The narrative around 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 assessed the competition level of the second half of Johnson’s title reign to date. Today, in Part 4, we take a thorough look at the standard Johnson is held to compared to his counterparts.
Before beginning this series, I shared a post on an MMA group with over 20,000 members asking its members the following questions. As an open-minded individual, I genuinely wanted to know if I was missing something about this narrative, so I provided an open forum of ideas to listen to and address in this article, even leaving open the possibility of being swayed. Immediately following each question, I will list my findings and conclusions. These were the questions asked:
1. Demetrious Johnson has faced credentialed professional fighters at the highest level of the sport with black belts in jiu-jitsu, Division I wrestling (or higher), esteemed camps, miscellaneous credentials, and most importantly, the majority were on impressive win streaks. What exactly is your logic in determining that they are not legitimate?
Findings: No legitimate reason. The only reason submitted, and that I have seen elsewhere, is that none of Johnson’s victims are former champions. The logical flaw here was addressed in part 2 and will be addressed at this present moment: The reason they are not former champions is because they are in a new division where there has only been one champion, who just so happens to be the man in question.
By following this line of reasoning, there are only two possible conclusions that can be drawn: 1) Demetrious Johnson must lose to someone and win his belt back so that he can say he defeated a former champion. I hope you, my kind reader, can see the absurdity in that reasoning. 2) Because the division is relatively new to the UFC, and the challengers were unable to become former champions, detractors claim essentially are claiming that is impossible for Demetrious Johnson to be the GOAT, even though his division is equally recognized by the UFC as a legitimate weight class, which brings me to question #2:
2. Is the 125-pound division the only division judged as inferior to the other divisions in the UFC, including the 135 division, which has historically had fighters cross over between divisions?
Findings: I have often seen people stating that the 125-pound division is weak, saying things such as, “None of the top 125ers would be successful at 135.” First of all, this is a subjective opinion that is strictly theoretical. We have no actual idea how Henry Cejudo, Sergio Pettis, or even the majority of the 125ers in the top 15 would do at 135. Am I saying they would be successful at bantamweight? No, I am not. I am saying I do not know the answer to that any more than anyone else. For one thing, we do not know everyone’s walking around weight. Some fighters may actually be better at bantamweight with an increase of power and general health due to eliminating a lot of weight cutting. The point is, this claim is completely subjective, which is something I am avoiding in this series to keep things fair. I am disregarding my subjective observations equally as much as those who are attempting to discredit Johnson.
Second, it is demonstrably false that none of the 125ers would do well at bantamweight, as proven with Joseph Benavidez who only lost to Dominick Cruz at bantamweight as covered in more detail in part 2.
3. If the heavyweight division have so many fights end with raw punching power to the point where the longest title streak was only three fights, how is it that this division is seen as having more skill or more prestige than the 125-pound division, particularly to the point where many see three title defenses as more meaningful than 12, when both divisions are at the highest level of the sport and the 125 division usually requires more skill?
Findings: The argument I came across for this question was that there are several 125ers walking planet earth, so mathematically, there are more 125ers who have skill than men who weigh 206 and above. Another argument actually said the opposite. That because there are so few men at 125, it is easier to stand out as a big fish in a small earthly pond.
For the first argument, which states that there are too many 125ers, this has nothing to do with discrediting Johnson because there are also many 135ers, 145ers, 155ers, 170ers, and 180ers walking Earth. In fact, there are much more grown men at those weights than at 125, I would argue. For the second argument, it lacks any evidence that there are much more 135-pound men on Earth than 125-pound men.
But both arguments fail to address the heavyweight component of my question. My question is about the skill level, not the quantity of 125-pound men walking planet Earth. Regardless of how many 125-pound men there are or aren’t on Earth, the fact of the matter remains: the heavyweight division is proven to have more flash bang knockouts, which is less skill-driven and thus carries a higher capacity for fluke. Therefore, it is illogical for this division to be more prestigious than the flyweight division from a skill standpoint. Please note: I am not arguing that it is less prestigious, merely pointing out that it is less skill-driven, and yet is illogically treated as more prestigious by the MMA community.
4. Do you not consider Joseph Benavidez, Kyoji Horiguchi, Prime 125 John Dodson, Miguel Torres, Henry Cejudo, and Ian McCall major legacy victories? (I can see McCall as borderline, but do consider how he was looking at the time of this fight. I can also see an argument for Cejudo being borderline since he was young in the sport, but the man is an Olympic gold medalist and months later was in a razor-close fight with Joseph Benavidez, further validating that he is top-tier)
Findings: This question received more of the “none of them are former champions” argument, which was already addressed in question #2. This is the only explanation I encountered for why these wins are minimized.
5. Of Demetrious Johnson’s 11 defenses, can you name four fighters who were not deserving of a title shot at the time?
Findings: I came across no responses for this question. In parts 1 and 2, you will find a breakdown of each of Johnson’s performances. The competitors whom one can argue were not deserving are Wilson Reis, Ray Borg, and Chris Cariaso. Tim Elliot was deserving because he won a tournament fair and square, consisting of flyweight champions across the entire globe. Everyone else was worthy of being in the cage with Johnson for reasons discussed in part 2.
With each of the above five questions being insufficiently addressed by the Johnson detractors, in Part 5, I make my final conclusions about the legacy of Demetrious Johnson. Contact me at MMA Logic with any questions, comments, counters, or oversights on my part.