Do it again: Mighty Mouse defends belt vs Cejudo at UFC 227
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Demetrious Johnson has been the UFC flyweight champion for the entire existence of the weight class, becoming the longest-reigning champion in the promotion’s 25-year history. He has won 13 consecutive bouts and cleaned out the 125-pound division so thoroughly that previously trounced opponents are getting second chances.
Yet any discussion about Johnson’s place in the mythical pound-for-pound rankings or the annals of UFC history ends quickly, due to Johnson’s insistence that he couldn’t care less.
Mighty Mouse loves the practice of mixed martial arts, and he thrives on the discipline necessary to hone his skills. But that’s just about all Johnson cares about in the MMA game — and that’s basically why one of the greatest fighters in the sport’s history isn’t even headlining the show at UFC 227 on Saturday night in Staples Center.
During 11 consecutive title defenses of increasing brilliance, Johnson has become arguably the most tactically well-rounded and creative fighter ever to step inside a cage. But when asked if he is the greatest mixed martial artist in the sport’s history, Johnson dismisses the question with an arched eyebrow and tries to turn the discussion back to video games, his true passion.
“That kind of thing is all about hype and what other people think,” Johnson said. “I don’t really worry about it.”
The 5-foot-3 Johnson’s disinterest in his legacy has been underlined by his steady refusal to move back up in weight from the 125-pound flyweight class to the 135-pound bantamweight division, where he fought earlier in his career. While he has hinted there’s a dollar figure that could change his mind, Johnson would rather keep embarrassing the world’s top flyweights instead of chasing a superfight with bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw or former champ Cody Garbrandt, who will meet in the main event at UFC 227 in another rematch.
“I don’t care,” Johnson said. “That’s not my goal. I’m just focused on Henry Cejudo.”
Cejudo was knocked out by Johnson just 28 months ago in the first round of their much-hyped meeting, but the Olympic gold medalist freestyle wrestler is already back for another crack at the most unsolvable problem in MMA. Although Cejudo is only six months younger than Johnson, Cejudo started training in mixed martial arts in January 2013 — four months after Johnson won the UFC belt in his 19th professional fight.
The reason for this rerun is twofold: Cejudo is a better, more experienced fighter now — and Johnson would rather grant a rematch to a flyweight than chase bigger bouts with bigger fighters.
Nobody doubts Cejudo has improved in the two years since his loss to Johnson. He embarked on a worldwide quest to round out his game with trips to Brazil, Thailand and the Netherlands, and he has won his two fights in the interim against contenders Wilson Reis and Sergio Pettis.
Yet even the Los Angeles-born Cejudo knows he’s a major underdog against Johnson in the UFC’s first show in three years at LA’s most prominent arena.
“Even my fans might not think I can win, but I use all of that as motivation,” said Cejudo, who ended up flattened by Johnson’s blizzard of strikes in their first bout. “I burn it for fuel. Somebody has to dethrone him. There has to be a new story line. The baton has to be passed, and it’s my time.”
One flickering reason for optimism exists for Cejudo: Johnson is coming back from the longest layoff of his 11-year professional career. Thanks to an injury, Mighty Mouse hasn’t fought since last October, when he submitted Ray Borg.
Johnson dutifully fulfilled his promotional responsibilities this week in Los Angeles and then ducked back to his hotel room to play video games on his laptop. Although cordial to most reporters, Johnson has been actively antagonistic toward the media in general for years, repeatedly complaining about instances of what he sees as inaccurate coverage.
Yet Johnson also has complained about his paychecks relative to other UFC champions, apparently failing to see the connection between his level of fame and the public’s interest in paying to watch his fights. Johnson wants the prizes without playing the game, oddly enough for a relentless gamer who can get advertising and subscription revenue from his streaming exploits.
Perhaps Johnson sees the contradiction, but it doesn’t change the way he approaches his sport or his real life. He fights for self-improvement, and for money to support his wife and soon-to-be three children — and not for anyone else’s approval.
“I’m not going to go out and buy a Rolex (after a fight),” Johnson said. “I’m going to buy video games and a new computer. That’s just who I am.”