There’s a certain standard that high level athletes are held to when they compete, regardless of whichever sport it is that you’re watching.
In MMA, inclusion in the UFC is enough – for the most part – to prove that you are of that higher level, and of that elite status that makes you worthy to share the octagon with the very best in the world in the weight division you call home.
Every now and then, however, we get a chance to see – in certain fighters – a talent, and a level of raw skill that makes the very same top level guys seem ordinary.
Over the years we’ve had the likes of Georges St- Pierre, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and several more who have broken through to that upper echelon of world-class ability, and now, in the year 2016, we have been blessed with quite possibly the most complete and perfectly engineered example of what a mixed martial artist should be.
Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson is the current and only champion the UFC’s flyweight division has ever seen. At 5′ 3″ he is one of the shortest athletes in the organisation and unlike his fellow modern day pound-for-pound great Jon Jones, he holds no physical attributes (as far as height and build are concerned) that make him any more threatening to his opponents than his skill set does already.
He has risen to and seen off every single challenge to his throne so far in his career, so much so that he has effectively killed off any real threats to his belt and shut down the entire division.
The need for a viable challenge to DJ’s throne had grown so great that the powers that be in the UFC decided to take their usual Ultimate Fighter format and replace it with a tournament of 16 champions of various worldwide organisations, pitting them against each other for a chance at Mighty Mouse’s crown, which he of course did not relinquish with his win over Tim Elliott on December 3.
Johnson is a very special athlete. His healthy attitude towards growth and his airtight relationship with trainer Matt Hume have been key components in his success, with Johnson showing considerable growth in all facets of MMA consistently even since his days as a bantamweight in the WEC.
His loss to current-UFC champion Dominick Cruz at 135 really hammered home the need for a divisional drop in the Mighty Mouse camp. Indeed, his speed was always a factor that set him apart from the comparatively more sluggish contenders in the division but when the opportunity became available for a switch to flyweight, Johnson made the call and dropped down, a decision that would see him go unbeaten from there on.
And it was the right call. His two losses at 135, to both Dominick Cruz and Brad Pickett respectively showed that the size difference was a factor (especially in the grappling exchanges) and despite the polished skill set DJ so clearly possessed, he made the right decision to hone his talents in the lower weight class.
It has been said many times that unanswered questions are what draw attention to certain fighters and at flyweight, Demetrious found himself facing the very best the game had to offer, with each man supposedly posing a greater threat than the last. Was the king to be dethroned by John Dodson’s speed? Or was it to be the power of Joseph Benavidez? How about the Olympic-level wrestling of Henry Cejudo?
Time and time again DJ came up with the answers to these questions, not just shutting down the games of each of his respective opponents, but adapting his own to excel in the areas they felt most comfortable.
Benavidez – in his rematch with DJ – was backed to mix up his approach from the first time around and try to score the knockout. Mighty Mouse, in response, floored the Alpha Male fighter in the first round with a well-placed right hand of his own, knocking him out stiff and making a statement worthy of notice in the process.
Henry Cejudo, who fought Johnson at UFC 199, told media members post-fight that his plan was to utilise his supposedly superior clinch work to wear down the dominant DJ, but come fight night it was Johnson who put on a masterclass in close quarters, relentlessly attacked Cejudo with a barrage of unorthodox knees in the clinch, getting him out of there in the first round as well.
Johnson consistently proves to the fans that he not only possesses a near-flawless skillset, but also a truly exemplary mindset, both in terms of fight IQ and positive attitude. He goes into each fight to prove to himself, his coach and his fans that he truly is a level above and regardless of whether it’s the first or the last round, he is tirelessly looking to finish, looking to excite and looking to capture the imagination of those who always gravitate towards the technical aspects of this sport.
He is cut from the same cloth as the likes of GSP, with his success coming in equal parts due to his in-octagon intelligence, his superior athletic talent but mainly due to his ingrained ability to win.
Of course, this is mixed martial arts and recent times have taught us that such things are not set in stone, but given what we have seen, and the steady level of improvement that is so highly apparent, expect to see DJ remain the flyweight champion for at least a while longer.
We are truly witnessing a special talent in this guy.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena