Demetrious Johnson isn’t MMA’s GOAT

Justin Faux Columnist

By Justin Faux, Justin Faux is a Roar Expert

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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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    The Crowd Says (20)

    • October 9th 2017 @ 8:14am
      Gavin R said | October 9th 2017 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      His arm bar finish was nothing short of incredible.

      Its a bit of a catch 22; The UFC doesn’t do a lot of promotion for him but he doesnt give them a lot run with. Same story with Woodley. Now apl you hear him talk about is about lack of money and promotion. Hes not risking anything in his fights. If he wants to be considered in the GOAT discussion he needs to step up and fight TJ.

      • Columnist

        October 9th 2017 @ 8:31am
        Justin Faux said | October 9th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

        For the UFC to promote Demetrious Johnson, I feel they need to step out of their comfort zone. The UFC knows one way to promote a fighter – the Ronda Rousey/Conor McGregor rocket treatment – and if you don’t fit that mold of a supestar then you don’t get that treatment.

        I believe there is a way to promote DJ. He is an avid gamer and streams on Twitch several times a week. Why isn’t he at E3 every year? Why isn’t he at game launches? Why isn’t he getting write-ups on game sites?

        Perhaps it’s because they don’t want a piece of DJ. But the more likely answer is because nobody within the UFC has really tried these routes to promote him.

        • Roar Guru

          October 9th 2017 @ 10:29am
          Edward L'Orange said | October 9th 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

          The UFC are failing with their promotion in a number of ways, but I think the biggest issue for DJ is that he doesn’t get along with Dana White very well. And that’s not DJ’s problem, it Dana’s. White needs to step aside, it could be argued, for the UFC start building other stars.

          The Kevin Lee situation demonstrates the UFC’s problems. They wanted so badly for him to win because he can talk “smack” and is charismatic: never mind that he’s not yet in the top level of the sport. And then we have Ferguson dressing in suits and forcing out combative statements that really don’t suit him well.

          What we’re left with are these “superfight” matchups like GSP v. Bisping, which may interesting, but ruins the proper run of the rankings: where is Whittaker’s title shot? We have an interim champion, but the retired guy gets the title shot.

          Anyway, DJ is the cursed by his size. His skills are incredible, he does things I’ve never seen, but men’s flyweight just doesn’t have competition for it to be tested properly. I’d love to see him fight TJ or Cody, but a catchweight of 130 would be more fair to Mighty Mouse.

          • Columnist

            October 9th 2017 @ 1:09pm
            Justin Faux said | October 9th 2017 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

            Not getting along with Dana White isn’t on DJ’s list of problems. Dana hated Tito Ortiz so badly that they were supposed to actually fight each other in an exhibition boxing match, but he was still his biggest draw for years.

            Jon Jones, too, has butted heads with Dana White and that never hurt him. If anything, Johnson’s public spat with Dana earlier this year helped his popularity, not hindered it.

            • Roar Guru

              October 9th 2017 @ 3:43pm
              Edward L'Orange said | October 9th 2017 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

              No I agree, it’s not DJ’s problem, it’s Dana’s. But you could argue that, while it doesn’t hurt his popularity, it could hurt his promotion on the UFC level.

              • October 14th 2017 @ 1:49am
                Mat said | October 14th 2017 @ 1:49am | ! Report

                UFC have handed out plenty of FotN and PotN awards to lighter weight fights these last few months but they’ll throw little in the way of promotional weight behind any of then, guaranteed.

    • October 9th 2017 @ 9:03am
      Erik said | October 9th 2017 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      Mighty mouse is one of the greatest of all time. The fact that ufc , his promoter, isn’t doing thier job to promote sales of the greatest fighter of his time shouldn’t take away from his accomplishments. Quit confusing box sales with skill and sport…

      • Columnist

        October 9th 2017 @ 1:15pm
        Justin Faux said | October 9th 2017 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

        I didn’t argue that his lack of popularity takes away from his argument for GOAT. I said his list of victims needs to include others that are the best of his era to be considered the best ever.

    • October 9th 2017 @ 12:29pm
      Alex L said | October 9th 2017 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

      Bit harsh to say Johnson needs to go up a division and fight the top guys there; GSP stayed put at Welterweight his entire career, and Anderson Silva only went up for a few gimme fights. The only guy who consistently went up in weight classes was BJ Penn and I don’t think it did him a lot of good — even though he was probably the best American lightweight for a long long time he’s rarely credited as more than a footnote.

      Looking at their actual records, I think Mighty Mouse has as good an opposition list as anyone — a lot of the guys Silva and GSP fought were pretty one dimensional by the standards of elite MMA fighters.

