borg fight. Demetrious Johnson was cruising in the 5th round until he did the unthinkable. Usually, when there’s a unique new submission, the influx of fighters trying it and completing it is overwhelming. The Mighty-Wiz-Bar submission from Johnson is a submission we have never seen before, and probably won’t again. As they were clinching, Demetrious Johnson picked Borg up in a straight forward suplex, finishing the move, instead of slamming his opponent, he switched grips mid-air, into an arm-bar. Borg landed the suplex sunk into a deep armbar, and whilst he tried to roll out of it, Johnson wasn’t letting go. Resulting in Borg tapping, and Johnson has one of the most astounding grappling transitions and finishes in MMA history. The set up to the submission was the most impressive part. He lifted him as if a normal suplex, hands clasped, but as soon as Borg’s feet left the ground, there was an instant switch, isolating the left arm and wrapping the right leg over the face of Borg as he landed, this made it more or less a perfectly sunk in armbar the minute Borg hit the ground. It left no room for escape, before or after. Borg, as well as being a black belt in BJJ, was also considered one of the better grapplers in the division at the time, see his UFC 207 fight.
Another notable victory for Mighty Mouse was Henry Cejudo. Cejudo as I’m sure you’re sick of hearing him say is an Olympic gold medalist Wrestler. Interestingly, he almost made the Olympic team as a Boxer as well. This made it an intriguing match-up. From the first bell, there was a clear gulf in class. Cejudo went on great things, even defeating Demetrious Johnson, later on. However, the first match was a ruthless show of clinch striking from Johnson. He brutalized Cejudo with ruthless knees from inside the clinch. Eventually dropping the Olympian and securing the TKO victory in round 1. Tim Elliot was up next; the winner of The Ultimate Fighter show that was set-up purely to find the miniature-killer, a fight that would be competitive. It was, to a point. Elliot was able to throw up a few different submissions and briefly threaten, but over the course of 5 rounds, it was a dominant display of greatness from Demetrious Johnson.
After winning a few more, including the already mentioned Borg fight, the flyweight GOAT faced his toughest test losing in a controversial decision to Henry Cejudo in the rematch. Cejudo pushed the pace and definitely threatened in the fight, but over the course of things, many believe Demetrious Johnson should have been declared the victor. Personally, I scored it for Mighty Mouse, but it was close enough to see it either way. Following the Cejudo loss, Johnson was then traded to ONE FC, with Ben Askren coming the way of the UFC. This move was met with a lot of initial criticism, although, in hindsight, it’s worked out well for Johnson. He has been met with equally as formidable opponents, and now is scheduled for a title fight, versus the ever-impressive Adriano Moraes.
Is Demetrious Johnson the Greatest?
So, when talking about the greatest to ever do it, there are some common names thrown in the mix. Jon Jones, GSP, Anderson Silva, and Demetrious Johnson. All worthy suggestions, however personally, I think it’s the man of the article. Demetrious Johnson. Whilst the likes of Silva and Jones are often left out due to the PED failures, DJ and GSP are often the last two remaining. GSP, whilst impressive, faced solid competition and defeated them all comfortably. I think the caliber of opponent Johnson has faced trumps the rest of the contenders, added in with the longevity, record number of title defenses, the list goes on. Johnson is a phenom on the feet and on the ground, and whilst some might not like to hear it, the lower you go in weight classes, the more skillful and technical you tend to get (USUALLY). Now, that’s not to say being bigger in size puts you lower on the list, but it does need to be taken into account.
A common myth with Demetrious Johnson is that the caliber of opponents he faced wasn’t to the standard of GSP, Silva, and Jones. That is complete fiction. The correct thing to say would be, he has not faced the level of star power that those guys have, but the skills and caliber of opponents are just as high, if not higher. The level of star power in an opponent doesn’t indicate the skill level, it indicates how marketable from a business standpoint they are, or how marketable the company wants to make them.
Demetrious Johnson was marketable, but the UFC didn’t know how to market him to the masses. How can you when there is quite literally no threat to the throne? In my opinion, because the UFC didn’t do it right. They should have been talking about the caliber of opponents Johnson was facing. The technical wizards that he would stand toe to toe with and out-class them in every single department, the slips and parries met with a slick combination landing as if you were watching it in a movie. All of these things should have been common knowledge, but instead, some think the caliber of opponents wasn’t good, purely because of how dominant he was, and his size.
When it comes to killers, try Benavidez, multiple time UFC title challenger. Dodson, a well-respected powerhouse at 125 and 135. Henry Cejudo, 2 weight world champion, Olympic Gold Medalist. Ian McCall, Benavidez again, John Moraga, Kyoji Horiguchi, and Ray Borg. All incredibly talented fighters, with almost perfect technique, all outclassed by a certain little man.
All in all, it may be a controversial opinion, but let me know your thoughts on who is the greatest ever, and if my reasoning stacks up enough!
Featured Image Credits to ONE Championship,
Body Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images
Come discuss this and much more at the Overtime Heroics forums!