According to some, the best pound-for-pound mixed martial artist on the planet is fighting this Saturday (April 15) at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. They, the some, the minority, mean UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, of course, yet the majority won’t be aware of Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson’s existence, let alone be conscious of the fact he’s defending his 125-pound title for the tenth time against Brazil’s Wilson Reis. And therein lies the problem both for DJ and the UFC in a year crying out for stars.
To start, some positivity. One thing that’s undeniable is Johnson’s brilliance in the eyes of anyone who has seen the champion in full flight. Small on stature but big on talent, the five-foot-three Johnson goes into Saturday’s fight with Reis having not lost for some six years. In that time he has mostly dazzled and dominated. He has defeated the likes of John Dodson, John Moraga, Ali Bagautinov and Kyoji Horiguchi, essentially clearing out a weight class, and almost redefined what it means to be all-action (and quick) inside the Octagon.
Regrettably, though, he has done all of this to little or no fanfare. It’s why many seem embittered if not surprised whenever Johnson is positioned way down mythical pound-for-pound lists or considered some kind of pay-per-view poison. To them, the ‘Mighty Mouse’ supporters, his diminutive size is not a turn off. Nor are they dissuaded by his penchant for a longer fight. All this means, they say, is more action, and Johnson, whatever his faults, absolutely provides that. Moreover, there are finishes on his record, too, first round ones against the likes of Henry Cejudo and Joseph Benavidez, which serve to exemplify the drama his naysayers accuse his fights of lacking.
In terms of the bigger picture, no other UFC champion, aside from women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, has more than two successful title defences to their name. Jedrzejczyk has four. Johnson has nine. If you can’t respect and put a value on that, there’s probably no hope for the man from Madisonville, Kentucky.
Maybe it’s a size thing. In many ways Johnson, 25-2-1, brings to mind former world minimumweight and light-flyweight boxing champion Ricardo Lopez, the great Mexican who retired undefeated in 2001 with a staggering record of 50 wins from 51 fights. No losses, one draw. ‘El Finito’, like Johnson, was a grandmaster of his craft. Technically superb, as close to perfect as a pugilist can get, Lopez could also excite and punch and score knockouts and do all the things other fighters in other weight classes could do. In most cases, far better.
But none of this could change the fact Ricardo Lopez’s height was five-foot-five and his prime fighting weight was just 105-pounds, and none of this could change the fact he rarely headlined major international events, was routinely hidden away on pay-per-view cards, appearing early, like a dirty secret, the appetiser to bigger names, and is hardly known outside of boxing circles despite retiring undefeated with a record that surpasses that of even Floyd Mayweather.
Johnson’s feeling some of this today. He’s the ‘Finito’ Lopez of mixed martial arts; all perpetual motion and technical brilliance; eleven straight wins; the riddle nobody can seemingly suss, much less conquer.
The encouraging news for Demetrious, however, is that his foundations (and therefore chances) are exponentially better than a minimumweight boxer from Mexico City; meaning, he speaks English, for one, and he is also backed by the promotional muscle of the UFC. That counts for something. Or at least it should count for something.
For now the 30-year-old champion can only continue doing what he has been doing since 2012: winning UFC title fights and hoping something, somehow, catches fire along the way.
Whether Wilson Reis, his next challenger, is equipped to help bring a title reign to the boil remains to be seen, but the Brazilian has at least won five of his six fights since cutting down to 125-pounds and was scheduled to fight Johnson last July. He has known about the title shot, then, for a while, and has had ample time to get his head around the exam he’s about to sit. Better yet, Reis, 22-6, has trained alongside Dominick Cruz, the only man to defeat Johnson in the UFC, for the best part of seven years.
“It helps a lot because Dominick Cruz talked to me about openings in his game, things that happened,” Reis, 32, told MMA Fighting. “He shares that with me. He fought (Johnson) for five rounds and he knows a lot about his strength and cardio. But the good thing about it is that Dominick gives us so much confidence. Training with him every day is such an advantage for us.”
Wilson Reis may or may not be able to replicate Dominick Cruz and become the man to snap the lengthy run of Demetrious Johnson. If he isn’t, which is more than likely, Johnson will match Anderson Silva’s record of ten consecutive UFC title defences and simultaneously eradicate another flyweight in a division fast running out of names to appear alongside the champion on a fight poster.
Perhaps then, once he’s the last man standing, ‘Mighty Mouse’ will be seen.