Johnson, the current No. 1 ranked pound-for-pound fighter on the UFC’s official rankings, released an explosive, lengthy statement Monday in which the flyweight champion accused the UFC of widespread “mistreatment and bullying” and criticized the promotion for a variety of issues, ranging from White’s negotiating tactics for Johnson’s next fight — a bout that could see Johnson break the all-time record for consecutive title defenses set by Anderson Silva — to the UFC’s handling of the flyweight division altogether. Johnson then elaborated on those issues in a wide-ranging interview Monday on The MMA Hour.
And on Saturday, White took the offensive, responding to Johnson in an interview with TMZ by claiming that UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard — who Johnson cited several times in his statement — told White that “Mighty Mouse” was lying.
“My guy Mick, who is one of our guys who has been handling that, he said most of what [Johnson] said was not true, number one,” White said. “Number two, the bottom line is Demetrious Johnson is in line right now — first of all, when he did his deal, he didn’t want pay-per-view (points). He didn’t want pay-per-view. He wanted up front money, no pay-per-view. He wasn’t very confident in his abilities to sell pay-per-views. He has the lowest selling pay-per-view in the history of the UFC in the modern era, so, number one. Number two, I think that a fight between him and T.J. Dillashaw would be something that people would actually be interested in, and could sell pay-per-views and could make money, but he absolutely refuses to fight the guy. It’s ridiculous.”
On Monday, Johnson said the UFC first asked him to fight flyweight contender Ray Borg for his record-breaking title defense. Johnson said he personally asked to fight Sergio Pettis instead, because he felt like Pettis was the bigger name, but ultimately he agreed to fight Borg like the UFC asked. Johnson said the UFC then turned around and changed its mind, asking “Mighty Mouse” to fight Dillashaw once Dillashaw’s grudge match against bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt fell out of UFC 213.
Johnson refused, citing the integrity of the flyweight rankings and the fact that Dillashaw has never made 125 pounds. If Dillashaw missed weight, Johnson reasoned that his pursuit of history would be delayed. Johnson then countered by asking for special contractual guarantees in case Dillashaw missed weight, but he said the UFC rejected his request.
Later on in his statement, Johnson criticized the UFC for the lack of promotion push it has given both “Mighty Mouse” and the flyweight division over Johnson’s historic reign, another claim to which White responded.
“We’re not marketing him right?” White said. “We built a TV show around him. The Ultimate Fighter (24) was about what an incredible fighter he is. We’ve put him on FOX many times and tried to build him, and it is what it is. It’s not me. I’m bullying you? How do you bully the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world?”
White went on to state that Johnson wasn’t the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world anyway. That honor, he said, should go to Conor McGregor.
“Listen, the media claims he’s the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world,” White said. “I think Conor McGregor is the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. If you look at what that really means, what pound-for-pound means, and Conor doesn’t give a sh*t, he’ll fight anybody, anywhere, anytime. And if Demetrious is the pound-for-pound best guy in the world, then fight T.J. Dillashaw. Fight somebody that people will actually care about and be interested in, and there you go.”
The comment marked a stark departure from what White said just two months ago following Johnson’s record-tying tenth title defense over Wilson Reis. At the time, White said of Johnson, “listen, he’s already the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world and he strives to be better each time, and he gets better each time, literally destroying people. This kid could be considered the GOAT (greatest of all-time) right now.”
In addition, White also responded Saturday to one of Johnson’s most damning claims — the accusation that White threatened to close down the flyweight division, which has existed in the UFC for over five years, if Johnson did not back down and accept the fight against Dillashaw.
“That’s not true. We’ve been talking about shutting down the flyweight division for about three years,” White said, laughing. “I think that’s what he was saying, because he knows that. He knows that we’ve talked about, you know, doing away with that division. It has nothing to do with Demetrious.
“And never once did I threaten him to shut down the division. Did he say that? Yeah, that’s not true. That’s not what happened. I told him that we had been talking about shutting down the division for years. He knows that.”