Dissecting Demetrious Johnson’s Legacy Part 5: Dissecting the Detractions

Demetrious Johnson
Image Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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. In Part 4, we took a thorough look at the standard Johnson is held to compared to his counterparts through a series of questions posed to his detractors. Finally, in Part 5, we wrap the series up with conclusions about the legacy of Demetrious Johnson by now turning the dissection directly onto the detractions against him.

Claim of Demetrious Johnson Success Stemming from Lack of Competition Is Unfounded and Disrespectful to the Sport

To say that Demetrious Johnson fought nobodies is not only baseless, as covered in parts 1-3, but it is disrespectful. It is disrespectful because this is essentially saying that every win on the records of Demetrious Johnson’s opponents do not matter. That it only matters if a win is over another “elite” competitor, which is subjective and also an unrealistic standard, or if the win is against a former champion, which is ludicrous and literally impossible in the flyweight division.

The term “MMA math” is bandied about a lot these days. But here is a new take on MMA math: If practically (if not literally) nobody’s win matters in the flyweight division according to this narrative, this, by proxy, is openly disrespecting hundreds of professional fighters around the world who compete in the division, something that I cannot imagine any purist or hardcore fan doing knowingly. Therefore, I’m making the assumption that the disrespect is unintentional and unwitting. Hopefully, such individuals will listen to reason and cease this train of thinking that ultimately arrives at disrespecting hundreds of fighters.

And here’s some more math: of all the bouts during Georges St. Pierre’s second welterweight title reign, Anderson Silva’s middleweight title reign, and Demetrious Johnson’s title reign, here are the mean odds of how much these champions were favored:

GSP: -462.6 Favorite

Silva -533.5 Favorite

DJ: -783.9 Favorite

Now, there are two ways to look at this. One way, and this will probably be the most accepted way, is that this can easily be explained because none of the flyweights have a chance against Johnson because of their supposed inferiority. But there is another way to look at it, which is that Johnson is seen as better than people publicly give him credit for and that is why he is so heavily favorite, not primarily because of whom he’s facing. Consider this: if experts like Joe Rogan, and journalists like yours truly and many other purists of the sport believe that Johnson’s visible talent as a mixed martial artist is second to none, is it a coincidence that same man has the largest mean odds as a champion favorite? Bets, I would argue, are primarily placed because of visual evidence. So while Johnson may be discredited by many publicly, the numbers tell a different story of just how much he really is respected and how much the eye test really matters.

Demetrious Johnson is not provided the same excuses as fan favorites, thus is held to a different standard.

I will provide the four most glaring examples I can think of, although there are others. But for the sake of space in what is already an extensive series, I hope these examples will suffice. For each inconsistency, I will provide the most recent example of what makes it an inconsistency. The examples provided are not the only ones available but are the most relevant, recent, and/or readily apparent.

Inconsistency #1: The “Can” Inconsistency:

To this day, many fans consider Fedor Emelianenko the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. Though the argument isn’t made as widely as it had been in the past, it still exists. Fedor has key victories over Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, and Kevin Randleman, and perhaps if you make an effort you can make a case for some others that I am overlooking. But even the biggest Fedor fan cannot possibly argue that the overwhelming majority of his wins were against competition that is less than that Demetrious Johnson defeated by any objective measure: winning percentage, manners of victory, or accolades in a discipline. The point being, even if the MMA community believes Johnson has defeated subpar competition, how is this not a bigger point of emphasis for someone like Fedor? The only possible argument would be that out of the following names: Joseph Benavidez, John Dodson, Miguel Torres, Kyoji Horiguchi, Ian McCall, Henry Cejudo, none of them mean anything to Johnson’s legacy in the same way Fedor’s handful of key victories mean to his. In short, the implication is that Fedor’s cans don’t matter because he has some big wins, but Demetrious Johnson’s cans matter more than his key wins, even if we cannot definitively prove they are cans by any objective measure.

Inconsistency #2: The “Early Career Loss” Inconsistency:

Stipe Miocic suffered a loss that is rarely brought up to Stefan Struve in 2012 by KO/TKO. The reason it is not worth mentioning, fans say, is because Stipe was green and not yet fully blossomed as a fighter. Meanwhile, Demetrious Johnson’s losses to Dominick Cruz, someone widely considered the greatest bantamweight of all time, and Brad Pickett, are used as evidence that Johnson couldn’t hack it at 135, despite the fact that it is well publicized that Johnson was not yet training MMA full time at this point, and never mind the fact that he was younger than Stipe and also very green at this stage, and never mind the fact that it occurred outside of the division in which Johnson has demonstrated is his optimum weight class. There is no objective way to conclude that Stipe Miocic was greener than Demetrious Johnson. Yet, Stipe Miocic is granted this out by many fans, while Johnson is not.

