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Matt Hume: Demetrious Johnson won't compromise who he is

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

MONTREAL – One person who is invested in the slow-to-catch on Demetrious Johnson mythos is his coach, Matt Hume, who has been with "Mighty Mouse" since day one. Hume, who runs the AMC Kickboxing and Pankration gym in Kirkland, Washington, has literally taken Johnson from a factory nine-to-fiver who just wanted to get in shape to the most electric dynamo to ever sport UFC gold.

Still, we wonder about Johnson as a feature attraction.

Heading into his sixth flyweight title defense against Kyoji Horiguchi on Saturday night, Johnson’s longtime coach said that he barely hears any criticism that his main guy can’t sell a fight, and that it’s not Johnson’s fault if he’s installed as a ridiculously heavy favorite. Hume -- like Johnson -- believes there’s a big picture in play, one that is far purer than ten thousand pounds of hype.

"Demetrious is on a journey to be the greatest martial artist that he can be," Hume told MMA Fighting at the UFC 186 media day down on the old port in Montreal. "And that doesn’t pertain to any specific opponent. His job is to finish all his opponents, without regard as to who that opponent is or how competitive they are. If somebody else goes on that same journey, they’ll give him a tougher fight. But it’s not going to stop him and his journey."

Hume is one of the martial arts great historians. He can take techniques back to their origins, and has been known to brush off ancient modes of thought and apply them to the modern cage. His is a philosophy-based program. But what he’s done with Johnson is fairly remarkable, if under-heralded. He has helped create one of the most dominant champions in UFC history, a guy who has incrementally separated himself from the flyweight pack since defeating Joseph Benavidez to win the belt at UFC 152.

Still, Johnson doesn’t captivate the imagination like some fighters do. Even heading into his main event fight with the 24-year old Horiguchi the attention at the media day was directed at the more polarizing figure, Quinton Jackson, who was sitting one stool down. Most of the criticism Johnson receives has less to do with his fighting ability so much as it does his sellability. 

"The reality is that stuff doesn’t matter," Hume said. "He’s creating a legacy to be the great mixed martial artist ever. He’s creating that legacy. And, guys like Joe Rogan -- guys like that -- are talking about it. Joe Rogan says he’s not the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter, he’s the No. 1 pound-for-pound guy. I agree with that. It’s just up to us to continually prove that. And we will. If we don’t do that, then we aren’t doing out job.

"All that other criticism are that he’s not selling his fight because he’s not talking sh*t or something, that’s not who he is. If you want to talk about video games, and that he’ll do one of his moves from a video game or something like that, then we can talk and make it interesting. But if you want him to talk smack about somebody, that’s just not really his personality."

It doesn’t help that Horiguchi doesn’t speak a lick of English, or that he was tucked away in Japan for the greater part of his camp. Or that Johnson’s last opponent, Chris Cariaso, was neighborly polite about the encounter, or that Ali Bagautinov also had a language barrier. Nor does it help that he’s been put in spots of vulnerability, this time as a smaller weight package deal with bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw and Renan Barao before that bout was postponed until July with an injury.

Even with the circumstances being what they are Hume said that accompanying Johnson on this "journey" has been rewarding. And that Johnson is a guy who won’t change his stripes. Instead, at some point, Hume believes that people will see those stripes for what they are.

"What he does is he sets the example for everybody else," Hume said. "Here’s the example of a guy that came in not saying I want to be a fighter and a champion, but kept his mouth shut and did the work, all while working a 10-hour a day job in a factory, while taking care of family. That happened until I told him, when he was fighting for a title in the UFC, ‘quit your job. It’s now time to quit your job.’ And he was like, ‘are you sure?’

"He is an example of a guy who was patient and waited. He didn’t try to want to be a pro fighter because it sounded cool. He waited until I told him, now it’s time to become a pro fighter. He waited until I told him now it’s time to quit your job and focus on winning this title. So those kinds of things. Having the dedication, the discipline, the loyalty, and having the hunger for education in the martial arts, he’s the example I can point to. And that’s how he helped me."

Asked if Johnson could end up being the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, Hume is as realistic about it as he is lofty.

"That’s the goal I always have for everybody that I train, but it’s up to them to take it that far," Hume said. "I’m with him every step of his journey, but he could get injured next week crossing the road and be done with that. You never know where it’s going to go. But we’re going to continue to build his techniques and build him into a perfect martial artist as long as he’s able to do it."