The only thing more predictable than Demetrious Johnson winning his eleventh straight UFC flyweight title fight is Demetrious Johnson going unnoticed and not getting the credit he deserves when it happens.
It’s becoming the recurring story of the 31-year-old’s career. Win, rack up impressive numbers, clean out a weight-class, but struggle as a second-class citizen of the sport.
Not that it’s necessarily his fault. When they say he’s too small, that he doesn’t finish fights, he knocks out Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo and then submits Wilson Reis. When they say he needs more of a personality, he puts the UFC on blast and goes nose-to-nose with its president.
Johnson, it would seem, is doing all he can to get the attention and acclaim his wonderful career deserves. But still he waits. Still he plays second fiddle to bigger names and bigger fights, and carries the stigma of being deemed pay-per-view poison.
Chances are, ‘Mighty Mouse’ will defeat Ray Borg this Saturday (October 7) at UFC 216 and, in doing so, break Anderson Silva’s record of ten consecutive UFC title defenses. An even greater certainty, though, is that the shattering of this record will fly over the heads of all but the hardest of hardcore MMA fans and that Johnson will have a lot more to do if he’s ever to become recognised as an all-time great or, indeed, a star bright enough to break into the mainstream.
To understand why his upcoming fight with Borg – the UFC record breaker, no less – has been soundtracked by tumbleweeds and couldn’t-care-less whistles, FO have compiled a list of eleven possible reasons.
1) It’s a UFC 215 leftover.
There’s a feeling of déjà vu attached to the fight that does nothing to help either Johnson or Borg and owes to the fact this fight was originally supposed to take place on September 9 at UFC 215. Back then Borg fell ill and the fight was scrapped. Now they have to do it all over again. Great.
2) It’s been too long.
Ever since Demetrious Johnson had a social media exchange with T.J. Dillashaw, refused to entertain the idea of that fight, and decided to instead face Ray Borg in defense of his title, there has been a sense that people are just waiting for the next one. They get the reason why Johnson needs to do it and get it out the way, but they want to see him against other guys. To make matters worse, the getting it out the way part, thanks to a prior cancellation, has been a long time coming.
3) It’s now a co-main event.
In a sign of how time has passed and the fight has further reduced in significance, Johnson vs. Borg is no longer even considered a main event. At UFC 216 it has been replaced in that position by the UFC interim lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee.
4) Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee steal the show.
Worse for Johnson and Borg is the fact their shortcomings – in terms of being salesmen and in terms of a shared dynamic – are highlighted and emphasised whenever Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee are put in the same room and asked to talk s**t about each other. It’s then you see fireworks. It’s then you see money. And it’s then you realise Johnson needs someone to light his fuse the same way.
5) Ray Borg is overmatched.
This was a tough matchup to sell from the get-go, of course, on account of the fact Ray Borg, 24, is a developing mixed martial artist, as opposed to the finished product, and has already lost fights against the likes of Dustin Ortiz and Justin Scoggins. But what’s worse than that, in terms of flogging the thing, is the reality that Borg’s last four fights have all gone the scheduled distance.
6) Las Vegas mourns.
Unfortunately, Johnson’s fight with Borg falls on a week when nobody wants to see a fight, nor cares much for fighting. Evil Stephen Paddock, a 61-year-old terrorist with 47 guns for company, killed 58 innocent people outside the Mandalay Bay, a flagship Vegas hotel and casino, on Sunday night. It was a tragedy that not only changed the lives of many but also put the idea of sports and championship belts and records well and truly into perspective.
7) We’re in a post Mayweather vs. McGregor world.
Vegas is a funny place right now for another reason. It’s a funny place because Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor have left town and are no longer selling the hind legs off a fight that probably should have never materialised in the first place, but did and made them and the state of Nevada a ton of money. Try following that. It has also had a knock-on effect with subsequent UFC and boxing promotions, none of which could ever hope to match the hullabaloo that surrounded the events of August 26.
8) It’s Demetrious Johnson.
The more this narrative is pushed, of course, the easier it becomes to ignore and accept it as the norm. Demetrious Johnson, they say, is the wronged man. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves. We get it. Let’s all move on.
9) It’s “just another fight”.
It’s true to say sometimes ‘Mighty Mouse’ doesn’t help himself. “For me, as an athlete and a competitor who has been doing it for a very long time, it’s just another fight,” Johnson said on a conference call last month. “Obviously, if I’m successful defending my belt for the eleventh time, it’s going to be the grandmother of them all.”
10) What’s next?
It’s hard to sell a fight between two men when one of the two is already being asked about fighting other men in the not-too-distant future. That tells you the initial fight isn’t particularly competitive and that the man expected to win has other, better options in the pipeline. “It’ll be a good fight,” Johnson said of the December 2 clash between Sergio Pettis and former opponent Henry Cejudo. “I think the winner is next in line. Obviously Henry Cejudo just came back and got in the win column. Pettis, he’s on a three-fight win streak, and if he wins this fight, I think he’s the number one contender in the flyweight division. He has four fights in a row.”
11) Our superheroes are superheroes no more.
Unfortunately for Demetrious Johnson, seemingly a clean athlete, there’s a growing cynicism surrounding fighters and champions as a result of drug test failures making humans of men we believed to be superhuman. Jon Jones was called the greatest of all-time until it was proved otherwise. Anderson Silva, the other greatest of all-time, was also shown to be something less than what we believed and wanted him to be. This all leads to a reticence on the part of the fan; we don’t want to get too excited about so-called brilliance and greatness. Burnt too many times in the past, we’re now content to play hard to get, simmer our excitement and let the whole thing run its course.