Demetrious Johnson had his status as the pound-for-pound #1 stolen away from him on the official rankings as Daniel Cormier sealed his second UFC title over the weekend but out of the two, who truly deserves to sit at the top of the pile?
Five categories over five rounds to decide the finest fighter on the UFC roster. The categories will grade both men on their achievements, form, and talent in order to decisively crown one of them as the very best example of a mixed martial artist on the planet.
10-9 rounds will be given for a narrow or comfortable margin of victory in a certain category while a 10-8 will be awarded if there is one clear and dominant winner between the two.
Round 1: Current form/performances
DC’s last five: Miocic (W/KO), Oezdemir (W/TKO), Jones (NC), Johnson (W/SUB), Silva (W/DEC)
The name that stands out on this list is, of course, the ‘no-contest’ against Jon Jones. He all saw that head-kick land, but for the sake of this piece – we’ll place as little emphasis on it as possible.
Elsewhere, it’s been all good for DC. His short-notice decision over Anderson Silva was understandably underwhelming and while ‘Rumble’ Johnson was able to hurt him badly, the manner in which he rebounded was highly impressive.
Two finishes against both Volkan Oezdemir and Stipe Miocic saw Cormier at this best so with the Jones fight out of the equation, a strong start for the champ-champ.
DJ’s last five: Borg (W/SUB), Reis (W/SUB), Elliot (W/DEC), Cejudo (W/TKO), Dodson (W/DEC)
I think it’s fair to say that the only time that Demetrious Johnson looked even remotely in danger in his last five fights was when Tim Elliot caught him in an agonizingly close submission attempt. Apart from that, DJ has been at his clinical best.
A first-round mauling of the former-Olympian Henry Cejudo, a complete domination that ended with an armbar-win over Wilson Reis and, of course, perhaps the most impressive submission in the history of the sport against Ray Borg?
Yea, we’re giving this round to Mighty Mouse.
Demetrious Johnson 10 – 9 Daniel Cormier
Round 2: Level of competition fought/beaten
DC notable wins: Alexander Gustafsson, Stipe Miocic, Anthony Johnson (x2), Anderson Silva, Frank Mir, Josh Barnett, Dan Henderson
Cormier has fought and beaten four former UFC champions across two weight-classes and has engaged with some of the finest contenders in the history of the 205lb division.
In winning the Strikeforce heavyweight grand-prix and then in his first few UFC fights, he proved himself against a number of iconic heavyweight veterans and while the two times he fought Jon Jones saw him come up short, he has still shared the octagon with a far superior level of competition than his adversary.
DJ’s notable wins: John Dodson (x2), Joseph Benavidez (x2), Ray Borg, Henry Cejudo, Kyoji Horiguchi, Ian McCall
Johnson’s resumé is a fine one, make no mistake. The 125lb division is by far the most underrated and underexamined on the roster today. The wins the champ has been able to compile over the years are very impressive in terms of the heads he has been able to collect at flyweight. The duo of Dodson and Benavidez have been knocking around for some time now and DJ has managed to score a pair of wins over the both of them.
Some other standouts he has beaten include Horiguchi, Cejudo and the hotly-tipped Ray Borg but in comparison to the achievements of the man who would challenge his P4P status – Demetrious falls quite a way short.
I’m calling this one a 10-8 round in favour of Cormier.
Daniel Cormier 19 – 18 Demetrious Johnson
Round 3: Ability and skillset on a technical level
As a former Olympic wrestler – DC had perhaps the best possible foundation to build his skillset off of. His takedowns and smothering presence on the ground are for sure of an elite level but it’s his work in the clinch that really does it for me.
His ability to mix striking whilst clinching is perhaps the best the UFC today and even when things are separated on the feet – his kickboxing has come on in leaps and bounds over the years.
Johnson, on the other hand, might just be the most technical fighter in the history of the sport.
There is nothing this guy doesn’t do flawlessly. It’s almost strange at this point but I’ve often felt sympathy for those looking to build a gameplan to beat a fighter like this.
Perhaps when he does inevitably move up in weight and deal with the bigger men at 135lbs we will start to see cracks in his approach but right now, it’s a solid round for the flyweight kingpin – levelling the scores heading into the championship rounds.
Daniel Cormier 28 – 28 Demetrious Johnson
Round 4: Record across multiple weight-classes
DC’s record at 205lbs – (7 – 1, 1 NC), DC’s record at 265lbs – (14 – 0)
Notable wins at 265lbs: Stipe Miocic, Frank Mir, Antonio Silva, Josh Barnett, Roy Nelson
Cormier didn’t just go unbeaten at heavyweight. Nor did he just defeat three of its UFC champions. He actually managed to record double the amount of wins there compared to his time at 205lbs – a weight he is most certainly a natural fit for.
At 5’11”, he’s a 205lb-r who just happens to be an absolute nightmare at heavyweight and all things considered, that is absolutely astonishing.
DJ’s record at 125lbs – (13 – 0 – 1), DJ’s record at 135lbs – (14 – 2)
Notable wins at 135lbs: Norifumi ‘Kid’ Yamamoto, Miguel Torres, Damacio Page
Notable losses at 135lbs: Dominick Cruz, Brad Pickett
This is where Johnson’s hopes of reclaiming his pound-for-pound spot take a massive hit. As we head into the championship rounds, he starts to fade as the big questions are asked of his CV.
His time at bantamweight was, of course, brief, but in it he didn’t manage to pick up a single win that would even remotely compare to any of DC’s. Both guys were undersized for their respective divisions – make no mistake.
If we’re going on the strength of Cormier’s unbeaten run, his newly-won status as the divisional champ, and the sheer calibre of the opponents he defeated, it’s another 10-8 round for the bigger man.
DC starts to turn up the heat in the later rounds.
Daniel Cormier 38 – 36 Demetrious Johnson
Round 5: Success in title-fights
DC’s record in UFC championship bouts: (5 – 1, 1 NC)
Cormier has fought in seven UFC title showdowns to date. His heavyweight super-fight win over Miocic last weekend could well be the defining moment of his career when all is said and done and with the asterisks that surround his pair of fights against Jon Jones – is it fair to judge him on the back of those bouts?
For now I believe it isn’t… to a point.
Still though, the uncertainty surrounding the legitimacy of his one (or two) defeat(s) is enough to give him something close to the benefit of the doubt – especially when you consider who he has beaten and his aforementioned success against the heavyweight champ.
DJ’s record in championship bouts: (12-1)
Johnson has been perfect in his championship five-rounders at 125lbs over the years but on the one occasion he fought against the larger man in Dominick Cruz back in 2011, he was handled by the legendary 135lb champion.
Now, I know Demetrious improved massively after that and in the time since – has gone on an absolute tear at flyweight, becoming the longest-reigning champion in the history of the UFC.
I was going to give DJ this one as a 10-8 round but upon thinking about it, the asterisks that lie over the sole loss on DC’s record, the calibre of his competition, as well as his success at heavyweight (especially in comparison to DJ’s 135lb title failure) leave this one at a 10-9 – but only by the narrowest of margins.
Daniel Cormier 47 – 46 Demetrious Johnson
Mighty Mouse may have clinched the majority of the categories – as well as the fifth and final round, but a pair of 10-8’s for DC were enough to seal it on the day.
Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not a case of Demetrious Johnson being the inferior fighter, athlete, or even champion – but like so many have pointed out in the past, the fact that he hasn’t yet truly challenged himself is a big factor in him not receiving the respect he so clearly deserves.
They might screw things up the vast majority of the time, but I feel like the UFC-rankings got this one spot-on!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena