It has been a weird winding road that Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson has trekked since the promotion unwrapped their shiny new 125-pound division three-and-a-half years ago.
After having to have a do-over with Ian McCall to set up the first flyweight title fight, Johnson outpointed heavily favored Joseph Benavidez to become the inaugural (and only) UFC flyweight champion.
While running up nine consecutive victories in the UFC isn’t quite the task it once was, it is still pretty damn impressive and that is just what “Mighty Mouse” has done since the draw with McCall in his first fight after at 125 pounds. That streak includes seven title defenses, four stoppage wins and a trip to the penthouse of the sport’s pound-for-pound rankings.
Still, this is not nearly enough for some fans and pundits.
Now I’m not here to preach to you about the dominant nature of one Demetrious Khrisna Johnson or tell you that you’re a mouth-breathing basement dweller if you don’t appreciate his technical prowess.
What I am here to tell you is that there is a place for a fighter like D.J., who has become so proficient at his craft that he has lapped the field in his division. You don’t need to be an MMA historian to remember a time when Anderson Silva -- the man many felt was the MMA GOAT before his recent fall from grace -- was the whipping boy of the disaffected MMA pundit/fan.
Like Silva before him, D.J. is in serious need of an interesting foil and that just isn’t going to come from the current crop of flyweights. A super fight against the likes of T.J. Dillashaw or former foe Dominick Cruz makes a ton of sense and should be on the horizon sometime in 2016.
There are a lot of moving parts there and before that fight can be made we need to see those guys get after it and the winner would need to stay unscathed to even contemplate the champion vs. champion the promotion has been salivating over for years.
In the meantime what do you do with the enigmatic Johnson?
He is arguably the best active fighter in the world at this point (thanks, Jon Jones) yet one of the most polarizing figures at the same time. It seems the only thing media representatives want to ask him about are the numbers he draws at the box office and in pay-per-view.
I get it, the numbers aren’t good. But this guy is an amazing fighter and is rapidly approaching the record for number of title defenses in the UFC. Only Anderson Silva (10), Georges St. Pierre (9) and Jon Jones (8) have defended more times than Johnson’s seven. That is pretty lofty company no matter which way you slice it.
There is no way to deny that D.J. can be his own worst enemy when it comes to building his fights but ask yourself this question. Who is the promoter and who is the fighter?
While he could help his cause mightily by pretending to be someone he isn’t, he really could be aided by being placed on cards that would take away the headlining burden he so clearly isn’t willing to embrace. Why not keep him on Fox or as a co-main eventer if you really must assign him to a PPV card?
Put him on a marquee with Ronda Rousey and bill them as the best fighters in the world. They are giving strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk the Ronda treatment at UFC 194, why not D.J.?
With the cupboard bare at flyweight and no new potential rivals on the horizon the UFC will have to get creative if they want or even care to get their young dominant champion over with the fans. The task is that much harder when seeing how he doesn’t want to play the game, but it is in everyone’s best interest for the man who very well may wear the pound-for-pound crown for the foreseeable future to be valuable commodity rather than a liability in his employer’s eyes.
I, for one, believe the best is yet to come both in and out of the cage for Johnson. I see a flyweight division that continues to fill out over time as well as the potential for him to nab the record for consecutive title defenses. If he were to accomplish titles in multiple divisions it would mean he just keeps on winning and we all know that is the most important factor of all.
People love a winner and if they don’t, they love to root against them. Should D.J. continue to stack up the Ws, his time will eventually come. Until then let’s make sure he doesn’t have to carry any pay-per-view cards so we can let this argument rest for a while.
Greg Savage is the executive editor of Sherdog.com and can be reached via email or on Twitter @TheSavageTruth.