When it comes down to it, Demetrious Johnson may be the UFC's most approachable champion. A tireless worker with lightning speed, unparalleled skill, and a video game obsession to boot, the UFC's 125-pound king fashioned the flyweight division into his own personal playground over the past three years, all while keeping a smile on his face and rarely saying a bad word about anyone.
But in many ways, Johnson's in-cage success has struggled to translate to out-of-cage enthusiasm. With middling pay-per-view numbers and television ratings, the flyweights have often found themselves playing second fiddle to the UFC's bulkier divisions, to the point where it's commonplace to see a 125-pound contender fight overshadowed by a match-up between unranked fighters who tip a bit heavier on the bathroom scale. And it's a trend that is starting to bug the men who are vying for Johnson's top spot.
"Demetrious Johnson is doing something that a lot of people should be doing, just backing it up by fighting," No. 1 ranked contender John Dodson recently told MMAFighting.com. "He's showcasing his ability to be a true champion by being able to finish by strikes, submissions, or a winning decision without squeaking by anybody.
"With that being said, him not being able to pop kind of ruins it for all of us. That's why we all need to step up as athletes and start doing it ourselves. If the division wants to have some limelight, then we need to start having some other fighters who can present that opportunity. It doesn't matter if we're a champion or not."
Dodson is not alone in his sentiment. Top-ranked flyweight Ian McCall echoed a similar concern late last year, bluntly stating on The MMA Hour that "no one really gives a s**t" about the division because Johnson "has the personality of my coffee mug." Johnson ultimately shrugged off that affront, because when you're king it's easy to disregard the cries of the serfs. However Dodson believes there's some merit to what McCall is preaching.
"It kinda is hard to watch because if he's not promoting -- being a champion you have to essentially be the president of our division," Dodson said. "Like, you have to sit there and be in front of people and popping and showing everybody a different side of us that will [draw] people into it. Like Anthony Pettis went out and became a Wheaties box champion but nobody ever cared about that. They have Donald Cerrone, who's consistently fighting and has a Budweiser sponsorship, going out to Daytona. People are more excited for Donald Cerrone to go duck hunting and go see something else rather than having Anthony Pettis being on a box of Wheaties.
"It just shows you that it's us, as individual flyweights, that we need to do something differently rather than complain about the person who's holding the title. If we wind up waiting for that title to change, then we're [not doing our jobs] anyways."
Dodson had his chance once, and though he dragged Johnson closer to defeat than any other challenger over Johnson's title reign, he too fell short, losing a narrow unanimous decision to the champion in early 2013.
But with two straight wins since, and flyweight's general dearth of contenders, Dodson is again primed to make a run at Johnson's strap when he returns from rehabilitating a torn ACL this summer. Only then can he enact the change that he believes the division needs.
"Everyone loves me because I can knock someone out and I have such a beautiful smile," Dodson joked. "People love Ian McCall because of the fact that he has a cartoon face with a mustache and hair and his girlish figure. Well, if everyone makes [Johnson] out to be bad for the division, then us, as fighters, need to step up at that division to get people interested in it. We have to show a purpose.
"If you look at the two divisions who finish the most people, it's flyweights and the heavyweights. They're the ones who have, by stats, the highest ‘Fight of the Night' and [‘Performance of the Night'], which shows that we are exciting fighters. We just need to prove to everyone that we're worth it to watch."