Demetrious Johnson is set to become the most decorated UFC champion of all time. Not that you care.
A win against Ray Borg at UFC 216 will see the perennial flyweight king overtake the legendary Anderson Silva as the fighter with the most UFC title defences, currently standing mightily at 10 consecutive.
The 31-year-old from Madisonville, Kentucky, may not be the ‘chosen one’, like Conor McGregor, Jon Jones or the many that came (and went) before them, but that’s what makes his ascension as the pound-for-pound no.1 so remarkable.
Saturday, October 7 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Johnson has the opportunity to etch his name into promotional history if he can defend his championship gold for the eleventh time. A win would also see him tie Jon Jones for the second most consecutive UFC wins, with 13.
In spite of the monumental occasion at stake should “Might Mouse” win, Johnson and Borg are relegated to co-main event, behind an interim-lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee. Yes, interim.
This, although seemingly insignificant, defines the betrayal of Johnson by the UFC which has grown significantly over the past year.
Johnson’s battle with Dana White and the bantamweight move which never was
Johnson has always towed the company line and he’s never shied away from that, as he told Ariel Helwani back in June on The MMA Hour. “For years, I have been a company man and kept quiet, accepting fights, doing as they asked,” he said.
However, his refusal to once again pander to the UFC’s call and step in against TJ Dillashaw after Cody Garbradt’s withdrawal saw spiteful repercussions for the flyweight king.
Garbrandt was set to defend his bantamweight championship against Dillashaw at UFC 213; one of their biggest shows of the year at the climax of the annual International Fight Week. Johnson, although, had other ideas, with his intention to honour his agreement of defending his championship against rising contender Borg.
This sent UFC President Dana White into a seething frenzy, where he threatened to fold DJ’s flyweight division in order to force his hand. Johnson, although, stood defiantly in the face of power and refused to back down.
White, of course, would not deliver on his vindictive ultimatum, but it was a telling sign of how little the UFC brass regarded the 125-pound roster, willing to terminate many dependents at the snap of a finger.
Johnson’s PPV track record is often brought into disrepute
Do the UFC have a point though? He may have almost 117,000 subscribers on Twitch but his reported pay-per-view numbers leave a huge amount to be desired. His fight against Chris Cariaso in September 2014, reportedly drew 205,000 buys, which still stands as DJ’s highest figure.
That event, although, featured a certain Irishman who was making huge waves in the promotion and that provided a significant boost to the overall pay-per-view revenue, which is almost double his next highest of 125,000 when he fought Kyoji Horiguchi at UFC 186.
As a solo act, it seems that the numbers fall far from “Mighty Mouse’s” favour and maybe that is why the UFC, in the wake of ‘immortality’ as they put it, have elected for him to play second fiddle to Ferguson and Lee on Saturday night. It’s moments like this which remind even the most hopeful of souls that business is unforgiving and more often than not disregards the importance of history.
When you compare Johnson’s drawing power against the modern phenomena’s like McGregor, Jones and even Ronda Rousey, he fails to meet the million-or-so bar which has been set. But as far as the bigger picture goes, it’s certainly not as bad as its depicted.
Anderson Silva, the man who many consider as the greatest of all time, only reportedly broke that magic million mark twice as a headline act. His rematches with Chael Sonnen and Chris Weidman did strong box office numbers thanks to some captivating storytelling by the UFC.
Unfortunately, unlike both of these cases, Johnson has never had a dance partner as such, no Diaz to his McGregor, no Cormier to his Jones and because of that, it’s not hard to see why his success has been squandered as a pay-per-view commodity.
This is why, through it all, Johnson’s triumph signifies the caliber of a man who has time and time again, carried his own destiny without the figurative rocket strapped to his back.
UFC 216 will mark the final chapter in Johnson’s betrayal
Whilst Saturday night should be viewed as a celebration of his achievements, it will likely only further the nail in the coffin of the flyweight division. If DJ beats Borg – and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t – the lack of big draws behind him serves as a less than encouraging sign in regards to his future at 125.
His move to bantamweight, which the UFC so desperately want, that will happen. The closure of the flyweight division once Johnson has advocated his throne, that’s also likely to come to fruition.
The more you look into it, the more obvious it becomes that the betrayal of Johnson is much more than just the failure to recognise one man’s developing achievements and instead, a systematic failure which more commonly sees the hard-working and deserving cast into the shadows of the brash and greedy just because they refuse to play the game.
That failure does not just bestow the UFC, but it’s inherited by the fans who shun athletes like Johnson in favour of outspoken fighters, arrogant cheaters and terrible role models.
At UFC 216, the MMA world should celebrate one of the sport’s most clean-cut and honest characters as Johnson achieves his most substantial milestone to date. Instead, the only thing you will be talking about at the end of the night is who will be next to fight Conor McGregor, and that is the greatest betrayal of all.