When a fighter tells you he doesn't listen to his haters, you don't usually believe them. Usually the people who most vigorously claim they never read the comments section are the first to jump straight there and see what's being said.
But in Demetrious Johnson's case, he just might be telling the truth.
The UFC flyweight champion has been subjected to an endless stream of snark about his size, but he's let it go in one ear and out the other as he's become one of the sport's most dominant champions.
Those who chose not to watch UFC 174 last night missed out on a fighter who put on yet another display of why he's among the top three pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Ali Bagautinov came into the fight with an 11-fight win streak and a reputation as a punisher, but he spent more time swinging at air than he did connecting with his nimble foe.
But in the post-fight press conference, the questions came back around to the fact that many of those 13,506 at Rogers Arena were leaving during the fight -- and really, if you had to sit through this year's Vancouver Canucks, you would have gotten accustomed to leaving that venue early, too -- and not on his performance during the fight itself.
"I didn't notice it at all, I was too busy throwing knees in the clinch," DJ deadpanned. "It doesn't bother me at all. People are free to leave and go as they please. I had a great fight, I think the educated fans loved it, and that's all I have to say about it."
About that 13,506 attendance mark: That's more people who showed up for the UFC's traditional big Memorial Day weekend card in Las Vegas for UFC 173 (11,056), for Jon Jones vs. Glover Teixeira (13,485) and for Ronda Rousey vs. Sara McMann in the battle of the Olympians.
While that's obviously far from a be-all, end all statistic (it sure helped that British Columbia's Rory MacDonald was in the co-main), Johnson was put in a no-win situation. He was fighting an opponent who had little traction with the audience. And he was put on what's traditionally one of the UFC's poorest-drawing PPVs on the schedule regardless who tops the bill, the June card sandwiched between the blockbuster Memorial Day and Fourth of July cards and running at the same time as the NBA and NHL finals. You have to go back to 2010, with Rich Franklin ending Chuck Liddell's career, to find a June card which even slightly moved the needle with the masses.
Even with the deck stacked against him, more people came through the turnstiles for Johnson's fight than Jon Jones or Ronda Rousey's recent fights. No wonder "Mighty Mouse" has learned to tune out his haters.
UFC 174 quotes
"He choked in the big fight tonight. He needed to come out and try to rip that head off in the third round and he didn't even do that. He threw a few punches, missed and didn't knock him out. He just sort of sat back into the way he fought the rest of the fight." -- Dana White on Tyron Woodley.
"I think everyone would agree that fight sucked. That fight was horrible. Do you know who lost in that fight? The fans. The fans lost in that fight. ... neither one of them threw any punches in the first two rounds and Schaub still looked like he got hit with a baseball bat. For him to think he was robbed tonight is absolute comedy. We got robbed tonight." -- White, not mincing words on Brendan Schaub vs. Andrei Arlovski.
"I want them to like me, but I don't want to be a superstar. I just like to fight and hopefully I'll be a dominant champion and represent Canada well." -- Rory MacDonald, not looking to be the next GSP.
"Please don't boo me." -- Arlovski in his post-fight interview.
Up: Rory MacDonald. For awhile there, it looked like we were watching a potential champion flush away his opportunities; first, in MacDonald's tentative win over Jake Ellenberger last summer, then in his loss to Robbie Lawler. But two fights later, it is clear that MacDonald has turned the corner and become every bit the potential star he's long been envisioned. MacDonald constantly moved forward against Tyron Woodley on Saturday, worked all sorts of angles, and kept him guessing and second-guessing. Taking it into Woodley's wheelhouse in the third round and taking him down and effortlessly holding him there was the coup de grace on a masterful performance. While it's not enough to push MacDonald ahead of Lawler and Matt Brown in the welterweight pecking order, he's basically one fight away.
