I've always thought Demetrious Johnson picked the wrong rodent nickname.
The fastest athlete in mixed martial arts, with footwork swift enough to keep him out of harm's way and, seemingly at will, get him in on opponents' legs for takedowns, was a perfect candidate to call himself "Speedy Gonzalez."
Instead, he's fashioned himself after a different cartoon hero of the same species, Mighty Mouse.
The man had fought 21 times going into Saturday night's flyweight title defense against Joseph Benavidez in Sacramento, Calif., but had only recorded three knockouts in his 18 victories. They came in his first two professional bouts, both more than five years ago in smaller promotions, then in a 2010 bout that earned him a spot in the WEC. He would win twice in the promotion since absorbed by the UFC, then six more times in the Dana White Fight Club itself. Not one KO. What was so mighty about him?
Well, in the lip-synced words of Andy Kaufman: "Here I come to save the day!"
That is to say, Johnson flattened Benavidez in 2 minutes 8 seconds to retain his 125-pound belt ... and, as far as I'm concerned, his nickname.
This rematch of the first flyweight title fight in UFC history, fought back in September 2012, was stunning in its role reversal. Benavidez is the one touted for punching power, as he had shown in scoring a pair of KO's during the recent three-fight winning streak that earned him another shot at Johnson. But it was evident right from the start that this bout would be different.
The first time they'd tussled, Benavidez had fought the way he usually does, moving forever forward. He ended up chasing Johnson and, owing to Demetrious's dazzling foot speed, swinging and missing a lot. So this time Joseph's plan appeared to be to entice "Mighty Mouse" into a cheesy trap. He stood relatively flatfooted and stationary, looking for the champion to come to him so he could unleash big counterpunches.
Johnson noticed. "You know, it was interesting," he said on the Fox postfight show. "That's one of Joseph's greatest assets: He comes after people; he brings great pressure. And tonight he didn't. So it actually gave me a chance to settle my feet. I didn't have to run as much, use my footwork. And that made me get my power into my hands and let it go."
Did he ever. For the first two minutes the most solid attacks had been to each man's lead leg, on kicks launched from distance. But then the fighters closed the gap, both swung with a right hand, and Johnson's landed flush on the left cheek. Down went Benavidez. Down went the volume of crowd noise in the city where Joseph and the rest of Team Alpha Male train.
And down went Johnson -- right on top of his dazed opponent, where he finished the job with four speedy, mighty right hands before referee John McCarthy could pull him away.
"That's one of the things we've been trying to work on in the gym: me settling my feet and really trying to let go of my power," said Johnson (19-2-1), who was defending his belt for the third time. "It takes time. I'm still young in this career."
The 27-year-old Matt Hume protégé likes to remind us that until he was granted a shot at bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz just two years ago -- Johnson lost by decision, the only defeat in his last 11 bouts -- he was a part-time fighter. "I used to work in a warehouse," he said, "and watch Joseph Benavidez beat people in the WEC."
Benavidez did beat a lot of people in the WEC, and he's beaten even more in the UFC. He's 19-4, with the only losses coming against champions. Cruz defeated him twice, and now Johnson has done the same. That puts Joseph in no-man's land in both the 125-pound and 135-pound divisions, a paralyzing career fate the fighter surely understands. "I'm so upset right now," he said immediately after the finish, his only knockout loss. "I thought tonight was going to be my night."
Two of his Alpha Male teammates did have better nights. Urijah Faber put on one of the best performances of his career, outdoing Michael MacDonald everywhere their bantamweight fight went on the way to a second-round win by guillotine choke. And Chad Mendes, despite his usually furious pace being slowed by a sinus infection, got the better of Nik Lentz in a unanimous-decision win that should keep him at the top of the heap of contenders for José Aldo's featherweight belt.
But this night belonged to the man whose decision to call himself "Mighty Mouse" will never again be questioned in this space. Johnson has won five straight fights, finished the last two, and has been wiping out the competition in the UFC's newest men's weight class. Aside from his two victories over Benavidez, the No. 1 contender in the promotion's media-voted rankings, Johnson also owns wins over No. 2 John Dodson, No. 3 Ian McCall, and No. 4 John Moraga. Who's left? Well, No. 5-ranked John Lineker is on a four-fight winning streak, but the other number that defines him is three ... as in, missing weight three times in the UFC. The Brazilian is said to be working with nutrition guru Mike Dolce, though, so maybe he does still have a future at 125 pounds.
Let's hope so. Johnson needs to fight. Fifteen months ago, as he was going five hard rounds with Benavidez, there were sporadic boos from the fans cageside in Toronto. Perhaps the crowd couldn't keep up with the fast-forward action. Maybe, for the masses, watching little men go after each other didn't translate into a fight. But all who witnessed Saturday night's knockout -- or who watched Johnson's grappling and submission clinic in his previous bout -- know they saw a fight. And a fighter who's getting better every time we see him.