5 Defining Moments: Demetrious Johnson

By Brian Knapp Apr 3, 2021

Even as his resume overflows with achievements and superlatives, Demetrious Johnson still wants to accomplish more before he calls it a career.

Johnson will challenge Adriano Moraes for the One Championship flyweight title in the One on TNT 1 main event this Wednesday at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore. “Mighty Mouse” enters the cage on the strength of three consecutive victories, having defeated Yuya Wakamatsu, Tatsumitsu Wada and Danny Kingad in succession to win the 2019 One Championship flyweight grand prix and nail down a shot at the title. Johnson, 34, has delivered 17 of his 30 career wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission.

As the former Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight titleholder prepares for his confrontation with Moraes, a look at five of the moments that helped define him as an all-time great:

1. Failure to Launch

Dominick Cruz executed takedowns in all five rounds, delivered a pair of picturesque belly-to-back suplexes and mounted “Mighty Mouse” twice, as he notched a unanimous decision and retained the undisputed bantamweight crown in the UFC Live 6 headliner on Oct. 1, 2011 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. All three judges scored it for the champion: 50-45, 49-46 and 50-45. Cruz largely abandoned the unusual lateral movement for which he has become known, electing instead to force tie-ups and search for takedowns. Johnson gave Cruz fits in spurts, as he brought the fight to “The Dominator” with blinding speed. However, he could not overcome the advantages Cruz held in the strength and wrestling departments, as he spent far too much time on his back and in scrambles. In an effort to neutralize the AMC Pankration representative, Cruz turned to the clinch, takedowns and textbook grappling. He nearly finished it in the third round, where he delivered a suplex, transitioned to Johnson’s back, flattened out the 5-foot-3 dynamo and threatened him with a rear-naked choke.

2. First of His Kind

A blinding and breathtaking blend of speed, agility and technique, Johnson captured a split decision from Joseph Benavidez and became the first flyweight titleholder in Ultimate Fighting Championship history in the UFC 152 co-main event on Sept. 22, 2012 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. “Mighty Mouse” earned 48-47 and 49-46 marks from judges Jeff Blatnick and Doug Crosby—enough to overcome a 48-47 Richard Bertrand ruling in Benavidez’s favor. Johnson completed five of his 10 attempted takedowns and outstruck the Team Alpha Male standout in all five rounds, emerging as the last man standing in a four-man tournament to crown the promotion’s inaugural 125-pound champion. The Madisonville, Kentucky, native survived a controversial draw with Ian McCall, won the rematch between the two and then executed a brilliant tactical fight against the favored Benavidez to earn his place atop the flyweight heap. Johnson went on to retain his title in masterful performances against John Dodson and John Moraga, then knocked out Benavidez a little more than two minutes into their rematch.

3. Perfect Timing

Johnson submitted Kyoji Horiguchi with a fifth-round armbar to retain his flyweight championship in the UFC 186 headliner on April 25, 2015 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. “Mighty Mouse” coaxed the tapout 4:59 into Round 5—the latest finish in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Horiguchi found himself in a hopeless situation from the start. Johnson executed multiple takedowns in the first, second, third and fifth rounds, but he blew away the challenger in the transitions. He chained together his grappling and striking seamlessly, grinding down Horiguchi with a crushing pace. By the time the fifth round started, the Norifumi Yamamoto protege looked like a man who was ready for the misery to end. Johnson obliged but not before exacting a further toll. After securing his final takedown, “Mighty Mouse” advanced to the mounted crucifix, smashed away with rapid-fire elbows and punches on Horiguchi’s exposed face and then transitioned beautifully from full mount to the far-side armbar. The Japanese superstar tapped with just one second remaining in the bout.

4. Message Sent

Johnson retained his flyweight championship, as he disposed of the previously unbeaten Henry Cejudo with knees and punches in the first round of their UFC 197 co-main event on April 23, 2016 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Cejudo wilted 2:49 into Round 1, the latest victim of Johnson’s brilliance. Cejudo landed an early takedown, but little else went his way. Johnson returned to his feet, drew the Olympic gold medalist into a firefight in close quarters and let his talent do the rest. “Mighty Mouse” blasted Cejudo with a standing elbow in the clinch and connected with a diagonal knee to the head that sent a dazed Fight Ready export careening across the cage. A knee to the body drove “The Messenger” to the canvas and left him unable to defend the follow-up punches that flew next. Soon after, referee John McCarthy came to the rescue. It was only the start of their story.

5. End of the Road

Cejudo overthrew Johnson by the narrowest of margins in their rematch, as he dethroned the longtime 125-pound king by split decision in the UFC 227 co-headliner on Aug. 4, 2018 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. In doing so, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist became just the second undisputed flyweight titleholder in Ultimate Fighting Championship history. Cejudo struck for takedowns in the second, fourth and fifth rounds and paired them with suffocating top control, helping to offset the damage he absorbed to the legs and body from repeated Johnson kicks. The loss was the first for “Mighty Mouse” at 125 pounds and ended his historic reign atop the division at 2,142 days. It also marked his final appearance in the UFC, as three months later he was “traded” to One Championship in exchange for Ben Askren.
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