ALBUQUERQUE, NM -- The latter half of 2014 has been a rough one for John Dodson. Just when he was about to get his second crack at champion Demetrious Johnson, flyweight's endlessly jubilant number-one contender suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee this past July, cutting short his title campaign before it could even get started.
The months since have been agonizingly slow -- it turns out rehab isn't made for a 125er who lives life in fast-forward -- but with the year finally coming to a close, Dodson has begun catching glimpses of the light at the end of his tunnel.
"I feel like I can go right now but the doctor keeps telling me to hold back. He wants me to go ahead and wait, so hopefully I can get released (to train) in February or March," Dodson told MMAFighting.com.
"I'd love to come back way before that, but realistically my doctors are saying I won't be able to come back until the end of May or probably June to fight."
Six months isn't a long stretch by any means, but it can feel like a lifetime in the week-to-week world of the UFC. Fighters know, rankings don't always make sense and aren't always guaranteed.
So while Dodson may have that number-one spot locked up now, he can't say for sure if his two-fight win streak over Darrell Montague and John Moraga will be good enough to keep it until mid-2015. And at this point he isn't even sure he cares, because watching the fickle ebb and flow of the division from the sidelines has been frustrating enough in and of itself, especially after the unexpected and anticlimactic title shot given to Chris Cariaso at UFC 178.
"My title fight was handed to a guy who was [at the bottom end] of the division so that Demetrious Johnson could go ahead and fight someone," Dodson bluntly said.
"It made it gut-wrenching for me, because they replaced me with someone who didn't deserve it. Like, I would've been fine with it if they gave it to Ian McCall, or just a guy at the high end of the division. Even Joseph Benavidez again, because he could [at least] give Demetrious a fight, instead of giving Demetrious Johnson a fight that nobody wants."
Johnson ultimately handled Cariaso about as efficiently as expected, retaining his title with a second-round kimura that looked as effortless and any UFC title defense in recent memory.
In truth, no one but Dodson has given the champion trouble during his three-year title reign. And Dodson is more than aware that Johnson tends to turns sour whenever his name is brought back into the discussion.
"Apparently I'm the bogeyman to the 125 division and I don't even know why. Well, actually I do know why. My hands say it all," Dodson joked. "But, everybody is afraid of what I can potentially bring to the table, and that includes Demetrious Johnson. He's afraid that I have that one-punch knockout that will change him from being the champion to being the number-one contender."
For now, or at least until Dodson's knee returns that full strength, his chance at a second shot at gold remains strictly a hypothetical. Though when he does return, Dodson wouldn't mind keeping his options open. It's not lost on him that current UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw happens to be the same guy who he knocked out in under two minutes to win 'The Ultimate Fighter 14,' and all those nifty acrobatics work just the same 10 pounds heavier.
A dual title run is an option Dodson admits he's considered, especially in light of several recent injuries to bantamweight's elite. Plus, if he needed anymore motivation, Dillashaw gave it to him earlier this month by publicly dismissing that 2011 loss as nothing more than a "fluke."
"If it was such a fluke, then give that fluke some reality," Dodson said. "Prove that shot was lucky shot. Prove it wasn't a pinpoint accurate shot that landed clear on your jaw and dropped you, that you weren't wobbling after Herb Dean picked you up off the mat.
"I think I'm the bogeyman at 125 and 135. Even that champion doesn't want to fight me. I have a whole team afraid of me."