Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson faces Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes for the ONE Championship flyweight title this Friday at ONE Fight Night 10 in Broomfield, Colo. This is set to be the first-ever ONE Championship event hosted in the United States. It will be the third meeting between Johnson and Moraes.
In their first encounter in Apr. 2021, Moraes caused a major upset when he knocked Johnson out with a knee to capture the flyweight title. Johnson exacted revenge and reclaimed the title in Aug. 2022 by knocking Moraes out with a knee of his own. In the build-up to this Friday’s contest, Johnson has made headlines by stating that the upcoming bout could be the last of his professional MMA career. Will the talk of retirement affect his performance?
Mighty Mouse cited his desire to spend more time with his family as one of the reasons for possibly retiring after facing Moraes for the third time. He has been inactive in the last couple of years, not fighting at all in 2020, before only competing once in 2021 and 2022. He is also 36 years old and has been fighting professionally for over 13 years. Johnson got knocked out two fights ago and was hurt with a head-kick in his most recent bout. Fighters in smaller weight classes tend to decline at the age he is at, and the recent adversity he has faced in bouts may have caused the Washington native to consider his future in the sport. In spite of this, his comments about stepping away from MMA still seemed to catch the MMA community by surprise.
Johnson is the reigning champ, and he delivered a timely reminder of his abilities in his last outing when he avenged a loss against a talented, physically imposing opponent in Moraes. He has been renowned for his outstanding conditioning, and this was an attribute that helped him secure the victory against Moraes. After being taken down in the first couple of rounds, and being forced to work off his back, Johnson gained the initiative in the third, when Moraes visibly slowed down. The 36-year-old then finished the fight in the fourth round, after hurting Mikinho with a right hand before landing a knee to his dazed opponent.
Mighty Mouse had the motivation in his last bout of trying to beat the man who had inflicted the first stoppage loss of his career and had prevented him from capturing the ONE title on his first chance. With retirement potentially on the horizon, it will be intriguing to find out if he enters the cage with the same purpose and determination this time around.
Johnson is still clearly in tremendous physical condition and has said in interviews that he would like to stay in combat sports once his MMA career is over, he has talked about potentially competing in Jiu-Jitsu. The biggest obstacle he may have put in front of himself could be mental rather than physical. By publicly disclosing his career plan, he could have inadvertently given himself an easy out for potentially falling short against Mikinho.
Moraes has said in interviews that he is skeptical of Johnson’s potential retirement plans and believes that it could be a tactic that the American is using to free himself of expectation ahead of their contest. There is a sentiment in the MMA community that mentioning retirement before a bout usually does not end well for the fighter.
There is a recent high-profile example of a fighter stating that they were contemplating retirement before a bout, which they would proceed to lose. Former UFC fighter Jorge Masvidal mentioned, before his contest against Gilbert Burns, that the fight could be his last. He ended up getting dominated and lost by unanimous decision, before he announced his retirement in his post-fight interview. There is also the case of former UFC champion Frankie Edgar, who suffered a devastating first-round knockout at the hands of Chris Gutierrez in what he already had said would be his retirement fight. These are two big names in the sport who suffered losses after stating that they were close to or were at the end of their careers. However, it must be taken into consideration that unlike Johnson, both Masvidal and Edgar were on losing streaks and were diminished fighters at the elite level by the time they talked about retirement.
Johnson may have verbalized the thought of retirement to ensure that he has the motivation to put in the work in his camp to help him secure the victory in his trilogy against Moraes. He did mention in interviews that he has recently developed a passion for jiu-jitsu, whereas he currently views competing in MMA as merely being his job and primary source of income. This dichotomy perhaps reflects the need for Johnson to increase the importance of Friday’s bout by potentially putting his career on the line.
Johnson’s refusal to definitively commit to retirement could be interpreted as a lack of clarity in his thinking. If this manifests itself in the cage, he will be punished by a dangerous fighter like Moraes. It may also suggest that Johnson has not given Friday’s bout the focus and attention that it requires, with his sights set on his post-fight plans instead.
On the other hand, the 36-year-old may simply want to wait for the outcome of the bout and assess his own performance before making the decision to call time on his career. He may take inspiration from former foe and now friend Henry Cejudo, who retired after delivering an impressive TKO victory over Dominick Cruz to retain his UFC bantamweight championship in May 2020.
Mighty Mouse’s glittering career could come to an end this Friday at ONE Fight Night 10. For a man widely regarded as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time, retiring as the ONE flyweight champion in the promotion’s debut U.S event would be a fitting way to bow out. It would also put Johnson in a small group of fighters who have defended MMA world titles in two different promotions. However, if he loses, his retirement comments could end up being a deep source of regret.