On Saturday night, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson will look to make history as he goes for this 10th consecutive title defense when he faces Wilson Reis in the main event at FOX UFC Fight Night from Kansas City.
A win would put Johnson in rarified air because that record is currently held by arguably the greatest fighter of all time, Anderson Silva, who defended his belt on 10 occasions before he fell to Chris Weidman.
Johnson’s run towards history is even more incredible when considering the difficulty involved in even making it to seven or eight title defenses in the UFC much less all the way to tying the record at 10.
Ronda Rousey was stopped at six title defenses. Jon Jones arguably stopped himself at eight title defenses when he was stripped of the belt in 2015. Georges St-Pierre could have made history after his ninth title defense but he relinquished the belt and opted for a three-year hiatus from the sport instead.
Whether it’s losses, personal problems or just leaving the sport, only a few have come close to Silva’s record and no one has toppled it. Johnson has the best shot as he approaches his next fight on Saturday night.
“I think for any champion out there this is what they want to strive for,” Johnson told the Fight Society podcast this week. “Obviously you want to win the belt and then defend it as many times as you can and when you get to your third or fourth title defenses completed you’re like damn, I’m getting close to uncharted territory.
“For any mixed martial artist out there, there’s only been three guys, GSP and Anderson Silva that have walked on this territory and I’m the third guy who’s able to do it. I’m very excited to go out there and hopefully I can put away Wilson Reis and be able to get that No. 10.”
In the current era of UFC champions, Johnson is an even bigger anomaly by comparison to any of the other fighters reigning over any particular division in the organization.
While Johnson looks for his 10th title defense, strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk is the second-longest reigning champion in the UFC as she looks for her fifth defense at UFC 211 when she faces Jessica Andrade in the co-main event.
Virtually every other champion in the UFC has only one or two title defenses while many of them others are putting all their focus on the mythical “superfight” to try and earn the biggest payday possible while still holding onto the belt.
Between the difficulty of just winning 10 fights in a row added with the era of the “money fight,” Johnson believes it may be a very long time before anyone comes close to this record again much less breaking it.
“If you look at it, it takes time, a lot of patience and focus,” Johnson explained. “A lot of these guys they’re so focused on chasing the money fights and not defending the belt. [Expletive] Conor [McGregor] he’s been a champion, he hasn’t defended one belt once but he’s also making the most money out of any of the other champions out there because he’s making all these big fights and doing all this stuff.
“I think a lot of champions are focused on that, they want the money fights. You’ve got Cody [Garbrandt] going up and saying he wants to fight Jose Aldo and Conor, which is fine, if that’s what he wants to do that’s fine. He wants his money fights.”
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Johnson hopes the UFC will eventually shift some of their monetary focus onto champions like himself, who are dedicated to becoming the best fighters in history more so than engaging in a ‘super fight’, where the attention can be fleeting and will soon fade away.
Right now, Johnson sees that as the biggest gap between mixed martial arts and other sports where multi-time champions are regarded as the most profitable athletes on a roster.
“I think once the UFC shifts gears and starts paying the champions where it’s ‘hey you’re the champion you’ve defended your belt five times, we’re going to keep giving you extensive bonuses because we want to market a champion who stays a champion for a very, very long time and separate themselves from the class.’ If they put that person on that pedestal like this is an elite athlete,” Johnson said.
“You have guys like Usain Bolt, the track-and-field community they praise him as basically a track god because he comes out there time after time, event after event, 100M dash, the 200M dash, the 1X1 400M relay, he continues to break records. Michael Phelps, he was a swimming god because he’s a champion in his own events.”
Johnson won’t begrudge other champions like Conor McGregor going out and making the most money possible, but he’s all about making history and that seems like a less popular ideal amongst fighters in the UFC these days.
“For me, I’m a champion, I’m going on my 10th title defense, so they need to start compensating guys more that way for being a nine-time, 10-time, 11-time [champion] instead of just ‘hey you lost two fights ago but we’re going to give you $10.6 million but it does make sense because [Conor] did bring in the numbers so it kind of goes hand in hand,” Johnson said.
Of course, Johnson would like nothing more than to join McGregor atop that highest paid fighters list, but for now he’s content with his status as one of the greatest champions to ever compete in the UFC because 20 years from now it’s tough to argue against the logic that his records may still be standing.
“It feels good and it’s a lot of hard work,” Johnson said about making it to his 10th title defense. “I’m still learning. It’s a work in progress. I’m not perfect so I’m always striving to be perfect.”