SEATTLE -- Demetrious Johnson swears up and down that he had nothing to prove in front of his hometown fans at Key Arena on Saturday night.
"It wasn't important to me at all," Johnson said at the UFC on FOX 8 press conference. "I'm here to fight, and like I said, if the finish comes to me, I'm going to take it."
We'll take him at face value, since the UFC flyweight champion has proven himself a forthright and straightforward dude over the years.
But "Mighty Mouse" sure looked like someone who had something to prove, didn't he? One fight after a stinker of a co-main event, in which some tried to defend Rory MacDonald's performance against Jake Ellenberger as "technical," Johnson showed with a true master technician is all about.
Johnson seamlessly moved from crisp striking to implementing one of the most underrated MMA wrestling games in the biz to submission attempts. He could have coasted to victory knowing he was up on the scorecards. But after Moraga tagged him good late in the fourth round during the only moment in the bout in which it appeared "Mighty Mouse" eased off the gas pedal a bit, Johnson turned up the heat again in round five and earned the latest submission in UFC history.
That's back-to-back exciting fights by the UFC's smallest champ, on the heels of his slugfest with John Dodson in January. The performance had UFC president Dana White lashing out against flyweight critics once again.
"I mean, what do you say to something like that?" White said. "Listen, we've all got to listen to stupid s--- on the Internet and Twitter and everywhere else. You can't fall into the stupidness. If you don't like that fight, you're just not a fan of fighting. Don't watch. I don't watch you to watch. They love when I tell them that - that I don't want them to watch. 'F--- you, don't watch it' - yeah, they love that."
Meanwhile, Johnson has proven his true worth in the pound-for-pound rankings. He's 8-1-1 in his past 10 fights. Prior to making his run at flyweight, he found success as an undersized bantamweight. Johnson won four straight fights at 135 pounds before going the distance with champion Dominick Cruz -- whose only career loss was as an undersized featherweight to a prime Urijah Faber.
In his own weight class, DJ looks every bit as dominant as the guys at the top of the pound-for-pound list do in theirs.
"Let me tell you what, if you were talking smack - it's like the Dodson fight," White said. "If you didn't like that fight, you're not a fight fan. If you don't like the lighter-weight guys, who gives a s---? Don't watch 'em. I don't know what to tell you. If you don't like what you saw tonight in the main event, you're not a fight fan. 'Oh, they're small and I don't like 'em.' OK."
UFC on FOX 8 Quotes
"The difference between Robbie Lawler now and Robbie Lawler then is obviously he's older, more grown-up, and more importantly, his head is in the right place. Robbie in the old days was a completely different person. He was just like, 'Eh, I don't care.' He didn't care about anything. Now he cares." -- Dana White on Robbie Lawler after his second straight UFC win.
"You know, I'm more disappointed in myself. It's been, it wasn't my night. I didn't have a good night and I didn't pull the trigger. I'm going to leave it like that." -- Jake Ellenberger
"Honestly I felt safe. It was in deep, but she was over my chin it was just a matter of I couldn't get my head loose. As tiny as she was, trying to get her hands free was really difficult. But I felt safe." -- Liz Carmouche, on Jessica Andrade's choke in the latter moments of the first round. Carmouche survived and won in the second round.
Stock up: Robbie Lawler
Granted, he was taking on a short-notice substitute in Bobby Voelker. But "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler did exactly what he needed to do at Key Arena on Saturday. Lawler looked loose, confident, and had that vintage Lawler finishing instinct against Voelker. That's two straight impressive UFC victories for Lawler, this one in front of a network television audience. While there are still pieces to fit into place in the welterweight division before we figure out what's next on his agenda, Robbie Lawler's redemption story is real and is turning into one of the better MMA stories of 2013.
Stock down: Jake Ellenberger
Dana White reserved the bulk of his venom for the stinker of a co-main event for MacDonald last night. And you can sort of understand where he's coming from, since, as a promoter, he saw last night as MacDonald's chance to build on his win over B.J. Penn and rocket into stardom.
