The narrative of Demetrious Johnson not facing top-tier competition in his UFC career has spiraled so far and wide that leading to one of, if not the biggest challenge of Johnson’s career to date at UFC 227, now is a fitting time to dissect this narrative and, in the process, the legacy of the man known as Mighty Mouse. This is an undertaking that requires a thorough look at the validity of the narrative. In part 1 of this five-part series, we defined what exactly it is to be considered a legitimate competitor and a top-level competitor. The two biggest indicators are a fighter’s ability to consistently win at the highest level of the sport, followed by a fighter’s accolades in a discipline as evidence to support a fighter’s skill level in at least one area of combat. In part 2, we began to look at how Demetrious Johnson’s opponents in the flyweight division stack up in these criteria. In part 3, we pick up where left off, looking at the second half of Johnson’s title reign to date.
Kyoji Horiguchi via submission
Enter new face. The difference between a Kyoji Horiguchi for Demetrious Johnson and a Cody Garbrandt for a Dominick Cruz is that Demetrious Johnson schooled while Dominick Cruz got schooled. It should go without saying that Johnson defeating the new contenders in his division and prevented them from being a “former champion that he defeated” should not be a black mark on his résumé. In any event, Horiguchi came into this fight on a nine-fight win streak, four straight in the UFC and only one career loss, sitting at 15-1. Since losing to Johnson, Horiguchi has gone on to win nine straight, including four KO/TKO stoppages. The man’s total MMA record is 24-2, 24-1 not counting the man in question, Demetrious Johnson. It should be noted that Johnson didn’t just defeat Horiguchi, he dominated him. This should not be undervalued by any educated and objective fan of the sport, and certainly not a purist of it. Horiguchi is a second degree black belt in Shotokan Karate, which adds credence to what should be Horiguchi’s obvious expert level of striking visible to the naked eye.
John Dodson via unanimous decision
Following his first loss to Johnson, John Dodson would win three straight fights, including over John Moraga and Zach Makovsky. At this point, Dodson was 10-1 at flyweight, not counting the loss to Johnson himself. More detail about John Dodson and what he brought to the table can be found in his first entry on this contenders list in part 1.
Henry Cejudo via TKO
Enter another dangerous new face and also the man of the hour who will try to rewind the clock to alarm redemption come this Saturday at UFC 227. Many dismiss this win because Cejudo was young in the sport of MMA. Let me explain to you why this is nonsense.
- Cejudo was 10-0 as a professional and 4-0 in the UFC, including against well-tested names like Chris Cariaso and Jussier Formiga.
2) The following is perhaps more compelling evidence: In the same year that Cejudo lost to Johnson, he would lose a razor-close decision to proven elite talent Joseph Benavidez. And here is something that must be noted about this split-decision loss: Cejudo had a point deducted for accidental low blows. Without the accidental low blows, it is extremely plausible that Cejudo could have taken a decision. The point is, if Cejudo was too green in April of 2016, it stands to reason he would still be too green in December of the same year to face another elite talent. His performance against Joseph Benavidez debunks that.
3) Of all Johnson’s opponents, accolades have never been more glaring than with Henry Cejudo. It cannot be overstated what an Olympic gold medal translates to about a man’s character, determination, and, most to the point, ability to cross-over into mixed martial arts. I believe wrestling is clearly the greatest base for MMA ,but even if you disagree, I would think the overwhelming majority would at least place it in the top 2. So for Cejudo to hold an Olympic gold medal is not just this simple component that can be glossed over with, “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be great at MMA” remark. Sure, you’re right. It doesn’t. But it means that he has about 80% a better chance than the average fighter entering into the sport. And that 80% was validated with his performances leading into this fight. Fighting 14 times in the sport at the professional level and only losing to Demetrious Johnson and a controversial loss to Joseph Benavidez should help demonstrate that this particular fighter is and was indeed top level.
