“In sports, you simply aren’t considered a real champion until you have defended your title successfully. Winning it once can be a fluke; winning it twice proves you are the best.”
Althea Gibson, the first black athlete to compete in international tennis and the first person of color to win a Grand Slam title in the sport, shared that truism during her career in the early 20th century. It’s a sentiment that’s shared in nearly all athletic circles — you’re not really a champion until you defend your title. UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and featherweight champion Jose Aldo have adopted that motto many times over, as they stand as the two longest-reigning champions in the UFC. In Aldo’s case, he sports an undefeated record that stretches for nearly a decade.
Johnson has held his belt since winning it inaugurally in 2012. Aldo carried over his title from World Extreme Cagefighting when it was folded into the UFC after he won it in the WEC in 2009. While both guys seem to rule their divisions with an iron fist, only one of them will make it through 2015 with their title still in hand.
That fighter would be Johnson. Simply put, he has cleaned out the flyweight division. Take a look at the list of fighters he has defeated since becoming the first UFC flyweight champion. It reads like a who’s who of the weight class. Joseph Benavidez (twice). John Dodson. John Moraga. Ali Bagautinov. Chris Cariaso. Kyoji Horiguchi. Each of these fighters stepped to the plate against Johnson. Each of them went home empty-handed.
Dodson gets another shot at Johnson’s belt at UFC 191 next month. While Dodson’s been impressive since his first loss to Johnson — he’s reeled off three straight victories, including two TKO finishes — and he gave Johnson his toughest test as champion, Johnson has also improved leaps and bounds since their first meeting. The lack of recognition Johnson receives for showing the dominance he has is really nothing more than a byproduct of fans’ inherent bias against fighters from lighter weight classes. If you really pay attention to Johnson when he fights, you see the mastery of his craft on display every time.
Johnson will finish Dodson at UFC 191 and cement himself as the best flyweight in the world. While possible future contenders like Henry Cejudo and Ray Borg are waiting in the wings, neither seem to be an immediate threat to knock Johnson off his perch.
So why would I pass over Aldo, who’s been champion for six years and undefeated for nearly the last decade? His resume is even more impressive than Johnson and he also sports a who’s who of featherweight opponents. Urijah Faber. Chad Mendes (twice). Mark Hominick. Kenny Florian. Frankie Edgar. Chan Sung Jung. Ricardo Lamas. Manny Gamburyan. However, Aldo’s next opponent will be his last as champion.
Aldo was supposed to face Conor McGregor last month, but had to pull out because of injury. I was leaning toward Aldo to keep his belt against McGregor originally, but after seeing how McGregor overcame the wrestling ability of Aldo’s replacement, Mendes, and emphatically finished the Team Alpha Male fighter in their interim title bout, I’m taking over as conductor of the McGregor hype train. Everything he’s said he will do up to now, he’s done. Every prediction he has made has come true (except for his prediction he would knock Dennis Siver out in two minutes — it took two rounds).
Whether it’s just an unyielding faith in his abilities, some divine Irish-Catholic intervention or some other kind of unexplainable phenomenon, it just seems to be McGregor’s destiny to be featherweight champion. Make no mistake though, Aldo will be his toughest test to date. Aldo will also have an extra dose of motivation after being subject to McGregor’s endless ridicule leading up to their planned meeting and after Aldo’s withdrawal. If McGregor takes Aldo too lightly, Aldo will emphatically assert himself as the very best featherweight in the world.
The UFC’s flyweight division looks to be in good hands with Johnson at the helm for the foreseeable future. As far as the featherweights go, Aldo has been the standard bearer and the bar to which all other featherweights are measured. However, come later this year when Aldo and McGregor finally square off, a different bar will be set. An Irish kind of bar. You can insert your own joke here.