Demetrious Johnson was born in Madisonville, Kentucky, a small city of roughly 20,000 people on the western side of the Bluegrass State. On the surface, it seems an unlikely place to give rise to mixed martial arts royalty.
Johnson will put an 11-fight winning streak and his Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight crown on the line against Wilson Reis in the UFC on Fox 24 main event this Saturday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. A win would tie Anderson Silva’s all-time record for consecutive UFC title defenses at 10. The 30-year-old AMC Pankration cornerstone last competed at “The Ultimate Fighter 24” Finale on Dec. 3, when he took a five-round unanimous decision from the upset-minded Tim Elliott at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. There, Elliott joined a long list of vanquished challengers, Johnson’s reign atop the 125-pound weight class at four years and counting. A longtime protégé of Matt Hume, “Mighty Mouse” has not tasted defeat since he failed in his bid to dethrone Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight championship in October 2011 (live odds).
In a career filled with defining moments, here are five that stand out:
1. Rough Landing
Johnson graduated from the regional circuit and set his sights on World Extreme Cagefighting with a perfect 10-0 record and a well-established reputation as one of the sport’s top prospects. However, opportunities for flyweights were slim. Forced to compete at 135 pounds despite his diminutive 5-foot-3 frame, “Mighty Mouse” made his promotional debut opposite Brad Pickett on the WEC 48 undercard in Sacramento, California. The date was April 24, 2010, and Pickett was not a gracious host for the newcomer. The American Top Team veteran executed 10 of his 11 takedown attempts, passed Johnson’s guard repeatedly and achieved full mount in the second and third rounds. Despite the fact that he was outstruck in all three rounds, per FightMetric, Pickett was awarded a unanimous decision with 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 scores. Johnson’s resume had its first blemish.
2. Game of Thrones
When Johnson faced Joseph Benavidez for the first time in the UFC 152 co-headliner on Sept. 22, 2012 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the fate of the newly minted Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight title hung in the balance. “Mighty Mouse” threw and landed more kicks and punches, mixed in five takedowns and captured a split decision from Benavidez to become the UFC’s first champion at 125 pounds. Two of the three judges, Jeff Blatnick and Doug Crosby, scored it for Johnson by 48-47 and 49-46 counts; a third, Richard Bertrand, saw it 48-47 for Benavidez. The two flyweights engaged one another for the full 25 minutes in a dazzling display of skill, speed and technique. Benavidez made his most significant moves in Rounds 2 and 4, nearly finishing it in the fourth, where he staggered Johnson with a right hand and jumped into a mounted guillotine choke. “Mighty Mouse” struggled to free himself from the maneuver and was ultimately successful, threatening Benavidez with a leg lock before returning to his feet. Johnson -- who opened a cut near his foe’s left eye with a stout right hand in the third round -- answered the championship call in the fifth, as he delivered a pair of takedowns, countered beautifully and finished with a flourish.
3. Trophy Hunt
Time was nothing more than a nuisance, as Johnson submitted Kyoji Horiguchi with a fifth-round armbar to retain his flyweight championship in the UFC 186 main event 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 UFC. 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 protégé 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 farside armbar. Horiguchi tapped with just one second remaining in the bout.
4. Magic Killer
There was no magic moment for John Dodson. Johnson made sure of it -- again. “Mighty Mouse” kept the Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight crown on lockdown with another convincing unanimous decision over Dodson in the UFC 191 headliner on Sept. 5, 2015 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Johnson, who won the first meeting between the two a little more than a year earlier, swept the scorecards from the rematch with 49-46, 49-46 and 50-45 marks from the judges. Dodson enjoyed some success in the clinch, but it was fleeting and amounted to little more than a blip on the radar. Johnson was merciless with his forward movement and output, battering “The Magician” with lead right hands and everything else in his well-stocked arsenal. He kept Dodson guessing with stance switches, well-timed single-leg takedown attempts and occasional kicks to the head, body and legs. With the Jackson-Wink MMA standout effectively worn down, Johnson started doubling up on his right hand and secured takedowns in the third, fourth and fifth rounds.
5. Olympic Treat
While some viewed Henry Cejudo as a viable threat, Johnson proved otherwise. He disposed of the previously unbeaten Cejudo with first-round knees to the body and breezed through another successful title defense in the UFC 197 co-headliner on April 23, 2016. Cejudo bit the dust 2:49 into Round 1 before a crowd of 11,352 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. 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 the dazed challenger 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 stepped in, arriving on the scene to rescue the latest victim of Johnson’s brilliance.