LAS VEGAS — Demetrious Johnson is now the standard-bearer for UFC greatness, and he accomplished that feat more spectacularly than anyone could ever have imagined.
After chasing Anderson Silva’s record for consecutive UFC title defenses for years, “Mighty Mouse” claimed the record all to himself on Saturday night with an instantly legendary fifth-round armbar against Ray Borg at UFC 216. In a surreal sequence, Johnson suplexed Borg, then literally snatched Borg’s arm in midair before completing the submission on the mat, cementing his 11th consecutive defense of the UFC flyweight title with a finish that will be a fixture of UFC highlight reels until the end of time.
Afterward, UFC president Dana White proclaimed the move to be the greatest submission ever inside the Octagon, and he praised both Johnson and Borg for a moment that will forever go down in UFC lore.
“You guys know what a crazy jiu-jitsu guy Joe Rogan is — Rogan was up in the ring, he goes, ‘I’ve never even seen that in a jiu-jitsu match,’” White said at the UFC 216 post-fight press conference. “He goes, ‘It’s crazy, this guy’s a freak.’ And it’s true. Demetrious is the best, man. He broke Anderson Silva’s record and did it in spectacular fashion. And I feel like I disrespected Ray Borg a little bit with the whole T.J. Dillashaw (thing). That kid came to fight. He came to fight, he didn’t want to tap to that armbar. I don’t know if you guys talked to him yet, his arm can’t be feeling too good, but (he’s) a stud and I meant no disrespect.”
Johnson, 31, remains unbeaten in 14 fights since the UFC instituted a flyweight division in 2012. His run as champion is now peerless, a streak unmatched by any in UFC history, but never has the respect he’s garnered for his accomplishments been more obvious than on Saturday night. The Las Vegas crowd inside the T-Mobile Arena twice broke out in raucous chants of Johnson’s name during his fight, and in general, the support he received at UFC 216 was a steep departure from what Johnson was hearing a few years ago, when questions regarding his popularity surrounded every “Mighty Mouse” bout.
Considering that, it’s possible the uniqueness of his suplex-to-armbar sequence could wind up being the same type of galvanizing moment that so many other past UFC fighters have experienced, the type of moment that propels a UFC champion into a different level of stardom. And if that happens, White wouldn’t be surprised.
“I felt like tonight, the crowd was chanting his name, and I think people are coming around,” White said. “That’s the thing. Sometimes it takes longer for some people. Crazy to think, but people didn’t love Chuck Liddell at one time either. They didn’t hate him; they just didn’t care. And then Chuck became a massive superstar for us. And Anderson Silva ... he kicked Vitor (Belfort) in the face and exploded.”
Prior to UFC 216, the debate raged about what Johnson’s breaking of Silva’s record would mean for his all-time standing. “Mighty Mouse” was already being thrown into conversations regarding the greatest fighters of all-time, joining the usual list of suspects with fighters like Silva, Jon Jones, and Georges St-Pierre.
But after watching the sublime brilliance that Johnson executed at UFC 216, White was more than ready to anoint “Mighty Mouse” as the single best fighter to ever grace the Octagon.
“Definitely,” White said. “He’s the man. He broke Anderson Silva’s record, and it almost seems like in that last round he knew he was going to do it and he knew how he was going to do it. It was pretty impressive. I don’t know if I just said this or not, I’m tired, but (Johnson’s head coach) Matt Hume, we were talking about how awesome it was and he goes, ‘He does it in the gym all the time.’
“That’s like his move. He does that all the time. It’s crazy.”