Down: Tyron Woodley. I think White's assessment of T-Wood was a bit over-the-top. Is the Carlos Condit fight now retroactively supposed to be not considered a big fight? Not to mention, Woodley is neither the first guy MacDonald has made look bad, nor will he be the last. But there's also little dispute Woodley couldn't seize the moment in his biggest spot. And his performance lent credence to the notion that he's a fast starter whose tank empties just as fast as the fight goes on. Woodley is one of the most intelligent guys you'll meet outside the cage, now it's time for him to use those smarts to go back to the drawing board.
Up: Ryan Bader. It seemed like Bader was destined to be a guy who got goaded into his defeats, from his reckless loss to Tito Ortiz; to rushing right into a Lyoto Machida knockout; to a similar fate against Glover Teixeira. But Bader has gained a sense of poise in recent fights, no better than during last night's bout against Rafael Cavalcante. Bader imposed his will over the first two rounds and he was having none of that when "Feijao" tried to turn it into a brawl in the third round. If this keeps up, perhaps Bader will turn into a legit contender after all.
Down: Mike Easton. The Alliance MMA bantamweight is a good dude from all accounts. But he's lost four in a row and his fights have gotten progressively less interesting. A trip to the minors is probably best for him at this point.
Hold: Andrei Arlovski. Okay, I know this pick is a little out there. I'll admit I'm probably being a softie for one of the guys still around from the old days. But I'm willing to give him a one-time mulligan on last night, given that Arlovski has admitted to his nerves going back into the Octagon for the first time in six years, and given that Cybrog Abreu can tell you about how frustrating a non-engaging Brendan Schaub can be. I'm willing to give Arlovski one more chance and see if he can get untracked. Granted, given White's postfight reaction, it very well might be the first time we see a former champion fight on the Fight Pass prelims, but still.
Maybe it's because I'm mentally comparing it to last week's Diego Sanchez-Ross Pearson travesty. Maybe it's because I can't be bothered too much about who gets the call in a fight which just flat-out sucked. But I'm not too worked up over the Arlvoski-Schaub decision. There was so little going on in either of the first two rounds that it isn't like scoring both for Arlvoski is some type of robbery, and all three judges correctly gave the final round to Schaub. Terrible fight? Yes. Terrible call? Ehh, whatever.
That was the biggest item of note on what was all in all a fairly uneventful evening from an officiating standpoint. But we also have to cast a raised eyebrow toward referee Jerin Valel, who oversaw the Fight Pass opener between Jason Saggo and Josh Shockley, which was later re-aired on FX.
Late in round one, with Saggo on top of Shockley and dishing out ground-and-pound, Valel informed Shockley there was 10 seconds left in the round, then stopped the fight with three seconds left. First off, it's not the ref's job to play timekeeper. A fighter's corner should keep them appraised, and the timekeeper has those big wooden clappers you hear throughout the arena specifically to signal 10 seconds remain. Second, if you're a fighter, and you're in Shockley's position, and you hear the ref tell you there's just 10 seconds left, wouldn't your instinct be to cover up and ride out the storm? Realistically, Saggo was probably on his way to victory regardless, but still, Valel gave out Shockley a signal that could easily be misinterpreted. Save the timekeeping for the timekeeper.
Fight I'd like to see next: Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson
What an interesting spot "Mighty Mouse" is in. There won't be any bantamweight superfight anytime soon with the recent title change there. It's not like there's a weight class he can drop to. Nor can I blame Johnson for eying Brad Pickett, who has dropped to flyweight. WEC fans will recall that Pickett defeated Johnson in a slugfest at the famed WEC 48 PPV in Sacramento in 2010, a fight that left cageside observers wondering what Johnson could do if the UFC ever implemented a 125-pound class.
Given that Johnson has chewed through the competition at flyweight, though, I think the best bet is a rematch with Dodson. Dodson gave Mighty Mouse the strongest challenge of his title reign. It was a fight Dodson was winning until Johnson drilled him with a fight-turning, illegal knee to the head. Had referee John McCarthy docked Johnson a point, as he should have, the fight would have been a majority draw instead of a DJ decision. Between the highlights of the first fight and the obvious bad blood between the two, the UFC should be able to build interest in their spectacular flyweight champion in a way they haven't yet be able.