Inconsistency #3:  The Must Face X to Be the GOAT” Inconsistency:

More specifically, Demetrious Johnson must face T.J. Dillashaw for his legacy to have meaning. But this is not applied to all GOAT contenders, even when a possible legacy opponent is staring them right in the face. For example, Georges St. Pierre does not have to face Tyron Woodley, even after returning to the sport and opting to face whom most experts and fans agreed to be an easier, although larger, opponent in Michael Bisping. The argument for this inconsistency is that Georges. St. Pierre has earned the right to do what he wants because of what he has accomplished and whom he has defeated at 170. It should go without saying that this is subjective, as with the most successful title defenses in company history, if that doesn’t “earn” one the same privileges as anyone else, what does?

Furthermore, Johnson has publicly expressed interest in facing Dillashaw for the right money, whereas St. Pierre has shown no interest in facing Woodley whatsoever, even though Woodley is, in fact, in St. Pierre’s division and even though Woodley would, in the opinion of myself and that of the oddsmakers, be St. Pierre’s toughest fight of his career. He may not be the biggest name, but he would be arguably, St. Pierre’s most difficult opponent stylistically. Coincidentally, St. Pierre has no interest in facing Woodley. This is not to bash St. Pierre or question his legacy at all, but rather to point out the inconsistency of St. Pierre being granted a pass for this, while Johnson is not granted the same pass, even though it is regarding a fighter outside of his division.

Inconsistency #4: TheOnly Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones Are Required to Face Someone from Another Division to be the GOAT” Inconsistency:

The only two champions I can recall being demanded to move up to a different weight class are Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones. I do not recall hearing demands for GSP to move up to middleweight when dominating the welterweight division (Although fans did want to see a superfight between him and Silva, which never happened), nor were there wide demands for Anderson Silva, Dominick Cruz, or José Aldo to move up or fight someone from a different weight class. Therefore, with the exception of Jon Jones, Demetrious Johnson is being held to a different standard, where dominating his division is not enough. In fact, for many, it’s meaningless. It’s almost as if he is hated, or ignored, for being too good.

Demetrious Johnson is the only fighter in the GOAT conversation (without a USADA violation) to never lose in his division of dominance.  There is no Matt Hughes for Johnson. Certainly no Matt Serra. There is no Chris Weidman. No Fabricio Werdum. No Daniel Cormier or Stefan Struve. The list goes on and on. There is nobody who defeated Johnson in the weight class in which he dominated.

One last point to make here is that Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones are the only two fighters in the GOAT conversation who have never lost in the division in which they dominated. For many, Jones is eliminated from the conversation because of the USADA test failures, although the most recent case is still open and the first was determined to be negligence. For Johnson, though, there is no USADA. Just dominance and excuses from his detractors.

Demetrious Johnson is the only fighter in the GOAT conversation (without a USADA violation) to never lose in his division of dominance.  There is no Matt Hughes for Johnson. Certainly no Matt Serra. There is no Chris Weidman. No Fabricio Werdum. No Daniel Cormier or Stefan Struve. The list goes on and on. There is nobody who defeated Johnson in the weight class in which he dominated. Which means, had he never competed in bantamweight, it is a very fair claim to assert that we would most likely be looking at an undefeated man right now. Logically, and based on the evidence before us, that would be the case. There is just no way that fact just doesn’t matter without disrespecting an entire weight class and all the professional fighters worldwide in the weight class.

Demetrious Johnson is a natural 125er. When you look at his frame and body structure, if he isn’t, who the heck is? His performance in the division proves what shouldn’t need evidence: 125 is his true weight class. Plain and simple. How is it that requiring someone to fight outside of their true weight class could be a requirement for their legacy? What sense does that make? Let me be clear. I want Demetrious Johnson to face T.J. Dillashaw. I believe he SHOULD fight T.J. Dillashaw. But I also think it’s unfair for him to be the only fighter that HAS to fight someone outside of his division.

In conclusion, there is no objective support that Demetrious Johnson did not defeat high-level opponents. This was addressed in parts 1-3 of this series. In parts 4 and 5, it was demonstrated that Demetrious Johnson is being held to a different standard than his peers for no legitimate reason. I remain sincerely open to hearing legitimate reasons for why Demetrious Johnson is discredited in the manner that he is by so many people. My inbox is open on my Facebook page MMA Logic for readers to offer rebuttals to points I have made or bring to my attention a critical oversight on my part.

If any reader can make me reconsider any of my key positions, I will add an additional part to this series in the future, where I voice how I have reconsidered my stance on the subject at hand, or simply revise the portion of the editorial with a note on why it was revised. Until then, my findings are that there is no legitimate reason why Demetrious Johnson is not arguably the greatest fighter of all time. Whether he is the greatest or not, of course, is opinion-based, but he is firmly in the conversation for that honor as well as the current P4P #1 honors, based on the evidence before us.