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The subliminal bout between Demetrious Johnson and Dana White is a candidate for FOTY

UFC on FOX 24 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Joe Silva was a wizard at making pairs, but the best matchmaker of all time has always been Benjamin Franklin. That smirking bastard brought mankind and electricity together when people still feared their goats were the devil, so it’s reasonable to think he can catch lightning in a bottle with Demetrious Johnson and T.J. Dillashaw.

This whole thing is very weird and divisive, this DJ vs. TJ/Ray Borg entanglement. A champion is asking for a bout with the next contender in his division — in this case, Borg — while the UFC is trying to coerce him into a more fan friendly fight (with the former bantamweight champ, Dillashaw). The UFC doesn’t want to pay Johnson, who is a record-holding dynamo that doesn’t draw. Johnson’s all about that money and respect, and his version of drawing tends more towards Picasso rather than ordinary numbers.

It’s the bottom line versus a historical line. The traditional strong-arm practitioner versus the flickering counter artist. Business versus art. It’s easy to side with the spiritual depth of the latter, even if instinctually you know the UFC was built by ruthlessly reminding everyone of the former. That Johnson wants to up his game with the former only gives things a deeper shade of gray.

The kicker is that Johnson went on The MMA Hour and opened the curtain for everyone to take a look at how things go when dealing with Dana White. The subliminal fight between White and Johnson is far more interesting than either Borg or Dillashaw — which is a fun, diabolical twist. Sweetest of all is that there’s a mile of slippery slope between who’s “right” and who’s “wrong.”

On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with a champion wanting to fight contenders in his own division, especially for those who like to keep things organized. With Michael Bisping still holding out hope for a fight with Georges St-Pierre and Tyron Woodley throwing out the words “Nick Diaz” ever so often and Stipe Miocic eying boxer Anthony Joshua and Conor McGregor literally negotiating a fight with Floyd Mayweather, Johnson’s idea here seems extra conservative and righteous. It’s easy to get behind. It’s logical.

It has a way of making other ideas seem silly.

Then again, Ray Borg? Borg was born just three months before UFC 1. He’s young as hell (23), and still relatively green (at least when contemplating him standing next to Johnson). Nobody was pining for a Johnson-Borg fight before Johnson took on Wilson Reis in April to tie Anderson Silva for the most title defenses in UFC history. That’s a simple fact. Borg has won five of six fights, yet he’s really a contender because Johnson has already beat up his entire proximity. Borg isn’t the 39-year old Demian Maia trying to get his title shot with Woodley, riding a seven-fight win streak and a wave of sentimentality.

Borg is just next, which is pretty basic.

Johnson wants to uphold order, break the record, and get paid like a GOAT. Reasonable, really, considering he’s been a straight-up champion in real life, too — married, father, true martial artist, monogamous with his camp, (traditionally a) company man, etc. He even attended the UFC Athlete Retreat, which is something your average everyday GOAT doesn’t do.

It’s easy to hear Johnson’s side because the UFC’s practice of bullying fighters into undesirable situations — threatening things like shutting down the division unless he complies — hits like a clam note to a good portion of the public. Each time something like this happens, the isolated screams for a union kick back up, but they never quite can become a together chant. Everybody sees the mismatch. Dana White is Goliath whose arms no longer come together with his body, and Demetrious is the P4P greatest David of all time.

In a situation like that, the 125-pound David is going to be the rooting favorite.

The problem is…at the end of the day, these are their problems, and some people don’t give a damn about the inner workings. If you were to poll fan interest in a fight between Dillashaw vs. Johnson or Borg vs. Johnson, here’s guessing Dillashaw-Johnson would win out. Why? Dillashaw is a former champion who is known — who was in fact booked to fight for the bantamweight title until Cody Garbrandt withdrew with an injury — coming down in weight to challenge for a title. This feels like the bigger challenge.

There’s nothing but thrill in that scenario, even if it’s a cheap one.

Cheap because, should Dillashaw win, not only do you do away with an unsung champion who for was on the verge of becoming sung, but you get a mess. Dillashaw likely goes back up to try for a second belt (all the vogue right now), and the UFC gets more black smoke billowing on its landscape. What happens if Dillashaw doesn’t make weight? That’s a question Johnson is asking — and it’s a valid question for a man on the brink of history. He wants assurances in the form of money.

Aw yes, money.

That’s where the greatest matchmaker of all time needs to step in, the man on the hunnit, presenting himself in multitudes and plurals. If the UFC wants Johnson to fight Dillashaw, the solution is right there. Simply come correct. The UFC’s hard ass bottom line needs to come up, and Johnson’s historical relevance needs an orchestral swell. The UFC needs to embrace Johnson on the level he finds suitable, and Johnson needs to add a little patina to that GOAT distinction. Give it a worn in feel by taking out whomever they put in front of him.

So far the UFC’s silence has been deafening.

Regardless what happens — whether it’s Johnson vs. Dillashaw or Johnson vs. Borg — the more fascinating fight has been the one playing out right now between the smirking Ben Franklin and that bolt of electricity. In this fight, Johnson finds himself defending more than titles.

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