On Saturday night (September 9), UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson has the opportunity to surpass former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva’s record of ten successful title defenses.
For now, three days out, they’re both tied on ten. All square. Equals. Beat Ray Borg, however, and Demetrious Johnson stands alone.
Some say these are just numbers. Good numbers but numbers all the same. They argue Johnson’s record of ten successful defenses isn’t comparable to Silva’s because the defenses were accumulated in different weight divisions against different opponents. Some say Silva’s opponents were tougher and that his division as a whole – middleweight – was as stacked as any during the time it was governed by the great Brazilian. But then there are others, those less prone to sentimentality, who believe Johnson’s reign, and the opponents he has defeated along the way, not only stacks up favourably but is also somewhat underrated on account of the fact ‘Mighty Mouse’ resides in a weight class prone to being overlooked.
Here, with a view to coming to some sort of decision, is a breakdown of the ten defenses racked up by Demetrious Johnson and, first, Anderson Silva.
Anderson Silva’s roll call:
Won title against Rich Franklin (October 14, 2006)
1) Nate Marquardt
2) Rich Franklin
3) Dan Henderson
4) Patrick Côté
5) Thales Leites
6) Demian Maia
7) Chael Sonnen
8) Vitor Belfort
9) Yushin Okami
10) Chael Sonnen
The pick of the bunch:
Rich Franklin, circa 2006, was on an eight-fight win-streak comprising the scalps Nate Quarry, Ken Shamrock and Evan Tanner, all of whom were finished inside the distance, as well as David Loiseau. He could submit opponents and knock out opponents. He was a tried and tested champion, the best 185lb fighter in the world, and was expected to give Anderson Silva, this unorthodox striker from Brazil, all he could handle.
But that never happened. ‘Ace’ was instead wiped out inside a round, having fallen victim to some of the nastiest knees ever witnessed inside an Octagon. Worse, Silva then repeated the trick, only prolonging the punishment into round two, a year later.
A decorated amateur wrestler, Dan Henderson reinvented himself as a hard-nosed mixed martial artist in 1997, campaigning mostly in Japan as part of PRIDE and Rings, before arriving in the UFC in 2007. By this time, Henderson had won PRIDE welterweight and middleweight world titles, and in his first UFC appearance he lost a decision to UFC light-heavyweight champion Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. He then dropped down a weight – to middleweight – and was immediately handed a shot at Silva’s UFC crown in 2008.
Going into the fight, Henderson was considered a serious test of ‘The Spider’s capabilities, especially given his wrestling background and the TNT he possessed in his right hand, the ‘H-Bomb’, but such proclamations seemed fanciful once the Brazilian survived round one, a round in which he was taken down and dominated, and got to grips with Hendo in the second. Once that happened, once Silva hurt and dropped his veteran opponent and then took his back, the thing was a wrap; Silva submitted one of the toughest fighters of all-time and made it look easy.
Chael Sonnen gets by on his ability to talk about fighting rather than his actual fighting ability these days, but, make no mistake, back in 2010, around the time he challenged Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight title, he was a formidable opponent, a wrestler seemingly designed to give ‘The Spider’ fits.
Since losing in a round to jiu-jitsu whizz Demian Maia, the self-proclaimed ‘American Gangster’ had beaten Dan Miller, Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt in consecutive fights, all by decision, and, best of all, taken to goading and bad-mouthing Silva at every available opportunity. He took aim at the champion’s fighting style, resume and his country. He assured him he could be beaten when everyone else, those seduced by Silva’s magic, failed to comprehend such a thing ever happening.
He nearly did it, too. Sonnen, on the night of August 7, 2010, the night he faced Silva, was one minute and fifty seconds away from reaching the finish line – going the full five rounds – and picking up a unanimous decision victory. Instead, he found himself submitted by a desperate and brilliant triangle choke in round five. So near, yet so far.
