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With his one-sided destruction of Henry Cejudo at UFC 197, Demetrious Johnson has officially and utterly conquered the flyweight division.
Since moving down the scale to 125 pounds, “Mighty Mouse” has been unbeatable. His ravaging of the division has made the rest of the UFC’s flyweights look about as weak as the lineup of middleweights that Anderson Silva annihilated during his reign of terror.
The question now is whether or not Johnson should be forced to move up and face Dominick Cruz in a champion-versus-champion superfight. In the eyes of some, Johnson cannot truly become the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world without making the jump.
However, the problem with this idea is that forcing Johnson out of his weight class shouldn’t be necessary to officially crown him as the best fighter in MMA today. He’s already earned that right.
Johnson had his turn at bantamweight once before, and although he had an impressive run, his physical disadvantages were evident. When he stepped into the Octagon against Cruz in 2011, the size issues were pronounced. Not only was Cruz naturally the bigger fighter, he also held a five-inch height and four-inch reach advantage. Although Johnson was game, he simply couldn’t deal with the size and strength of Cruz, as “The Dominator” controlled the fight in the clinch and kept Johnson on his back during the later rounds. Were they to square off again, not much would change except the fact that Cruz hasn’t been nearly as active as Johnson. How would that be fair to Johnson?
The only way to level the playing field would be to contest the bout at a catchweight of 130 pounds. Even then, is it absolutely necessary for Johnson to face Cruz in order to prove he’s the pound-for-pound best? The current P4P king in most MMA circles, longtime 205-pound ruler Jon Jones, has yet to move up in weight despite his overall dominance of the light heavyweight division. Jones has discussed plans to eventually move up the scale, but until he does, it’s difficult to make a case that Johnson’s domination of his division is lesser than Jones’. Of course, the argument remains that Jones has toppled more former champions than Johnson. That is a valid argument, especially with the deeper field of opposition in Jones’ weight class.
However, it can also be argued that Johnson’s reign has been far more dominant than that of Jones. Aside from a split decision against Joseph Benevidez to win the inaugural UFC flyweight title, Johnson has had few problems in nearly four years and eight title defenses. Meanwhile, Jones claimed the light heavyweight title five years ago and also defended it eight times before being stripped last April. Jones also struggled in his bout with Alexander Gustafsson, and he hasn’t been quite as busy over the last two years.
As nonsensical as are the fictional pound-for-pound rankings, it still is a “what have you done for me lately?” type of party. Mighty Mouse has been a bit more impressive lately, while Jones hasn’t recorded a stoppage since running over the undersized Chael Sonnen in 2013. Meanwhile, Johnson has been magnificent, delivering four stoppages in his last six fights. His obliteration of Olympic wrestling gold medalist Cejudo places a cherry atop of the sundae of domination.
If your argument is that the flyweights aren’t as competitive as the light heavyweights, that holds a significant amount of weight. But this is as narrow of a separation between the No. 1 and No. 2 top fighters as there has ever been in the UFC.
UFC will be hard-pressed to find a qualified new contender for Johnson’s flyweight title, and the company may have to toss a boatload of money at the flyweight champ in order to get him to risk it all by facing Cruz, assuming Cruz gets past Urijah Faber next month.
A superfight with Cruz seems to be the only way for Johnson to become the consensus No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but it shouldn’t be forced upon Johnson unless Cruz makes some concessions with regards to weight. Johnson has already traveled down that road, and the physical challenges will remain the same.
Unless Jones is forced up to heavyweight -- assuming he wins his rematch with Daniel Cormier -- Mighty Mouse shouldn’t be pressured to change divisions. Let the man collect his checks and break Silva’s record for UFC title defenses. If he decides that moving up in weight is the next challenge, so be it.
Andreas Hale is the editorial content director of 2DopeBoyz.com, co-host of the boxing, MMA and pro wrestling podcast “The Corner” and a regular columnist for Sherdog.com. You can follow on Twitter for his random yet educated thoughts on combat sports, music, film and popular culture.