Demetrious Johnson isn’t MMA’s GOAT

Justin Faux Columnist

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    It’s official: UFC flyweight and pound-for-pound king Demetrious Johnson is the most accomplished champion in the history of the sport.

    Johnson, the first and only flyweight champ in UFC history, defended his 125-pound crown for the 11th time on Sunday at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, surpassing middleweight great Anderson Silva’s previous mark of 10-straight – a record most believed to be untouchable.

    In one of his most impressive performances yet, not only did Johnson dominate and demoralise a top of the food chain flyweight in Ray Borg, but he literally tossed him in the air like yesterday’s laundry and trapped him in a fight-finishing armbar before he touched the mat.

    The suplex-to-armbar finish, which looked like it belonged in a Street Fighter video game, not an actual prizefight, will live on in animated GIF form for the rest of time, but leading up to Sunday’s UFC event, there was practically zero buzz for Johnson’s fight.

    The history-making bout wasn’t even important enough to main event the UFC 216 pay-per-view event. Instead, it played second fiddle to a fight over a fake belt.

    This isn’t anything new for Johnson, of course. Over the past few years, anytime a reporter shoves a microphone in his face he has to field questions about his less-than-flattering record as a box office attraction.

    During Johnson’s five-year reign as champion, he has headlined four pay-per-views, three events on FOX, and a handful of times on the smaller Fox Sports platforms.

    Demetrious Johnson flips

    (AP Photo/John Locher)

    In that time, a ‘Mighty Mouse’ headlined pay-per-view card has only once cracked the low 200,000 buys ceiling, and he has also set the unfortunate record for the least watched fight card on the FOX station during the UFC’s seven-year relationship with the network.

    Not only has Johnson failed to connect with the fight-buying public, but he has also struggled to convince them that he is, as UFC commentator Joe Rogan claims, the greatest ever.

    The truth is, Johnson is outstanding, a true video game character come to life, but he has made a career of styling on overmatched opponents.

    The thing that will define Johnson’s championship streak and propel him to the top of the GOAT list won’t be how many scalps he can acquire, but who those scalps belong to.

    Johnson has knocked off 10 different men during his reign, all ranging from very good to great fighters, but how many are future Hall of Famers?

    Right now, I would argue none.

    Georges St. Pierre only defended the UFC welterweight title nine times – two fewer than Johnson – but you’re kidding yourself if you think Johnson’s 11 defenses are more impressive than St. Pierre’s run through the murderer’s row at 170-pounds.

    To compare, let’s look at Johnson’s title run compares to other all-time greats of the UFC.

    Demetrious Johnson: John Dodson (x2), John Moraga, Joseph Benavidez, Ali Bagautinov, Chris Cariaso, Kyoji Horiguchi, Henry Cejudo, Tim Elliot, Ray Borg

    Georges St. Pierre: Jon Fitch, BJ Penn, Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy, Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, Johny Hendricks

    Anderson Silva: Nate Marquardt, Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen (x2), Vitor Belfort, Yushin Okami

    Jon Jones: Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira, Daniel Cormier

    I can’t, with a straight face, say Johnson’s resume tops any of those.

    The only way Johnson can truly be recognised as the greatest of all-time is to return to his former playground at 135-pounds.

    That is a big risk for the 31-year-old champion, though. By his own admission, the biggest he has ever been was 142-pounds when he was nursing an injury.

    “I woke up weighing 137 (pounds),” Johnson told Fox Sports in a 2016 interview. “That’s two pounds (over the bantamweight limit.)”

    “Go ask (Dominick Cruz) what he’s walking around at, he’s probably at 160. Me going to 135 it’s like wake up and go take a s*** and I’m ready. Let’s jump on the scale.”

    And he’s not wrong. Johnson was undersized when he fought at bantamweight years ago and would be again if he rejoined the talent-rich division tomorrow.

    UFC champ Cody Garbrandt, and top contenders TJ Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz are all dangerous opponents for ‘Mighty Mouse’, no doubt.

    Without those names on his list of victims, though, Johnson cannot be considered the greatest of all-time.

    Justin Faux
    Justin Faux

    Justin Faux is a seasoned combat sports scribe. Covering mixed martial arts and boxing since 2007, Justin has been published on NineMSN Australia, Fox Sports, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and dozens of other outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @justinfauxmma.

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