Still, though, Ellenberger should get the bulk of the blame for this one. He's the one who spent weeks talking trash to build up the fight. He's the one who said he was going to knock MacDonald cold, and he was the one complaining about not getting enough respect in the welterweight rankings.
Then he came out and froze in the biggest moment of his career. First round? Chalk it up to a feeling-out process. Second round? Okay, MacDonald's doing a great job cutting off the angles. Time to go to Plan B. But how does Ellenberger not go for broke in round three? When he finally scored a takedown in the final minute, you wondered where that was over the first 14 minutes.
MacDonald didn't earn his boss's endearment by taking the easy and clear path to victory. If he does make it to the top, last night could be viewed as a one-time blip. Ellenberger, though has come up short in his biggest fights, both last night and in his loss to Martin Kampmann. His book is pretty much written.
Good call: Dan Miragliotta
Referee Dan Miragliotta was on point all night Saturday. First Big Dan made the right call Michael Chiesa's tapout to Jorge Masvidal, which happened a split second before the horn, and stuck to his guns with an angry Chiesa before Chiesa stormed back to the locker room, Forrest Griffin style. Then Miragliotta hopped in at precisely the proper moment when Lawler finished off Voelker. Lawler floored Voelker with a head kick, and pounced onto the fallen Voelker with bad intentions. That's when Miragliotta stepped in and finished it. Could Voelker arguably have absorbed another shot or two? Perhaps, but when it's Robbie Lawler pouncing, that shot or two could be the one that puts him out cold. Good work all around by Miragliotta.
Bad call: Just about everything else
At several points during Saturday's fights, the Washington State Department of Licensing, well, looked like a crew that had partaken in the state's recently legalized herb of choice. First came a string of four consecutive split decisions. Granted, these were, in fact, close fights. But back-to-back bouts, Ed Herman vs. Trevor Smith and Yves Edwards vs. Daron Cruickshank, saw the dreaded 30-27 scores in opposite directions by two judges.
"At one point I was like, is somebody f--- with us right now?" was White's take on the split decisions. "It's not getting better. Tonight is just more proof it's not getting better. At all. You can take all the crazy 30-27s and ... ."
The low point, through, was the end of the Melvin Guillard-Mac Danzig fight. First, referee Steve Newport came in way too late, as Danzig continued to take shots after being knocked cold. Anyone who follows the sport knows of Guillard's finishing power and there's just no excuse for this. Then the cageside doctor exacerbated matters by getting a woozy Danzig to his feet well before he was ready, causing a scene in which the shell-shocked Danzig stumbled around and tried to fight everyone around him. All in all, it was a terrible moment for the commission.
Side note on Seattle attendance
I lived in Seattle for two years back in the day. If there's one thing I learned during that time, it's that people in the Northwest don't like to be indoors on summer weekends. They sit through nine months of clouds and drizzle. Spectacular summer weather is what makes the rest of the year worthwhile. Summer is for Mariners games with the roof open at Safeco Field and outdoor music festivals.
Despite the half-empty Key Arena last night, the Northwest is still a good market for MMA. It's just that in this case, with the UFC in town and charging UFC ticket prices for the third time in two years, I can understand why a fan on the fence who went to one or both of the first two shows opted to sit this one out. Lesson learned.
Fight I'd like to see next: Robbie Lawler vs. Nick Diaz 2
I spent a bit of time going through all the various permutations coming out of last night's welterweight fights. Yes, I realize there are more consequential divisional fights you can make. I'd like to see MacDonald take on the Carlos Condit-Martin Kapmann winner. I could also live with MacDonald vs. Lawler, which would both give MacDonald a chance to get back on track and Lawler a chance to test himself against one of the best.
But, c'mon. When Diaz knocked Lawler cold at UFC 47, it was one of the most stunning moments in early Zuffa history. We've long assumed we'd never get to see the rematch. Yeah, I know, Diaz is allegedly "retired." You and I both know he'll be back. So let's see the rematch nine years in the making.