Former UFC champ Demtrious Johnson doesn’t promise he’ll be a muay Thai expert by the time he faces Rodtang Jitmuangnon on Dec. 5. He’ll only promise to be the best version of the MMA fighter he is.
“We’ll do a lot of muay Thai clinching, balance, working the sweeps, but we’ve always trained muay Thai in our camps because it’s part of MMA,” Johnson said on The MMA Hour. “So with this, we’ll focus a little more on the feet, but we’ll still going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Johnson has two rounds to impose his MMA skills on Jitmuangnon, who in turn gets two to show his champion muay Thai pedigree in a special-rules bout. Johnson isn’t too worried about being at a deficit.
“I’m going to go out there, I’m going to compete, train, and go out and fight,” he said.
After his previous performance, which ended in the first TKO loss of his career, Johnson simply wanted to get back to work. Combat sports has always been a job for him, and he prefers to stay busy. That gets him closer to the end of his career, when he’s reached all of the financial goals he set after he stepped into the cage for the first time.
“Once I get to the point where I don’t need that stuff, I don’t need to compete any more,” he said. “People look at that like, ‘You’re just going that because you need this.’ I can go work at Costco, but it won’t be the exact same pay. So why don’t I do something I’m really good at, and I love it.”
Johnson has resolved to not follow in the footsteps of MMA heroes who let knockout losses deflate them. Although it definitely felt weird to be stopped by a knee to the head that would have been illegal in the UFC, where he fought for seven years, he couldn’t cry foul.
“It’s legal over there, and I have to get used to it, and found out the hard way,” he said. “I kneed a guy in the face, too. I’m a fan of it, because it keeps the fight progressing, and that’s how I’ve always been brought up with my coach Matt Hume. He’s always talked about it: How can a fighter be put in a position where it stops the other athlete from pursuing the end goal of the fight? Kneeing someone.”
He also doesn’t believe that karma caught up to him after making his argument that knees to the head of a downed opponent should be legal after Aljamain Sterling became the first UFC champ to win by disqualification when Petr Yan threw a knee that was illegal under octagon rules.
“I’m like, ‘Aljamain, you’re way better than that – you’re way f*cking better than that,’” he said. “You’re sitting on your hands and knees, and quote unquote, these are his words: ‘I felt like I was in a safe position.’ You’re in a f*cking fight, dog. There is no safe position. You cannot be on your hands and knees hold him like that and expect him not to do something. And granted, Petr Yan broke a rule. But the progression of the fight needs to happen.”
Nothing about Johnson’s mission changed after his loss to Moraes. Just like after his eighth UFC title defense, he was back to washing dishes and doing laundry at his home in Washington. He laid off from sparring for three months to give his brain time to heal, but he quickly said yes to the mixed-rules fight.
More important to him was the idea that he shouldn’t skip the line in ONE. Initially, he said the Asia-based promotion offered him a title fight with Jitmuangnon, and he turned it down.
Just like he balked at fighting T.J. Dillashaw for the UFC flyweight title, Johnson argued that merit should take priority.
“I was like, ‘Hm, well, I’m very flattered, and I want to be honest with you guys,’” he said. “‘I don’t deserve to fight for the muay Thai belt. I understand you’re trying to do a big fight and sell the fight, but I don’t deserve that belt.’
“There’s a lot of athletes that spent their whole entire life hoping one day they get to fight for a muay Thai belt. I’m not a world-class muay Thai fighter. I know that, and I’m OK with that. I didn’t dedicate my martial arts to muay Thai. So I said I’ll still fight Rodsing, but it doesn’t have to be for the muay Thai belt. Let somebody else have that.”
And so, Johnson will get back to work in a bout that offers the challenge of competition with a nice paycheck to put toward his goal. Just how long his career goes is unknown, but one setback hasn’t reset his timeline.
“Me fighting at the end of my career, there’s two sides of me,” he said. “There’s a side when I step in the gym, I’m focused, I’m in my element, I forget about everything, and I enjoy fight. When I’m at home, I’m thinking about I want to set up this for Tyron’s college, I want to go chill. How am I going to get there? I’m going to keep competing and making money. So that’s what I’m going to do.”