Mighty Mouse: “What else can I do to make fans like me?”

This week Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson has gone all Howard Beale and declared he is mad as hell and not going to take this anymore.

In a statement released to MMAFighting.com on Monday, the current UFC flyweight champion, addressed the UFC’s “mistreatment and bullying” and even suggested Dana White had threatened to “get rid of the entire flyweight” division if Johnson didn’t accept a fight with former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw.

“I’ve decided to speak out now as I feel like my values and character as a person and a fighter are being tarnished by an organization I’ve done nothing but sweat and bleed for over the last seven years of my life,” he said.

That’s the gist of it. As for the UFC, they’ve been trying to book a flyweight title fight between Johnson and Dillashaw to headline a pay-per-view event in August, only to hit a fairly significant stumbling block in the form of a champion who has publicly refused to take the fight. Johnson, 26-2-1, on the cusp of breaking Anderson Silva’s record of ten consecutive title defences, has questioned Dillashaw’s right to a shot ahead of Ray Borg, the flyweight alternative, and also questioned his ability to make the weight, having never before competed at 125-pounds.

Johnson, a self-proclaimed “company man”, is finally speaking up. He’s had enough. Enough of being overlooked, enough of being taken for granted, enough of keeping quiet, getting his head down and doing as he’s told.

Ask some and they’ll tell you it’s been a long time coming. Johnson, after all, has for a while now been out rallying his own greatness with a campaign team short on numbers.

“You look at Floyd Mayweather and he didn’t get famous until late in his career,” ‘Mighty Mouse’ told Fighters Only. “He didn’t get famous until he fought Oscar De La Hoya and beat him. Oscar was such a big name. Since then, Floyd has obviously done a good job showing how flashy he is with his money.

“Some people in the United States are finally starting to know who Anthony Joshua is because he had that big, amazing fight with Wladimir Klitschko (in April). Anthony Joshua is a very, very humble champion, so we’ll see how that transfers over. He won’t have to talk brash or talk a load of s**t. He fights very well.

“But boxing is a totally different sport to MMA. All mixed martial artists are under contract. When boxers go out there and fight, they can dictate how much they’re going to get paid. It’s more of an 80/20 split. Athletes get way more than the promotion. It’s totally different.”

From speaking to Johnson, his admiration for Joshua, the UK’s new heavyweight boxing star, is made abundantly clear. Above and beyond the fact he takes risk and knocks heavyweights out, Johnson respects the Londoner’s humility and his desire to let his fists do the talking.

“I like Anthony Joshua more than Floyd Mayweather because I respect how humble he is,” said Johnson. “I also like how Nate Diaz keeps it real on that front. He’s basically trying to bring down the illusion of the best boxer in the world taking on Conor McGregor. I like that.

“The media likes to make illusions. Gegard Mousasi said it, too. At one point in time everybody thought Ronda Rousey was the best fighter in the world and she didn’t even throw a fucking kick. Who brought that up? The media. Everybody creates this illusion. That’s why I stay even keel. I tell it how it is.”

If Johnson, 30, is indeed telling it how it is, the UFC and its flyweight division might soon have a problem. An outspoken, angry, embittered Johnson is good for nobody at this stage. Not when he’s one of the few elite-level fighters – a champion, no less – doing things the old-fashioned way, which is to say facing and defeating all-comers and staying active (and interested). But he’s chastised, it seems, less for all that and more for not drawing big numbers at the gate or on pay-per-view. Or at least that’s the perception.

“I’m not a guy who creates conflict or stirs up drama or belittles my opponent or talks s**t,” he said. “I’m going to keep streaming and playing video games after I’m done with martial arts, and if the UFC want to promote me that way they might as well jump onboard while I’m doing it. When I’m done fighting they can jump off my bandwagon and find somebody else. What else can I do in mixed martial arts to make fans like me?”

To be remembered, you don’t necessarily have to be liked. You do, however, need to be popular. Johnson’s popularity, up to this point, has been a by-product of his scintillating performances as a UFC flyweight and been restricted to those fans of the hardcore variety (the majority of whom respect and admire him). Breaking out from that, getting mainstream attention and popularity, is, it would appear, a tougher nut to crack. But, certainly, picking a fight with the UFC, a common opponent of many right now, is one way of getting noticed. So too is racking up big, eye-catching numbers. Eleven, by the way, is next on the agenda.

“I want people to remember me as one of the champions who was very dominant,” Johnson said. “Anderson Silva won all his title fights by knocking people out. He was a great striker. But, in my eyes, he didn’t fight anyone who was really efficient in all areas. I’m not taking anything away from his opponents, but you look at Rich Franklin, he was a stand-up artist, and Dan Henderson, he was a guy who had a right hand that got him through his career and was a very good wrestler and athlete. Travis Lutter was a pure Brazilian jiu-jitsu guy. The guys I’ve beaten in my weight class were well-rounded: John Dodson, Joseph Benavidez, (Kyoji) Horiguchi, (Wilson) Reis, (John) Moraga. We’ve both done great things. I’ve gone out there and finished a lot of guys. I want to be remembered as one of the champions who did it all.”

 

*** For more ‘Mighty Mouse’, check out editor Michael Owens’ interview with Demetrious Johnson in the August issue of Fighters Only magazine (out July 4 in the US, July 6 in the UK) ***