Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. The king of the flyweights. The perfection of mixed martial arts. He looked to be as close to unbeatable as anyone ever has. This was the narrative of Johnson’s flyweight tile run right up until he lost the belt to Henry Cejudo in a razor-thin decision at UFC 227. Now, the former UFC champion will begin a new chapter that could arguably be better than the previous one.
Johnson’s road to the flyweight mountaintop began in 2012, when the UFC held its own version of a tournament to crown the first-ever UFC flyweight champion. Johnson’s first fight, against Ian McCall, ended in controversy when the judges’ scores were misread. Ultimately, the outcome was revealed as a majority draw. Johnson and McCall rematched a few months later, with Johnson picking up a unanimous decision.
After the McCall rematch, Johnson went on to have his hand raised 12 consecutive times, including in 10 straight title defenses. His level of competition was often criticized by those who didn’t give Johnson the proper recognition, but the former champion defeated several quality opponents. His list of challengers included a former The Ultimate Fighter winner, an Olympic gold medalist, a combat-sambo champion and a Shotokan black belt. It’s a testament to the greatness of Mighty Mouse that he made the gap between himself and his challengers appear to be a huge one.
Yet, it’s that greatness that hindered him. Johnson was so dominant that fans seemed to tune out for his upcoming bouts. Save for a few moments of peril, his title reign was a prime example of a fighter outclassing his competition. There was no thought that his challengers could dethrone the king. It was a matter of how, and not if, Johnson would win.
The same could be said as we approached Johnson’s most recent fight, the UFC 227 rematch with the aforementioned Cejudo. The two fighters previously faced off at UFC 197, where Johnson ran through Cejudo in just under three minutes. Following their first contest, Cejudo made clear improvements in his game, and it was evident that he was looking to become more than just an Olympic gold medalist wrestler turned MMA fighter.
Before the Cejudo rematch, Johnson survived a first-round scare against Tim Elliott and put on masterful performances against Wilson Reis and Ray Borg. The Borg fight was the pinnacle of Johnson’s reign — the champ ended the contest in spectacular fashion by suplexing Borg and then catching him in an armbar before Borg’s body crashed to the canvas.
While Cejudo was honing his craft and making great strides in his overall game, Johnson was out there evolving the game. Even if Cejudo was 10 times better, would it really matter against a guy like Johnson?
Early on at UFC 227, it looked like Cejudo was in for yet another long night. The challenger appeared to injure himself in the opening minutes when he rolled his ankle. With Mighty Mouse attacking his lead leg, Cejudo was forced to switch stances and fight like a wounded animal.
The title challenger fought a smart fight, though. Once his leg had recovered, the contest grew closer and closer as time went on. Eventually, Cejudo had his hand raised as he was crowned the new UFC flyweight champion. It was truly an amazing achievement for Cejudo. It’s not just that he won the UFC strap, but also that he became the one to end Johnson’s historic reign.
Following the fight, Cejudo called his shot and issued a challenge to whomever would emerge victorious in the evening’s headlining bout, a bantamweight-title rematch between T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt. In the era of money fights, it was a smart move by the new champ.
Where does this leave the former champion Johnson?
The next chapter in the career of Mighty Mouse begins now. He may not have the UFC title, but this still doesn’t change the fact that the narrative only gets more interesting from here.
Johnson took to social media following the bout and was as gracious in defeat as he has been in victory. It was a pivotal move from the former champion. We’ve seen fans rally around fighters who not only accept the defeat but use it as a tool to better themselves. We’ve also seen fans bring out the pitchforks and torches when fighters cannot move on or deflect blame for their losses. With Mighty Mouse putting a positive spin on a negative moment in his career, he’s already started down the path to redemption.
Thanks to my sponsor @zevia @metropcs @originpc and the FANS for always supporting me! To my coaches and teammates back home your efforts and commitment to helping me get ready for these fights is never unappreciated, THANK YOU. GG @HenryCejudo pic.twitter.com/Bo0B9TzoVq
— Demetrious Johnson (@MightyMouseUFC) August 5, 2018
It’s a path that will surely lead to more intrigue. Despite his moniker, Johnson is human, after all. He can be defeated. These are statements that would’ve seemed blasphemous if you’d spoken them in the MMA community only days prior to UFC 227. Now that we’ve seen Johnson drop a fight at flyweight, his future bouts are no longer an afterthought. It’s not “chalk up another W for DJ.” There’s the potential for Mighty Mouse to be an underdog.
We all understand that Johnson is among the greatest fighters competing today and, arguably, in the sport’s history. Yet, there was always something missing. There was no sense of vulnerability. There was no inkling of an idea that, on any given night, someone could take the crown. Now there is. We’ve all witnessed Johnson’s greatness. Now, we get to witness the redemption.