      • Columnist

        October 9th 2017 @ 1:11pm
        Justin Faux said | October 9th 2017 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

        The difference between Mighty Mouse and St. Pierre is that, while he did refuse to make the move to middleweight, he lorded over a much better roster of fighters.

        • October 9th 2017 @ 10:03pm
          Alex L said | October 9th 2017 @ 10:03pm | ! Report

          Hard to agree with that, the Welterweight roster when GSP was king was comprised mostly of quite limited fighters.

          • October 14th 2017 @ 1:53am
            Mat said | October 14th 2017 @ 1:53am | ! Report

            And he got plugged by Serra.

          • October 14th 2017 @ 11:59am
            Gavin R said | October 14th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report

            Surely you arent serious.
            Matt Hughes – Hall of Fame
            BJ Penn – Hall of Fame
            Nick Diaz – Former Welterweight Champion
            Sean Sherk – The fittest person to ever fight in the UFC

            And GSP slipped before Serra jumped him.

            GSP is certainly a future hall of famer, too

            • October 15th 2017 @ 3:11pm
              Alex L said | October 15th 2017 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

              2 lightweights, Diaz never won a significant title, and Matt Hughes who achieved a lot with a very narrow set of skills.

    • October 9th 2017 @ 12:43pm
      jimmy said | October 9th 2017 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

      It seems counter-intuitive to me that Dana purposely “doesn’t do a lot of promotion” for DJ. Why would he not want to support his pound-for-pound champ? I don’t believe the idea that because he “doesn’t get along” with Dana, that Dana wouldn’t be trying to promote him. It makes no sense form a business perspective for Dana to not want DJ to succeed and be a household name.

      My feeling is that the biggest hurdle for DJ to overcome to being a more popular fighter, lies in part of the argument Justin is making. DJ’s fights just aren’t that entertaining. His opponents aren’t at his level, so cant give him those amazing fights which make fans want to watch him. The other ‘greatest’ UFC fighters have all had stand-out great fights (eg. GSP vs Hughes or Silva vs Sonnen), or rivalries (eg. Jones and Cormier). The same is true for UFC’s other big stars, like Conor (vs Diaz) and Bisping with his out-of-nowhere knock out of Rockhold.

      Its not just their mouth and Dana’s promotion that gets these other top stars over the line, its the fights themselves, and DJ just hasnt had enough great fights to get the attention he deserves. That’s not his fault, by the way. He can only fight the guy in front of him, but to Justin’s point, its a shame he hasn’t had better competition over the years.

    • Columnist

      October 9th 2017 @ 1:13pm
      Justin Faux said | October 9th 2017 @ 1:13pm | ! Report

      I agree with everything you said there beside the part where you said DJ was boring. I disagree so strongly on that one. Sure, he is in one-sided matches, but personally, I have never been bored watching him compete.

      • October 12th 2017 @ 10:58pm
        Blake said | October 12th 2017 @ 10:58pm | ! Report

        The reason why a lot of the time smaller guys like Mighty Mouse are considered boring is because of the perceived lack of impact and power in the strikes etc. At the opposite end of the spectrum Heavyweights can end the fight with one punch. Its unfair as the smaller guys often look like video game characters and do amazing stuff, but it kinda can get boring knowing that yeah that looks great but who’s going to get the decision…no edge of seat stuff, more like a sparring session in the gym. Not always of course, but it happens.

        • October 14th 2017 @ 1:47am
          Mat said | October 14th 2017 @ 1:47am | ! Report

          I’d sooner take a 5 round decision featuring active fighters going back and forth, than another wheezing affair like Lewis v Hunt.

          Hell 5 of the last 7 FotN, and 9 of the last 16 PotN awards were given to fighters at lightweight or lighter.

    • Roar Guru

      October 9th 2017 @ 7:48pm
      Riley Pettigrew said | October 9th 2017 @ 7:48pm | ! Report

      I completely agree Justin, great write-up. I believe Mighty is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC but as you mention he is being held back as there are no other marketable fighters in the flyweight division who could challenge him. The only fighters in flyweight I think could help inflate DJ’s status are Joseph Benavidez and Sergio Pettis but they are still nowhere near as big as the likes of Garbrandt, Cruz, TJ, et al in bantamweight. The only way DJ will become the GOAT is if he fights a big-name opponent which unfortunately is not likely to happen.

      I find it kind of similar to the women’s bantamweight where Ronda Rousey was for a long-time the undisputed champion and the only marketable fighter in women’s UFC however, since Holly Holm gained the belt the likes of Zingano, Shevchenko, Correia and of course Amanda Nunes have built names for themselves making women’s bantam more respectable.

      • October 14th 2017 @ 1:23am
        Mat said | October 14th 2017 @ 1:23am | ! Report

        Correia and respectable?

        lol

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