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For Demetrious Johnson, complacency is a thing best left to others

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Tracy Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday was a flyweight showcase like the original one the UFC did in Sydney back in 2012, back when the division was created to anoint Joseph Benavidez through a four-man tournament. Everything has changed since then. And yet, in some ways nothing has changed at all.

This time Benavidez showed up and put on a Fight of the Year candidate against Henry Cejudo — a classic down to the end horn. He just keeps winning, just like he did back then against Yasuhiro Urushitani. Now he’s in line for (another) title shot, because he and flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson are a two-man terminus where all contenders go to die. Naturally, those two forces are bound to keep bumping into each other.

And Johnson, who all those years ago fought Ian McCall to a judge-botched draw, has won every single fight since then, including the one against Harley Davidson owner Tim Elliott on Saturday night. Johnson is a sociological wonder, the qualified pound-for-pound king (so long as Jon Jones is away) who swings between the greatest going and the most underappreciated that ever was. He is, of course, both — it’s no longer a question.

Saturday night proved it.

"Mighty Mouse" was at the Palms fighting a loveable, gussied-up retread to almost zero fanfare, in large part because it was check the couch cushions for coins kind of matchmaking. Elliott gamely won TUF 24, a series of televised exhibitions, to get his dream shot. He had his father in attendance, and they ran a promo showing his baby daughter. The set-up was a warm one. And it was a little sticky for a minute — a little Wouldn’t This Be Something — yet the massive favorite Johnson began to pour it on, just as sure as Seattle rain, and prevailed.

To hear Johnson talk about it afterwards it was as if Elliott were a puzzle that took him a minute to solve — a long rangy dog of a puzzle with unusual movement and dangerous bursting coils. Opponents are an extension of his gaming fetish. Johnson lost the first round. But the second he was slowly turning it into his fight. By the third it was his. The championship rounds became a thing of guts-and-brawn for Elliott, who was cut from the UFC in early-2015 after a three-fight losing streak (one of those coming against Joseph Benavidez). Johnson won the four final rounds. Elliott said that if it were a fight to the death — as in, some extra rounds until one participant were to perish — he’d have indisputably emerged the victor.

It’s possible he would have.

And that’s what makes this one impressive for Johnson. Imagine a guy with a mindset like Elliott’s, with everything to gain and nothing to lose, coming for your belt, soul and mojo, when all that’s in it for you is just the perception that you should beat him handily. Johnson is now one win away from tying Anderson Silva’s UFC record for most title defenses (10), and he deals in casual outside complacency for his underappreciated greatness on a daily basis.  It’s almost like he himself doesn’t have to fight complacency, because at flyweight that heavy burden is inherent to the post. He just has to be great in defiance of everything else.

Which is what he’s done.

Now it’s back to Benavidez, who has won six straight fights since losing to Johnson back in 2013. Johnson cleaned out the division a long time ago, yet Benavidez remains right there with him with a duster in his hand, doing the deeper cleaning. At first it seemed impractical to have Benavidez fight Johnson a third time when he’s down 0-2 in the series, much like it was back when Benavidez was 0-2 against bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz (thus the reason for the creation of a flyweight division).

Now it’s inevitable. Johnson, the great champion of our day, is stuck fighting woodwork contenders and twice-beaten rivals, because that’s where things are (and that’s how great he is). And Benavidez, who at 32 has punched his way through more purgatories than the nearest wailing spirit, is right there. Again.

Just like he was back in 2012, when it was tailored for him. It’s just like it was then. Johnson is the most constant of our champions, and Benavidez the most constant contender. Time to roll it back.