Demetrious Johnson (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson Needs to Move to Bantamweight

He’s one of the greatest champions in MMA history and the current pound-for-pound king of the sport. It doesn’t get more dominant in MMA than Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is right now.

Since winning the UFC’s inaugural flyweight title back in September 2012, Mighty Mouse has thwarted all challengers to his crown. He has defended his belt eight straight times, good enough for second in UFC history. Over that time, Johnson has dominated his division in a way that fans haven’t seen since Anderson Silva was leaving destruction in his wake as the middleweight titleholder and set the gold standard for UFC champions by defending his belt 10 times. But while Silva made his name by taking out his opponents one by one with sniper-like accuracy on the feet, Johnson has become possibly the most complete fighter the sport has ever seen, dominating every single one of his opponents in all facets of the game.

With victories over six men in the top 10 of the flyweight division and even a former flyweight turned top-10 bantamweight in John Dodson, Johnson’s resume as a champion is as good as it could possibly get right now. There’s not a single flyweight on or outside of the UFC roster that even seems to present a challenge to the 125-pound king on paper, and his recent first-round shellacking of former Olympian Henry Cejudo only solidified what many fight fans have known for over a year now, if not longer. Johnson is a one-of-a-kind fighter, and while a loss will eventually come, it’s going to be an upset of epic proportions when it does.


For every Silva, there’s a Chris Weidman. For every Ronda Rousey, there’s a Holly Holm. However, in the current landscape of the flyweight division, it’s extremely difficult to identify a fighter with a legitimate shot at defeating Mighty Mouse that hasn’t failed to do so at least once before. Joseph Benavidez has proven to be the next best fighter in the division, but two losses to Johnson have left it nearly impossible for “Beefcake” to get back into the mix. As for the rest of the division, there’s no real name that sticks out as a realistic threat to take Johnson’s gold from him, and as a result the UFC has had to look further and further down the flyweight ladder for possible opponents as the champ continues to clean house.

The next time Johnson steps into the Octagon will be at UFC 201 this summer, and his opponent is set to be UFC and Bellator veteran Wilson Reis, who’s coming off of just a single win and is currently ranked ninth in the Combat Press flyweight rankings and eighth in the UFC’s own poll. If you’re a casual fan or even someone who thinks they follow the sport rather closely and you are sitting there wondering who in the hell Wilson Reis is, well, then you’re not alone.

While he’s certainly a talented fighter, Reis has yet to compete on a main card through six UFC appearances and has gone just a respectable 4-2 over that span, with two of those bouts coming at bantamweight prior to a change in weight class. To top it off, Reis has only beaten a single fighter in the flyweight top 10 and suffered a loss to third-ranked Jussier “Formiga” da Silva in May 2015. By no means is Reis a bad fighter, but there’s nothing to suggest that he’s even on Johnson’s level at this point, let alone title worthy. In any other division, a guy like Reis would be campaigning to get a bout with someone in the top five rather than being rewarded with a title shot, but Johnson’s dominance has left the UFC with few alternatives.

A fighter like Reis getting a title shot isn’t a complete anomaly. Guys like Patrick Cote and Thales Leites earned title shots during Silva’s title reign due to a lack of divisional depth, but the UFC is (rightfully?) already looking past Reis when it comes to the flyweight title scene. The promotion has already set the groundwork for the next title challenger to emerge.

With no one in the division seemingly worthy of getting a crack at Johnson, the UFC is looking outside of the promotion for answers and will decide the next 125-pound title challenger through the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, with the winner of the reality show getting the title bout. This isn’t the first time the promotion has handed out title shots through TUF — the fourth season featured fighters already on the UFC roster competing for top contender status and season 20 actually had women competing for the inaugural strawweight belt — but this is the first time that a fighter has so convincingly cleaned out their division that the promotion has been left with no choice but to bring in some outside talent. It more than likely is going to lead to Johnson dominating another outmatched opponent, but with the lack of options on the table the UFC has been boxed into a corner and is doing whatever it can to get the champion a relevant fight.

If Mighty Mouse does what he’s expected to do and gets past not only Reis, but the eventual TUF winner as well, that will be enough for Johnson to have tied Silva’s mark for consecutive title defenses. This is a record that Johnson has repeatedly said he’s looking to break, and since there seems to be no one on the horizon that looks to be able to stop him, it seems inevitable that he’ll eventually get there and become arguably the most dominant champion in the history of the sport. While there’s always the possibility of a Matt Serra over Georges St-Pierre style upset coming into play, conventional wisdom says that Johnson should keep on rolling over anyone and everyone in his path unless his level of competition is raised. And that’s exactly what needs to happen if Johnson claims the record he’s been chasing for almost five years now.

There may not be a flyweight alive that can send Johnson home with a loss right now, but there might be someone in the bantamweight division who can do just that. Before the UFC introduced the flyweight division, Johnson was already one of the premier bantamweights in the sport and was coming off an unsuccessful title shot at 135 pounds. Years later, it would be extremely interesting to see how Johnson would fare in the division after improving by leaps and bounds since his last bantamweight appearance.

Johnson would still be at a size disadvantage against many of the top 135-pound fighters, but his speed and footwork make him a nightmare match-up for many of the division’s top fighters, and his grappling is good enough that he should be able to negate the size difference on the mat with relative ease against most opponents. But regardless of how he would fare against the top bantamweight fighters in the world, it’s gotten to the point that there’s nothing left for Mighty Mouse to do at flyweight. His only move now is a move up in weight.

Johnson wants the record for most title defenses. That’s fine. But if he hits that mark, then it’s time for him to stop fighting second-tier competition and truly challenge himself again. He may already be the greatest flyweight of all time and is well on his way to becoming the greatest UFC champion of all time, but in order to be known as the best of the best, Johnson needs to step up his competition. He can’t do that as a flyweight.