TORONTO -- Just more than five years ago, Demetrious Johnson walked into an MMA gym to get a workout. He had no thoughts of winning a belt or even fighting professionally. He just wanted to stay in shape.
Johnson, though, was a natural. His improvements were so fast and so vast that within a short time of that initial visit, he was fighting. His progression continued into the UFC, and now, Johnson belongs to history, capturing the inaugural UFC flyweight championship with a hard-fought split-decision over Joseph Benavidez at UFC 152.
Two judges scored it for him by 49-46 and 48-47 scores, while a third scored it for Benavidez 48-47.
The fight was extremely closely contested, but if Johnson differentiated himself in any substantial ways, it was with his precision striking and takedowns.
While Benavidez spent plenty of time swinging and missing at the elusive "Mighty Mouse," Johnson was scoring with left hands and piling up takedowns.
The fourth was the most action-packed of the rounds, with each man exchanging top position in looking to establish dominance. Benavidez had it first, hunting for a guillotine. He earned full mount with it and squeezed for the finish but Johnson always kept just enough space to keep the blood flowing and eventually worked free. Johnson later scored a pair of takedowns, and ended the round on top dropping punches and elbows to the body.
In the fifth, he scored another two takedowns in clinching the win.
At the final horn, Johnson raised his hands, sure he had achieved victory while Benavidez seemed uncertain of who would get the nod.
According to statistics shown by the UFC, Johnson out-landed his opponent in strikes 110-82.
Johnson had a hard road to the finals, needing two tries to get past Ian McCall after an error tallying the scores in their first fight caused a draw and necessitated a rematch.
But once he got past McCall, he earned his gold.
"Joseph is a great competitor, but I trained hard," he said. "I dedicated a lot to this sport. It happened."
Johnson is now 16-2 with 1 no contest overall. Benavidez fell to 16-3.