UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson is keen to stress why he is different from other champions and stars on the UFC roster as the clean-living family man has the poster boy image you would think the promotion would be desperate to capitalise on.
“I’m a straight up and honest dude. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m a company guy, I don’t bash my company, you know, I don’t bash my opponents. Never missed weight. Never done any drugs. Not at home beating my wife, crashing my car, doing cocaine, all that stuff. I don’t ask for a lot.
“All I do is go home, drink beer and play video games. That’s all I do…. And change diapers.”
These were the words of Johnson following his impressive and historic victory over Wilson Reis at UFC on Fox 24 in Kansas City. A tenth title defence for the dominant flyweight champion would see him tie the record held by Anderson Silva for the most consecutive title defences, yet there was no big PPV fanfare, average build-up and once again, a feeling that the UFC has missed the boat entirely with one of the greatest natural talents that we will see in the sport of MMA.
As alluded to in Johnson’s words, while many of his contemporaries struggle with personal or professional issues away from the Octagon, “Mighty Mouse” has been nothing other than an exemplary champion who has been happy to face all challengers put in front of him since winning the belt in 2012. Staying active with ten defences in five years, Johnson has done everything correctly while the UFC has continually failed to capitalise on his success with any significant PR push whilst hot yet volatile properties such as Ronda Rousey, Jon Jones and Conor McGregor have benefited from having the full weight of the company machine behind them.
Has Johnson’s absence from PPV stunted his popularity?
Since defeating Joseph Benevidez at UFC 152 to be crowned the inaugural flyweight champion, Johnson has only headlined four PPVs in his ten title defences with five of his defences headlining television cards. This again shows a mishandling of “DJ” and the flyweight division as a whole by the UFC as it has never been treated equally or featured as prominently as the heavier weight classes. An argument that can be made is that in order to improve his popularity, he needs to be on free TV as he can’t draw PPV buys but this point is not as cut and dry as the figures show.
When Johnson has appeared on a UFC PPV as a co-main event then he has benefited from the help of a bigger name in the headline slot, with the headliner being Jon Jones both times at UFC 152 and UFC 197. With both these PPVs clearing 300,000 buys with 450,000 and 322,000 respectively, the point can be made that “DJ” could be accomodated in a slot deserving of his status on a PPV show.
Another point to be made is that when Johnson has headlined a PPV, his numbers haven’t been as bad as people like to think. At UFC 178, Johnson would take on Chris Cariaso in the main event, and although he only drew 205,000 buys, that was more than the events that came immediately before and after, with neither UFC 177, UFC 179 or UFC 180 breaking the 200,000 mark.
Although the flyweight champion struggled in 2015 to break 150,000 buys, this was consistent with the rest of the UFC’s PPV schedule that year when Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey weren’t on the cards. In conclusion, I feel that the right placement on a stacked PPV card would do more for “DJ” than the continuous title defences on free TV which never feel like a big deal.
In addition, with UFC on Fox 24 drawing the second lowest ratings in the history of UFC’s relationship with the network (UFC on Fox 21 has the lowest however was shown on tape delay in certain regions), the strategy of putting Johnson on free television is clearly not working and of benefit to nobody.
Lack of support and promotion for Johnson and flyweight division plays a factor in popularity
Although the promotion seem to have decided that the best place for Johnson is headlining cards on FOX, it could be countered that the UFC has spent little time capitalizing on his marketability. Johnson regular interacts with fans on a personal level through his Twitch video game streams and his warm and wholesome personality surely would have made him a hit with the mainstream had the UFC spent time on promoting “DJ” to the casual viewing market.
As the flyweight division builds in popularity through fighters like Ray Borg and Brandon Moreno, as well as contests like the “Fight of the Night” winning grappling contest between Tim Elliott and Louis Smolka, there’s a feeling that someone with the ability, talent and personality of “Mighty Mouse” could have been their biggest superstar had he only been given the right support.
As he continues to march through the flyweight division, there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping Johnson from becoming the greatest of all time, however, the limitations placed on him mean he will never truly be the biggest. The only plus is that this is something which doesn’t seem to bother the champion.
“I’m not searching for that and it’s not why I do this sport,” said Johnson in response to being asked about whether he feels he deserves more recognition.
“I’m not about going out there and having everyone put that vote on me to be prom king of the UFC. I’m here to show that I’m the best fighter in the world and I think, tonight, I proved that by dominating a world-class grappler.”
Regardless of whether “Mighty Mouse” wants the acclaim and fame to match his achievements, he more than deserves the chance to appear on the biggest shows especially now that he has entered history making territory. A renewed push of him, as both a fighter and a personality, could do wonders for Johnson and the flyweight division. With dedicated UFC Fight Pass content recently given to both Michelle Waterson and Cody Garbrandt, similar treatment for Johnson in the lead-up to his record breaking title defence is not only deserved but warranted for one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever seen.