Johnson, a 36-fight professional mixed martial arts veteran, made his name under the UFC banner, where he cemented himself as the greatest flyweight of all time in the eyes of most. He reached that feat with a record-breaking title reign, which saw him defend the belt 11 straight times against names like Henry Cejudo, Kyoji Horiguchi, and Joseph Benavidez.
While Johnson has continued to enhance his “flyweight” legacy inside the Circle, where he headed in 2019 in a fighter exchange that saw Ben Askren sign for the UFC, he’s been doing so at 135 pounds.
“Mighty Mouse” currently holds gold in the ONE flyweight division, which is equivalent to the UFC’s bantamweight class. The MMA legend reached the top at the second time of trying, exacting revenge on Adriano Moraes with a knee KO at ONE on Prime Video 1.
Having secured his place on a 135-pound throne for the first time in his career, Johnson is keen for comparisons about his skill and place in global combat sports to be alongside the bantamweights of North America.
During an appearance on The MMA Hour, Johnson noted that he no longer has any desire to cut to 125 and is looking to be a part of a conversation that includes UFC champ Sterling, as well as legends like Dominick Cruz.
“I don’t put myself in that category with (Alexandre) Pantoja, (Deiveson) Figueiredo, (Brandon) Moreno and all those guys,” Johnson said. “I put myself in the category with (bantamweights like) Aljamain Sterling, Petr Yan, Sean O’Malley, Dominick Cruz…”
Sterling: Johnson Could Beat Some UFC BWs, But Not The Best
During a recent video uploaded to his YouTube channel, Sterling discussed Johnson’s memorable crowning in Singapore, as well as his comments surrounding a place in the bantamweight discussion.
While “Funk Master” acknowledged Johnson’s spot on the top step of the all-time flyweight ladder, he was more hesitant when it comes to how “Mighty Mouse” would fare against the top 135lbers inside the Octagon.
“That guy is a special human being. When it comes to 125, he has to be the GOAT,” Sterling said. “And I know he said, ‘I want to be compared with the bantamweights at 135,’ like myself, Petr Yan, the O’Malleys, and all those other guys. I’m just like, ‘Dude, you’re good, but there is a reason why there are weight classes.’
“I’m giving him praise, not knocking him. I’m just saying, the times he has gone up to 135, fighting Brad Pickett, obviously that was WEC, Dominick Cruz… What I’m saying is, I feel like he would have a big size disadvantage,” Johnson added. “But his skill set is so good that there are definitely bantamweights out there that he can beat.”
As well as claiming his own superiority over Johnson at 135 pounds, Sterling also claimed that Bellator bantamweights like champion Sergio Pettis and interim titleholder Raufeon Stots‘ size would give them an advantage over “Mighty Mouse.”
“Would he actually be the best if it was myself versus him or him versus Raufeon Stots or Sergio Pettis? I think there’s some argument there and some pushback in terms of the size,” Sterling stated. “When we compare frames and sizes, and techniques, I don’t think Adriano Moraes was the most technical guy at 135. He’s good, he’s talented, but you can see the skill discrepancy and the speed discrepancy.
“I think he (Johnson) would do well against a lot of bantamweights out there. But I think, as you see, people are getting bigger and bigger, the frames, the skillset. Again, I don’t think Adriano Moraes was the best cream of the crop opponent that you can judge and go, ‘This was the guy I can look at and go this guy would pose a lot of threat if he was to come to the UFC.’ I don’t see him as that guy,” Sterling concluded.
Given that Johnson is planning on finishing his career in Asia’s premier organization before a transition to submission grappling, it appears that Sterling’s doubts will go untested.
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