UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson enters UFC 215 on the cusp of history.
Eleven consecutive title defenses.
At UFC on FOX in April, Johnson defeated Wilson Reis with a third-round submission to tie Anderson Silva’s record of 10 consecutive title defenses, and if he defeats Ray Borg on Saturday he will own that record outright. He will also tie Georges St-Pierre’s record for 12 wins in title fights.
“It’s a big opportunity for myself. It’s a big thing I’ve been striving for, for a very long time,” Johnson said at UFC 215 Media Day in Las Vegas.
Johnson added: “For me, I think getting to 10 is a monumental stone itself. Now, going for 11. That’s Star Trek s---, going where no man has gone before.”
Johnson has bested some incredible fighters during his title reign. He has twice defeated Joseph Benavidez, whose only four losses have come in title fights to Johnson and former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. He defeated an undefeated Henry Cejudo, an Olympic gold medal wrestler.
He defeated John Dodson, the first bantamweight Ultimate Fighter champion in show history, twice.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Johnson’s run as flyweight champion, the only champion at the weight class in company history, is the speed at which he has racked up his title defenses.
Silva’s reign lasted 2,457 days, before he lost to Chris Weidman at UFC 162 in 2013. Johnson’s reign will have been almost two years shorter when he steps into the cage on Saturday night.
“Somebody said ‘Nobody is ever going to have a bigger name than you in the flyweight division because you always beat people,’” Johnson said. “If you look back when Anderson Silva was so dominant, the one thing that gave the UFC time and opportunity to build an A-side or B-side was Anderson Silva would fight once a year.
“Maybe twice a year, but mostly only once a year. I remember him fighting once a year… I fight two times a year, I’m just as active as the contenders themselves.”
The UFC, president Dana White and Johnson feuded publicly this year over Johnson’s next opponent. White pushed for former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, while Johnson preferred an existing flyweight contender who has competed in the division. In a statement, Johnson said White threatened to dissolve the division as a whole.
Johnson also discussed mistreatment from the UFC in the statement, and in August pointed to his pay as a reason the UFC can’t build stars in the flyweight division to make more marketable fights with him.
“I need to take time off so they can build up a star up,” Johnson said. “But the way it is now, my pay structure, it ain’t happening anytime soon. I’m going to get it in as much as I can.”
Johnson has a new manager, the same manager as Jon Jones, to try and help him earn more money in future fights.
But Johnson’s accomplished list of opponents don’t qualify as “high-profile” like those of Jones, who many consider to be the greatest fighter of all time. Jones came in and dethroned a champion and beat established names during his title reign.
Johnson has fought accomplished fighters, but has been champion since the inception of the division and it’s hard to measure his accomplishments without the preexisting history in place to provide context, like with Jones at light heavyweight.
Which leaves Johnson two routes to establish his legacy and cement his claim as the greatest of all time. The first is set the record for consecutive title defenses by defeating Ray Borg at UFC 215, and then to extend his run even further.
The other route is to welcome super fights, whether against 135-pound champions coming down, like Dillashaw, or moving up himself to challenge 135-pound champions, past and present.
Ultimately for Johnson, it’s all about providing for his family.
“It depends on what is going to be the most money,” Johnson said.
Five Questions with UFC 216’sTony Ferguson
1. You're getting a title fight, but it's an "interim" title. Does it still mean as much?
Absolutely. What sounds better than 12-1? 13-1. I got nine consecutive victories and I'm looking for the 10th. Right now I hold the highest win percentage in the history of the UFC. If Jon Jones get that UFC 214 fight off [his record], I have 92% which is higher than Conor McGregor and anybody else.
I've been working my ass off since I was in the mail room. I started at Ultimate Fighter and they told me I'm not good enough. I went for 185-pound try out and I was 170. They said "You're kind of small, you're good, but come back next time." So I went for 155 pounds and they said "You're just not good enough yet, you need to come back." All right, cool. Fought more, did my thing and kept my nose clean and my mouth shut and just kept in the gym. Everybody was like what's that dude doing over there. He's working his ass off.