Tim Elliott (2) via unanimous decision
I personally believe Tim Elliott is a very talented fighter, but since he does not have a glaring win-loss record to support that, I will play fair and concede that this is not a meaningful victory for Johnson. This is the second such concession on my part, h ence the #2. Although, ironically, Elliott arguably gave Johnson the biggest scare of his title reign. It should also be noted that although this is the second concession on my part of unmeaningful wins for Johnson, it is not at the fault of the UFC. The promotion literally scoured the globe to find someone to compete with Johnson, and they arranged a tournament to determine who that man is. Elliott won fair and square. But just to keep things fair and look at the criteria I have laid forth in Part 1, I will concede that this victory over Elliott does not mean much for Johnson, even though Elliott is a state wrestling champion in high school and a blue belt in jiu-jitsu. If you watch Elliott fight, you can see how he blends his scrappy grappling with jiu-jitsu and the danger it presents. And indeed, it was a very real danger that Johnson encountered.
Wilson Reis (2.5) via submission
When I watch Wilso Reis compete, I see a man with power, very strong grappling, and expert jiu-jitsu skills. But since we are not using the eye test, which is subjective, I will concede that by the criteria presented, this win did not do much for Demetrious Johnson. For that reason, I will give half a concession here, hence the 2.5 number. The reason why I only give half a concession here is due to the man’s accolades. If I were to blanketly state that this win does not matter at all, it simply would not be intellectually honest, and here’s why:
Wilson Reis has a black belt in jiu-jitsu. Ladies and gentlemen, to date, the man has competed 31 times at the professional MMA level and never been submitted but one time in his career. That one time was to Demetrious Johnson. Let’s put that in perspective. I’m going to use James Toney as an example again because he is perhaps the greatest example of how having accolades in one discipline doesn’t necessarily cross over to success in MMA. James Toney is a former professional boxing world champion in three weight classes, but Randy Courture proved that meant squat in MMA when he took Toney down and promptly submitted him.
Now for those of you who think this win over Reis does nothing for Demetrious Johnson’s legacy, consider this: What if Randy Couture did not take down James Toney but traded with him and knocked him out on the feet? Would that mean nothing for Randy Couture’s legacy? Would you say it means nothing for Couture’s legacy? Of course you wouldn’t. You would say that even though Toney sucks at MMA, Couture beat him at what he is proven to be elite at. And even if it weren’t one of Couture’s top 10 wins, it would still mean SOMETHING. The same logic applies to Demetrious Johnson submitting Wilson Reis. In short, it’s not that Johnson defeated Wilson Reis why this win matters to his legacy. It’s how he did it.
Ray Borg (3.5) via submission
I believe Ray Borg is a very talented fighter. I can recall studying film on him before his UFC debut and thinking that he would be a future challenger for the UFC championship due to his speed, explosiveness, and tenacity. However, this is purely subjective opinion. Based on his résumé, I will concede that he was not ready or deserving for a title shot quite yet (aside from the fact that there was simply no one else for Johnson to face). Again, though, this lack of competition is only because of Johnson’s dominance in the division up to this point, having already cleaned out the division prior to this bout. Borg is only 24, though, so if he gets another title shot, which I believe he will, his résumé could wind up being much stronger. What I don’t think should happen, though, is detractors judging Demetrious Johnson’s skill, division, or dominance off of his latest opponent. Because I feel I have done a more-than-adequate job of demonstrating that there are only 2.5 other Ray Borgs, give or take, so when discussing Johnson’s opponents, let’s consider the totality of whom he defeated and the manners in which he did it. And oh, by the way, there is no more glorious manner than that in which he submitted Ray Borg.
According to the evidence submitted, only 3.5 of Johnson’s 12 defenses were not important to Johnson’s legacy. I have also debunked the myth that Johnson has not defeated an elite 135er, by pointing out he has already defeated Joseph Benavidez and Miguel Torres, who were both, by any measure, elite 135ers. In part 4, we will look at how Johnson’s career, as well as the flyweight division as a whole, is being compared to other elite fighters and other divisions. Is everyone being judged by the same standard? Or is Demetrious Johnson being judged by a separate set of rules? You probably know my answer to that, but stay tuned for the evidence to support it.
Contact me at MMALogic.com with any questions, comments, counters, or oversights on my part, or discuss with fellow MMA fans below! And check right back here with MMA News tomorrow morning for Part 4 of Dissecting Demetrious Johnson’s Legacy!