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Demetrious Johnson explains origins of legendary 2017 armbar, 2018 plans

Last year may not have been historic campaign in mixed martial arts like in years past, but 2017 still produced plenty of memorable moments for the sport, and few were more standout than Demetrious Johnson’s brilliance at UFC 216, when “Mighty Mouse” submitted Ray Borg with an instantly legendary suplex-to-armbar sequnce to break the record for all-time consecutive UFC title defenses.

Johnson, the reigning UFC flyweight champion, will likely collect every 2017 Submission of the Year award in existence for the performance, which introduced a finishing sequence never before seen in the sport. The latest of those honors came on Tuesday, when Johnson took gold in The MMA Hour’s Male Fighter of the Year and Submission of the Year category to kick off the show’s year-end award special. Afterward, Johnson explained the origins of the submission that propelled his title defense record ahead of every UFC champion to come before him.

“That’s the beautiful thing about mixed martial arts, and I’ll tell people that, you have to think outside of the box,” Johnson said Tuesday on The MMA Hour. “And when I pulled out that submission, how I learned it was from (coach) Matt Hume. Me and him were sparring, and he was having a hard time getting me in an armbar or rear-naked choke, so he mixed in a wrestling snap-down. Basically, a suplex to a wrestling snap-down.

“If anybody has wrestled before, when somebody doesn’t sit out, you snap them down and pin them. He basically did that, mixed it in and threw me between his legs and did an armbar. And I said, after he submitted me, I got up and I go, ‘God bless your soul. Teach me this.’ Then he taught it to me after that class, and I’ve been hitting that submission for years and years.

“Each time I’m training and sparring, I’m always pushing myself to submit my training partners,” Johnson continued. “And then the week before we went to fight Ray Borg — this turned out to be a 12-week camp — I was sparring and Matt was yelling, he goes, ‘Hit it! Hit it!’ And so I hit it, and Matt goes, ‘Dude, you’ve got to hit that. You’ve mastered it. You’ve been doing it for years.’ He goes, ‘That’s a $50,000 submission right there, DJ. That’s what that is.’ So when it came to the fight, I was like, ‘You know what, I’ve got energy left. Ray Borg is my size, he weighs the same as me. I got this.’ And I, pop, threw him up and landed it, so I’m grateful.”

Johnson ultimately landed the move to perfection. In one remarkable sequence at UFC 216, with the clock ticking down the final minutes of a 25-minute fight, he hoisted Borg into the air, released his foe, then snatched the armbar mid-air to coax a confused and frantic tapout and seal his legacy as the winningest champion in Octagon history. Johnson said countless fighters have since asked him about the move, even the likes of heavyweight title challenger Francis Ngannou. And in the end, he is simply happy to show there’s still new ideas waiting to be uncovered in mixed martial arts.

“What I wanted to achieve when I did that move is to open everybody’s mind that it’s mixed martial arts, so even though the submission was a jiu-jitsu move, you can get there by other ways,” Johnson explained. “In wrestling when I was in high school, my coach said you should be able to hit every single move from any position. So, arm drag to double-leg, snap-down to double-leg. You should be able to hit a move from anywhere, so with my armbar, I can essentially hit it from any position because it’s my favorite submission.

“I hope everybody around the world enjoyed that submission,” Johnson added, “and I’ve got some stuff in my bag that you guys haven’t seen yet, but I hope to one day be able to pull it out for you guys.”

The “Mighty Wiz-Bar,” as Johnson named his award-winning submission, capped off a flawless 2-0 year for “Mighty Mouse,” his fourth consecutive year featuring two successful title defenses.

The 31-year-old Johnson hopes to keep that streak alive in 2018.

“That’s the plan. Next year, two fights,” Johnson said.

“I was looking at my Wikipedia page, and there was a time I fought four times, I defended my belt three times in a year and I also got surgery between those title defenses. So I think it’s safe to say that my goal is to get two title defenses this year and we’re going to go from there. So it’s 2018, the goal is two title defenses and try to stay healthy. Don’t worry everybody, the next time you see me on The MMA Hour, I’ll be announcing my next fight or what’s next for me.”

What could be next for Johnson is still a mystery, but much of the talk surrounding him is regarding a champion vs. champion superfight against UFC bantamweight title T.J. Dillashaw.

While Johnson was coy when asked about the potential matchup, he did indicate the idea is alive and well as the new year kicks into high gear.

“I’m looking forward to it if it happens,” Johnson said.

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