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UFC on FOX 24 Aftermath: Demetrious Johnson, greatness, and stardom

Demetrious Johnson
Demetrious Johnson
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Demetrious Johnson never concerned himself with the critics.

Tell him flyweight fighters are too small? Whatever. He can’t control his height.

Tell him flyweight fighters can’t draw? Sure, that criticism has stuck, and surfaced again when the numbers for UFC on FOX 24 came out, but DJ’s been consistent in explaining that he’s not in this to become the biggest star in the sport.

“I’m not here to be voted UFC prom king,” Johnson reiterated after making it look easy against Wilson Reis on Saturday night.

They used to call Johnson boring, too. Taste is of course subjective, but if you were bored by his wins over Hendry Cejudo, Tim Elliott, and Reis, maybe mixed martial arts isn’t for you.

No, Johnson never bothered getting too concerned over what the chattering classes thought. He’s told us all along what interests him: Becoming better as a fighter. Becoming the best fighter in the world. Reaching, and exceeding, Anderson Silva’s UFC title defense record. Maybe even be recognized as the greatest fighter of all time.

He’s a lot closer to getting there than the too-cool-for-school Twitter snarkers ever could have imagined him getting.

I’m not quite ready to elevate “Mighty Mouse” over Silva in the debate over who is the greatest UFC champion of all-time just yet. Silva would have had 11 middleweight title defenses if Travis Lutter had made weight in their 2007 fight, and he went up and fought at light heavyweight three times during his seven year, seven month run.

Still, Johnson is closing in, and when all is said and done, he could end up remembered as the greatest of all-time. As is, Johnson’s run is like few we’ve ever seen in the sport. He’s won 12 fights in a row and is 16-1-1 in his past 18. His only loss along the way was a decision, as an undersized bantamweight, to then-champion Dominick Cruz, who was in the midst of a decade-long unbeaten streak.

Sunday’s early overnight television numbers reinforced the notion that Johnson is never going to be viewed as a superstar. That’s the masses’ loss. “Mighty Mouse” has stayed true to himself, true to his vision, true to his goals, his family, and himself. He continues to embody everything people profess to admire about the martial arts, long after the “once ever in human history” comets have flashed across the sky and burned out.

There will never be a UFC 205-type supershow built around Demetrious Johnson. And that’s okay.

UFC on FOX 24 quotes

“This kid could be considered the GOAT right now. Or, to give Anderson Silva the true respect, wait until he actually breaks the record and it’s hard not to call this guy the greatest of all time.” -- UFC president Dana White on Mighty Mouse

“That’s just what I have in mind, just that general goal. So sometime before the year’s over with. But I don’t want to put any specific stamp on it just yet.” -- Rose Namajunas on getting a flyweight title shot

“That’s where I come from, I come from Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so that hurts more than a knockout for me. But props to him. At the end of the day, I made a mistake and he capitalized on it.” -- Reis, on submitting to DJ.

“I’m on my run and I want that belt. Bisping owes me a fight, but if he’s tied up, or if he loses it, or whatever, I want that belt. Wherever it goes, I want it.” — Robert Whittaker, who was supposed to fight Michael Bisping at UFC 193

Stock report

Up: Rose Namajunas. Here’s the fun thing about watching Rose Namajunas’ career progess: We’ve been watching her since she was, to quote the late, great Kimbo Slice, “a baby in this game.” If you’ve been watching her since Invicta, you’ve literally been watching her career since day one. When she was on The Ultimate Fighter, she got all the way to the finals and into the match to crown the first strawweight champion at age 23, with just three official fights under her belt. As we watched her ups and downs, we knew we were watching someone with great potential. Saturday night was the performance we all envisioned Namajunas could achieve when she finally put it all together. Her poise with a veteran like Michelle Waterson was a joy to behold. Her head kick which set up the finishing sequence was lethal, and her persistence in getting the finish was ruthless. At age 25, Namjunas is a contender.

Up: Robert Whittaker. I don’t know about you, but I’m never underestimating the middleweight from Down Under again. It’s not just that Whittaker hits like a truck, although he’s certainly demonstrated that quality in his current seven-fight win streak. But while becoming the first fighter in nine years to finish Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in and of itself is enough to elevate him into the title picture, it’s the way he went about it that turned heads. Whittaker did enough on the ground with Souza to demonstrate he wasn’t afraid of Souza’s aura, but at the same time, didn’t go overboard about it. That enabled him to get in his head and continue to wear Souza down in the standup. It was the perfect game plan, it was executed to perfection, and sent notice to the division there’s a new contender in town.

Down: Jacare Souza. Maybe we should have seen this one coming. There was so much talk about Souza’s contract status going into this fight, so much talk from Souza about whether Bisping was ducking him or not, that Whittaker somehow became an afterhought in all the buildup to the fight. I’m not about to write off the former Strikeforce champion after just one loss, especially considering he may have lost to a future champion. But the deck has long seemed stacked against Souza breaking through that final step and getting a title shot and the odds certainly didn’t get any better after a one-sided loss like that one.

Up: Tom Duquesnoy. For a minute, there, you had to wonder of the much-heralded Parisian was going to become a high-profile victim of the UFC Jitters. Patrick Williams, filling out a role that almost felt like the B-side in a Bellator showcase fight, gave Duquesnoy a run for his money before hitting the wall. And when he did, we saw what Duquesnoy was all about, as he turned on a dime and went into overdrive. Duquesnoy likely knocked out Williams twice, first at the end of the first round and then once again, officially early in the second. That devastating flash was all we needed to see to understand just how much potential Duquesnoy has.

Interesting stuff

After last week’s officiating stinkfest in upstate New York, UFC on FOX 24 was a breath of fresh air. I’m not going to bother with here-and-there quibbles, since all the important stuff was done right.

Something worth noting, as originally pointed out by writer Ben Miller on Twitter: During this period in which pretty much everyone has been getting on the UFC’s case for what in many ways has been a bad stretch, on back-to-back weekends, the company has set arena gate records, first for UFC 210 in Buffalo, then last night at Kansas City’s Sprint Center. True, that’s not the same as the PPV revenue that’s not being made with Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey on the sidelines, but its also indicative the UFC remains a strong brand and fans are still engaged.

And last night, the fans both in the arena and watching at home got the sort of show that FOX cards were expected to deliver when they first drew this concept up in 2011. The skeptic could point out that both Souza and Waterson lost, after getting a decent push from the promotion. But they lost in star-making performances by by Whittaker and Namajunas, who delivered exciting performances against consequential opponents and announced they are ready for the next level. Throw in DJ’s performance in the main event and UFC on FOX 24 was the sort of night of action in the cage the UFC has needed for months.

Fight I’d like to see next: Robert Whittaker vs. Luke Rockhold or Yoel Romero

I’m personally most interested in seeing Whittaker, a hard hitter on a long win streak, take on Romero, another hard hitter on a long win streak. But, a. Romero stubbornly insists on a bizarre interim title fight with Anderson Silva, b. Luke Rockhold offered to fight Whittaker in July; and c. based on a Twitter poll I ran on my page overnight (I left off Gegard Mousasi since there’s no guarantee at the moment he’ll be fighting in the UFC again), Rockhold is the runaway winner as of this writing, with more than twice as many of you wanting to see Rockhold-Whittaker and Romero-Whittaker. So, you know what? I’m down with either one. The point here is that Whittaker seemlessly slips into that big contender’s fight that Jacare would have seemed destined for. Whether it’s Romero or Rockhold, Whittaker’s next fight should be win-win for the fans.

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