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Demetrious Johnson: ‘Yeah, I believe I am the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world’

MMA: UFC 197-Johnson vs Cejudo Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

After securing his record-tying ninth straight flyweight title defense against Tim Elliott earlier this month, the 5-foot-3 Demetrious Johnson stands tall as the most dominant champion in the UFC. How great is he?

Enough for some to make the theoretical stake that he’s the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the game right now. Better than Dominick Cruz. Better than Conor McGregor. Better than the suspended Jon Jones, who held the largely conversational (and extremely hypothetical) P4P crown for so long.

And though he’s been reticent on the matter, even “Mighty Mouse” sees himself at the front of the list after Saturday night’s adversity-strewn match with Elliott.

“You know what, I believe so — I think I am,” Johnson told Ariel Helwani on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. “I think going out there and showing everything in my last fight [against Elliott]. I showed I had a good clinch. [And I] TKO’d Henry Cejudo — Joseph Benavidez just went three rounds with him even though it was an improved Henry Cejudo. But, those guys never really took the fight to different place. Those guys didn’t really fight in the clinch, or use the wrestling aspect, or the grappling.”

Johnson saw his come-from-behind unanimous decision over Elliott at The Ultimate Fighter 24 Finale as proof that he’s the real deal, considering how he showed off — once again — just deep his tool box goes.

“I went out there against a very gritty opponent, Tim Elliott, and a lot of people don’t give the guy credit,” he said. “You can’t [judge that] until you get in there and fight him. It’s totally different.

“A lot of people might sit back and watch Dominick Cruz doing his footwork, and say, ‘oh, Dominick Cruz just dancing around and he runs away.’ It’s a totally different atmosphere until you get in there, and you actually experience it. But I was able to make adjustments, to get out of some tight situations, persevere through adversity and overcome essentially the bigger flyweight, or the taller guy. So yeah, I believe I am the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world.”

The last time Johnson lost a bout was in Oct. 2011 against currently bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. That was before the creation of the flyweight division, which is the more natural fit for Johnson.

Even still, some people point out that it’s hard to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world if you lost to Cruz at 135 pounds (especially since Cruz hasn’t lost since 2007).

To that Johnson said simply that he would like his chances against anybody in an identical body frame, no matter who it was.

“I think because that [Cruz fight] happened, what, five years ago?” he said. “You know, I don’t know, but I think for me when you see the overall pound-for-pound…if I was the same size as Cruz, or the same size as [Jon] Jones, weight-wise, everything is identically the same, I would think that I would be able to beat them, showing what I’ve been able to do in the Octagon.

“I’ve knocked people out from the clinch. I’ve submitted people from armbars, Kimura, last-second armbars. I’ve knocked people out with one-hand punch.”

The 30-year old Johnson, who can tie Anderson Silva’s record of 10 title defenses in his next bout, acknowledges that the P4P distinction is obviously just one of those things people like to debate over, a shifting sands conversation with no way of ever getting at the truth.

“It’s barbershop talk,” he said. “[It’s like] when a black man is giving a brother a fade, saying, ‘yo, you know what dawg? That Demetrious Johnson, he pretty good, dawg. He 5-3 though,’ and the other guy goes, ‘yeah, he short but if he’s the same size as that motherf*cker he’d kick his ass, I guarantee it.’ That’s where I think it’s like barbershop talk.”

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