Demetrious Johnson shocked the world, and himself, with his KO win over Benavidez.
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
When Demetrious Johnson stepped out of range of a Joseph Benavidez knee and began his left jab/right hook combo, none of us had any idea that the back end would be so definitive. After all, the first fight between them had been so close, and it had been 11 fights since Johnson had knocked someone out. At the time, that finish, which took place on the regional circuit, led to at least some minor controversy from observers who felt the referee stopped the action prematurely. There was no such complaints this time around. Instead, the prevailing thought was simple shock.
Johnson effectively sent a jolt down MMA’s nervous system, inadvertently helping to shatter a misconception. When the UFC instituted its flyweight class, many were turned off by the mistaken belief that all 125-pounders could do is dance around and swat at each other. With millions watching last weekend’s UFC on FOX show and its sudden conclusion, that thought is mostly out the window. The little guys can thump.
But even if you believed in the flyweights before that, you might have doubted a knockout of such ferocity could come from Johnson, who has made his living as a finesse player who fills in all of a fight’s empty spaces with frenetic activity. You couldn’t have seen it coming. In some ways, even Johnson didn’t.
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"Yeah, I was surprised," he told FOX Sports. "I hope I can show more of it. It’s something me and my coaches have been working on. I just got to be able to set my feet, get in the position to land those strikes. When you’re fighting the best guys in the world, it gets more difficult to do it. I’m going to continue to work hard on it, and hopefully I can keep displaying it in the future."
At 27 years old, Johnson is still a work in progress. It was only two years ago when he quit his full-time job at the demand of his trainer Matt Hume. Back in those days, when Johnson worked as a forklift operator for a recycling company, he would sometimes get to work as early as five or six in the morning, work a full shift, and train afterward. Once, he broke his leg during a Saturday night fight, and was back at work on a Monday, cast and all.
So you can understand why he still views this whole thing as a fun adventure. Where some fighters view training camp as a joyless grind, Johnson is a renowned optimist who looks for a way to enjoy every moment.
"I love it," he said. "I love working hard and learning new things. When I go in the gym, I’m not always getting praised on how well I’m doing. I’m always getting critiqued, every day of the week, which is totally good because I want to improve. I don’t want to be content on my skill set. I want to get better."
Hopefully I can go 2-0 or 3-0 and hang on to my belt. That, and get all finishes this time.
Somehow, he plans to improve upon a 2013 which saw him go 3-0 and welcome his first child, son Tyren. Family has always been a big motivator for Johnson, who celebrated his victory not with a raging party but with a dinner surrounded by family and friends. Fighter lifestyle? Not Johnson, whose plans for his bonus are taking the check directly to the bank.
So how does he continue his forward progress? There is talk of him doing a superfight with whoever emerges from UFC 169 as the undisputed bantamweight champion. Within the division, there is John Lineker and Ali Baugatinov soon set to scrap, a matchup that could certainly produce the next flyweight contender. And there’s also Brad Pickett, who recently made the move to 125 and who once defeated Johnson.
Does any of that interest him?
"Nope," he said. "It’s not even in my mind. I’m just focused on myself and getting better as a mixed martial artist and enjoying the holidays with my family."
Johnson plans to take off about two more weeks from working out, and then he’ll slowly get back into swimming and conditioning before he returns to the gym. When he does, he might find that the expectations regarding him and the rest of flyweights have begun to change. On a dime, they can shift from finesse to power.
"I just want to have another successful year in 2014," he said. "Hopefully I can go 2-0 or 3-0 and hang on to my belt. That, and get all finishes this time."