Vitor Belfort was a tough proposition for Silva for two reasons. One, in terms of striking, he has long been considered as dangerous as anyone who has ever set foot in a cage. And, two, he is Brazilian. These components made a firefight with Silva, one which took place in Brazil no less, all the more tasty and all the more perilous for the UFC middleweight champion. Fine margins, he had to be on his guard at all times. He had to be wary of the power in Vitor’s hands and feet, power that had previously ruined the likes of Rich Franklin and Matt Lindland inside the distance, power that once overwhelmed Wanderlei Silva, another violent Brazilian, in just 44 seconds.
In the end, though, thanks to a well-placed front kick, perhaps the finest KO shot of his career, Silva halted Belfort in the first round and cemented his status as the king not only of the UFC middleweight division but also, more importantly, Brazil.
Demetrious Johnson’s roll call:
Won title against Joseph Benavidez (September 22, 2012)
1) John Dodson
2) John Moraga
3) Joseph Benavidez
4) Ali Bagautinov
5) Chris Cariaso
6) Kyoji Horiguchi
7) John Dodson
8) Henry Cejudo
9) Tim Elliott
10) Wilson Reis
The pick of the bunch:
Joseph Benavidez is so good only two men have managed to beat him. The first is Dominick Cruz (twice); the second is Demetrious Johnson (twice). Chances are, if your name’s not Dominick Cruz or Demetrious Johnson, you ain’t beating Joseph Benavidez. It’s by now almost a flyweight/bantamweight rule of thumb.
Before losing his UFC flyweight title fight to Johnson in 2012, via split-decision, Benavidez had submitted Miguel Torres and Wagnney Fabiano, knocked out Yasuhiro Urushitani and Rani Yahya, and decisioned Ian Loveland and Eddie Wineland. After that loss, his first as a flyweight, he added the names of Ian McCall, Darren Uyenoyama and Jussier Formiga to his resume, and then, in December 2013, came the Johnson rematch, the chance to put things straight. Two minutes in, however, Benavidez was cold-cocked by a single punch and the split-decision of 2012 became a distant memory.
One of the hardest single-shot punchers in the lower weight classes, John Dodson’s fists have wreaked havoc on flyweights and bantamweights alike. Indeed, if you take Demetrious Johnson out the equation (and Dodson et al wish they could), the only other time Dodson has been bested was in a split-decision defeat to John Lineker in 2016.
Arguably the best of the rest, then, Dodson has used punch power and athleticism to conquer T.J. Dillashaw (to win The Ultimate Fighter 14), John Moraga, Jussier Formiga, Darrell Montague and Manvel Gamburyan, all of whom were stopped inside the distance. That Demetrious Johnson has gone ten rounds with Dodson, over the course of two title fights, says all we need to know about the flyweight champion’s durability. That he has then defused and defeated Dodson says everything about his greatness.
Kyoji Horiguchi was a staple of the Shooto promotion in Japan – their former bantamweight champion – before joining the UFC in 2013 and dropping down to flyweight. He beat Dustin Pague, Darrell Montague, Jon delos Reyes and Louis Gaudinot en route to a shot at Demetrious Johnson’s UFC flyweight title and even managed to push the great champion into the fifth and final round. It was then, however, he found himself submitted via arm-bar.
Still, a testament to Horiguchi’s quality is the way he has rebounded from the defeat. Now part of Rizin, he has won five fights on the spin and, at just 26, appears to be coming into his fighting prime.
An Olympic gold medalist full of potential, Henry Cejudo was deemed a can’t-miss MMA prospect before facing Demetrious Johnson for the UFC flyweight title in 2016. With good reason, too. He had UFC wins over Jussier Formiga, Chico Camus, Chris Cariaso and Dustin Kimura. He had yet to lose a fight.
But all that potential was null and void the night he stepped up to challenge Johnson. Less than three minutes into the fight, his first title fight, Cejudo found himself repeatedly hurt and eventually debilitated by a flurry of Johnson knees, thrown with Anderson Silva-esque ferocity in the clinch.
Who said flyweights couldn’t finish fights? Johnson’s demolition of Cejudo, a man never before beaten, let alone stopped, was a sign yet again that ‘Mighty Mouse’ was no ordinary little man with a big gold belt around his waist. He was special.