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Demetrious Johnson not worried about ONE title fight possibly being in empty arena

Demetrious Johnson
ONE Championship

Demetrious Johnson has known since this past October that his next fight is Adriano Moraes. Now that their bout has been pushed further back due to the coronavirus pandemic, he’s had even more time to think about it.

The former UFC flyweight king is set to fight Moraes next for the ONE flyweight (135-pound) title, though the date and location of their meeting has now been changed three times due to COVID-19 precautions. As of now, the bout has been postponed indefinitely.

Johnson (30-3-1) is 3-0 with the Singapore-based promotion so far, with all of his wins coming in a flyweight tournament that determined the No. 1 contender for Moraes. Since winning a unanimous decision over Danny Kingad last August to earn his shot, “Mighty Mouse” has had to play the waiting game.

How has all this time affected Johnson’s preparation?

“It doesn’t at all, because I’m not always thinking about fighting,” Johnson recently told MMA Fighting. “I have so much s*it going on in my life that I’m not even going to worry about training or fighting with everything that’s going on. Mentally, it’s not hard whatsoever. I’ve got a lot of stuff on my plate, a lot of things I’ve been working on and a lot of things I can’t wait to launch, I guess you can say.”

In more ways than one, Johnson has been on top of the COVID-19 situation. Washington, where Johnson and his family reside, was one of the first states hit hard by the virus, and his gym was shut down two weeks before similar action was taken statewide. He’s had plenty of time to figure out how best to deal with isolation and the changes to his routine, which includes looking after his three children, staying in shape, and plenty of gaming (at the moment, Johnson is particularly infatuated with the hardcore shooter Escape from Tarkov).

If anything, it sounds like the new normal is suiting Johnson just fine.

“Structure is key and balance is key,” Johnson said. “We wake up in the morning and after we eat breakfast, schooling starts at 9:00. We have one kid in a school room, the other kid in the living room with our daughter. We put their faces down in some books and after a while when we see they’re both passed out, we’re like, ‘Okay, go do whatever you want. Jump on your iPad, go play some video games, do whatever you want.’

“That’s when my daughter goes down for a nap. When wakes up from her nap, everybody gets back to work. We have things, and then when you’re done with that, we go play, we have dinner together, go play, put the kids down to bed. It’s all about structure and balance. I’m a black-and-white type of dude. I’m like, ‘Are we doing this? Yes or no.’ My wife’s the other way, ‘Let’s just see and play it by ear.’ So you’ve got to have that balance.”

Unless Johnson receives word that anything has changed regarding his upcoming fight, all he can do is stay healthy. He’s already put in a six-week fight camp to prepare for Moraes, and while he hasn’t been informed of the precautions ONE is taking to ensure a safe event, he insists he’s not worried about that right now.

ONE has already held an event in an empty arena, King of the Jungle at Singapore Indoor Stadium this past February. Johnson said he won’t be bothered if his championship bout takes place before an audience of none.

“I thought about it, but I was just going back to when I fought on the prelims and on Facebook, (and) there’s nobody in the stands,” Johnson said. “I remember I was talking to (former UFC fighter) Andrew Craig at Onnit and he goes, ‘Man, wouldn’t it be weird to fight when nobody’s in the stands.’ I was like, ‘S*it, I’ve been there.’ I competed in the Tacoma Dome in front of 35,000 people wrestling for a state championship, and I’ve competed in empty arenas before. So I’ve been on both spectrums.

“Even in mixed martial arts, I’ve competed in front of 30,000 people in Toronto and Vegas, etc., etc., and I’ve competed in North America the very first fight of the night. It makes no difference.”

During his seven-year run with the UFC, Johnson was headliner or co-headliner on multiple occasions, so he’s used to performing in front of a packed house. In his ONE debut this past March, he fought at the famed Ryogoku Sumo Hall, which gave him a different vibe altogether from his Zuffa days.

In describing the experience, Johnson used a word that one might not immediately associate with cage fighting: “Intimate.”

“You just block everything else out, you don’t notice it, and at the end of the day it becomes more of an intimate thing,” Johnson said. “What I mean by that is that when you have a crowd and all that stuff there, you’re trying to entertain the fans. When you don’t have the fans there and the crowd, it’s more of an intimate thing, because it’s everybody who’s part of the company instead of the fans who are enjoying the fight.

“Like when I fought in Japan for the first time in a sumo arena, it’s a very confined space arena, so it was more of an intimate fight instead of when I fight in Manila, where it’s a huge arena. It’s like, ‘Holy s*it, this thing’s huge.’”

That’s how he plans to approach his matchup with Moraes as well, crowd or no crowd. It will be the 15th title fight of Johnson’s career and as usual, his focus is strictly on himself and the man who will be across the cage from him.

“It’s just another fight,” Johnson said. “That’s how I look at all my fights. I don’t look back on them like, man, that was the strangest time. I was just the first fight of the night, it was a prelim, and then I’m fighting over in Asia. So for me, I’ve been doing it since I was 18. Fights are fights.”

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