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Demetrious Johnson on Conor McGregor: 'He reminds me of a young Mike Tyson, a young Muhammad Ali'

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Demetrious Johnson's style is no secret. Inside the cage, the UFC flyweight champion blends his many tools into a cyclone of technical brilliance -- mystifying footwork and unrivaled speed joining together in one unassailable package. Johnson's approach may not always translate into fan enthusiasm, but hey, with four successive title defense and counting, there's no doubting its effectiveness.

Once the gloves come off though, Johnson's frenetic motor tends to shift into a milder sort. Rarely is the 28-year-old champion seen navigating the minefield of public callouts. Boisterous acts of bravado just are not his thing, nor any of the general feats of ruckusness upon which so many legends of the mic game built their reputation.

For Johnson, it's a tried and true formula: stay respectful, win, and eventually esteem will become a compulsory partner in your success.

So it's a curious thing, then, to hear Johnson explain that his non-competitive leanings -- his interests as a fan first -- fall right in line with the very bluster he avoids in his own professional life; that, aside from himself, the storyline he's eating up the most ahead of UFC 178 is not one of redemption or technical mastery, but rather, whether Irish braggart Conor McGregor can cash the checks his bulldog mouth has written for Dustin Poirier.

"I really, truly appreciate Conor McGregor's style -- his fighting style and the way he talks," Johnson said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "The reason why is because he reminds me of a young Mike Tyson, a young Muhammad Ali, the way he talks.

"Like, I look at him and I don't see him talking trash. I look at him and I see him talking (about) what he sees, where he's like: ‘dude, I'm way faster, I move way better than you do, you're slow, I'm going to hit you hard' -- which, I believe all these things that he says are true. Like, I believe that his fighting style is good, he understands fighting, and not taking anything away from Dustin Poirier -- Dustin Poirier is a huge test -- I can appreciate somebody who can talk that stuff and he'll go in there and he'll back it up."

Indeed, with the smoldering theatrics between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier now replaced by the quiet deference of Johnson and challenger Chris Cariaso, UFC 178 fight week in Las Vegas has a good chance of becoming the Conor McGregor show. The feud between the loquacious Irishman and his foil, Poirier, is just one of many narratives driving Saturday's pay-per-view, but McGregor has never been one to shy away from a microphone, and even Johnson is fascinated to see how far the young featherweight can take his act before it falters.

"The curious thing will be like, what if he loses?" Johnson mused. "They have so much hype behind Conor McGregor. If he loses then, you know, they'll look around like, ‘Well, we had a good run, Conor. Let's see what you got to say again.'

"So I'm more intrigued by that fight because I think that fight has more stakes going into it, because it's like, one, I'm pretty sure if Conor wins it, then he can be fighting ‘old man Swanson,' as he called him, Cub Swanson next. And then, who knows, he could be fighting Chad Mendes or Jose Aldo for the title after those two fight. We'll see."