Mighty Mouse Continues to Build Claim to Being World’s Best Combat Athlete
Demetrious Johnson is still seeking out new challenges at age 37. The current ONE flyweight champion and former UFC title holder isn’t content to slink off to retirement just yet. While his days in the mixed martial arts cage may be limited, Johnson keeps finding ways to challenge himself in athletic competitions.
In late August in Las Vegas, Johnson entered the 154.6 Master 2 division for brown belts at the 2023 World Jiu-jitsu IBJJF Championship. To the surprise of many, at least according to how Johnson was seeded, he ended up winning the event. Johnson was seeded 36th out of the 38 competitors and ended up coming through with a gold medal.
Johnson has had a fascinating career in MMA, with the Kentucky native being pushed out of the UFC due to his perceived lack of marketability. Whatever anyone thinks of Johnson, there is no denying what he has accomplished. Johnson’s rise through the ranks and willingness to take on unique challenges has helped cement his legacy.
Who is Demetrious Johnson?
Demetrious Johnson was born in Kentucky but was raised in Parkland, Wash. Despite being a three-sport athlete in high school, Johnson didn’t earn any scholarship offers when he left. Johnson was a strong wrestler in high school, competing in the state championships twice. He also competed in track and cross country, qualifying for the state championships in both sports.
Johnson first title fighting MMA in July 2006 by fighting in amateur fights in Washington. During Johnson’s run as an amateur, he quickly flashed his potential. Johnson went 9-0 and won his final five amateur fights by submission.
Johnson started fighting MMA professionally in 2009. After eight fights, he would earn his first championship fight against Dominick Cruz. Johnson lost a five-round decision in the bantamweight division, which Johnson thought he was too small for. The UFC would later create a flyweight division, where Johnson became its first champion by beating Joseph Benavidez by split decision in Sept. 2022.
Most Successful Champion in UFC History
Johnson didn’t let go of the title after beating Benavidez. He would go on to defend his flyweight title in 11 consecutive fights. He still holds the record for most successful championship defenses, regardless of weight class.
Despite this success, Johnson felt he wasn’t properly marketed by the UFC. There was tension between Johnson and UFC President Dana White over his contract. Johnson wanted more money, while White threatened to close the weight division due to a lack of interest. During Johnson’s long reign, he piled up four submission victories in title fights, which is tied with Jon Jones for most of all time.
Following a controversial split decision loss to Olympic gold medalist wrestler Henry Cejudo in August 2018, Johnson decided he wanted out of the UFC. What ended up happening was something that hadn’t previously been seen in mixed martial arts.
Let’s Make a Deal
Following Johnson’s loss to Cejudo, he was insistent on getting out of his UFC contract. What Demetrious Johnson wanted to do was to move on to ONE Championship. This wouldn’t be the first contract dispute with the UFC that resulted in a fighter working out a deal to leave.
White proposed a deal with ONE Championship in 2018. The UFC would trade Johnson for former Bellator and ONE champion Ben Askren. Askren would end up having a short but memorable stint with the UFC before retiring. He is most remembered for losing to Jorge Masvidal during a 5-second match that ended with a flying knee. Askren went 1-2 during his time in the UFC.
Johnson would capture the ONE Flyweight Grand Prix championship in October 2019 following a decision victory over Danny Kingad. Johnson wouldn’t fight again for nearly two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When he returned, Demetrious Johnson had a trilogy of title fights with Adriano Moraes. Johnson, who is 25-4-1, lost the first fight of the series by knockout in April 2021. He is the reigning champion now after winning the last two fights between the pair, including a decision victory in May 2023.
Whatever Rules You Like
In May 2022, Demetrious Johnson agreed to a mixed-rules fight against Rodtang Jitmuangnon at ONE: X in Singapore. The event was set for four alternating rounds of Muay Thai and MMA rules lasting three minutes apiece. Johnson survived the Muay Thai first round.
Then the American submitted Jitmuangnon in the second round via rear-naked choke. Jitmuangnon is the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion. He has an incredible record of 271 wins, 42 losses and 10 draws.
Winning the Gold Medal
Despite Johnson’s long list of professional accomplishments, he wasn’t really thought of as the favorite to win the jiu-jitsu gold medal, even in a division of athletes who are 35 years and older. To get through his bracket, Johnson had to upset the number one seed, Josue Lopez.
Once Johnson got past Lopez, he beat Walter Dias by armbar to capture his bracket and advance to the semifinals. When Johnson competed in the finals, the competition was close against opponent Michael Harmeling. Johnson wrapped up his sixth victory at the tournament and the gold medal by beating Harmeling 10-0.
What’s Next for Demetrious Johnson?
Johnson is thinking about retirement. But it is unlikely he will stop competing any time soon. After podcaster and bodybuilder Bradley Martyn had been challenging fighters during a recent interview on his podcast to compete against him in their respective disciplines of fighting. Johnson, who will give up over 100 pounds in weight to the 265 Martyn, has taken him up on the challenge.
In a world where Jake Paul has inspired influencers to take up combat sports, Martyn may have gotten in deeper than he imagined. While Martyn will tower over the diminutive Mighty Mouse, Martyn will lack the cardio to keep up with his world-class competitor.