At 10-2 I went back up to them and I had my website, my DVD with all my highlights. I had all my s--- together. I wanted to put a presentation on for them. I put all my accolades, my All-Americans, my All-States, any kind of recognition I put it all in a packet and I told them, "Take me, you have to take me. Because I've been working my ass off and this is what I want to do. You guys told me to come back, I came back and I'm better and you got to f--king take me." And they took me.
2. Now that you know Kevin Lee is your opponent, did you watch what happened with him and Michael Chiesa at the press conference in Dallas?
It looked exactly like the year before with Conor McGregor doing his little stint. Now, I understand repeat performances are always great because the human brain can only establish five seconds of attention before we need to be reset. That's why everybody is scrolling. So if nobody wants to remember that this dude is copying Conor from last year, that's fine.
But if that dude would've come and tried to punk me out, I don't think so. That's not how it goes. I'm not thug, not gangster but I am All-American and I am captain of my Grand Valley State University national championship team. That's the ring he never got because he couldn't handle it. He jammed out before he got his ring, I stayed there till I got my ring. I told my coach this isn't for me and I got to figure something else out.
Boom. Years later we're here right now and we got two Michigan fighters going after an interim title from the same college. This kid's got a big mouth and I think he needs to be humbled a bit.
3. Lee has mentioned an incident with you in Las Vegas, what happened there?
There was a Fox thing and he wanted to put me on blast on Fox. So I said okay, you want to be tough behind the camera, hey dog, I'm here and there are no cameras. This is between me and you, and there is nobody here to stop this s---. If you want to really do this s--- right now, we can do this s--- like men and squash this. There are no cameras here. You want to f---ing belittle someone who is trying to praise you?
All right, now you got a real big problem because I'm going to be smiling this entire camp. I'm not going to take it to that level and that's how I'm going to fight. That's how I fought in Mexico City and it was fun. How many strikes did I have out there? Two hundred close strikes for five rounds. Imagine what I'm going to do to this kid.
This guy got under my skin a little bit but my coach and I had a nice conversation the other day. He said "smile, Tony." It's hard because I don't want my kid to see me fight like that. I want him to see me happy. I want him to see a champion go out there and win. I want everybody that said "Tony, you're real" to be able to see that when I got out there and fight and win. Same person, nobody changed me.
4. How do you think the latest Jon Jones news impacts his legacy?
Oh my gosh, I'm hurting for the guy. I can't put myself in his shoes to feel what he is feeling, or what the fans are feeling. I think everybody in general is just like f---. We want to know what happened and we're all kind of confused because we went through this giant roller coaster between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones, same thing with Khabib Nurmagomedov and myself.
Now, I joke about Khabib doing a cycle of Tiramisu and stuff like that, but you shouldn't be joking about that s---. We're in the highest level of our game and we should be competing to the cleanest we possibly can. Obviously, everybody else can't do it and they need that kind of s--- to do it because they don't have it up here. I feel like any person that needs to do that kind of s--- is going to get it.
Props to DC and Jon Jones for going out there and fighting, but it just sucks what happened.
5. Conor McGregor fought Floyd Mayweather, how do you see it impacting UFC fighters and what did you think of it?
I'll take a step out of the box for a second and play third party. I think it's great because I saw the fighters become more live and vocal on Instagram and Twitter, getting more involved with boxing, pugilistics and martial arts in general. I think it's great. You'd scroll once or twice and got boxing banter or MMA. It was really boxing and MMA. Any time you scrolled through your phone, it'd be somebody fighting, somebody laughing or a dog. What I saw is that it was everywhere, this is the news and it was huge. What is everybody going to do afterwards is what I want to see.
But what they're going to get excited about is October 7. Because there will be a new cowboy in town and a new sheriff will hold that belt. Somebody is going to have to come back and defend it.
Everyone was super excited to see McGregor come back and compete, it's been a second. It was exciting to see outside of the box.
Now for me, I'm thought it's a s--- show. He literally needs to defend or vacate. But I get it, so that's why I'm not going to hate. Get your money. Don't forget where that belts at, don't forget where the home is for that belt. It's right here in the UFC, the best fighters in the world in the lightweight division.
This is the shark tank, and who are you talking to? The f---ing hammerhead.