If there’s one man who can weigh in on the outcome of UFC title fights, it’s the promotion’s title defense king Demetrious Johnson.
The former, longtime UFC flyweight champion will be looking to add his first ONE Championship title when he meets Adriano Moraes in the main event of ONE on TNT 1 on April 7.
When speaking with MMA Fighting, Johnson was asked about the ending of the bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259, where Yan landed an illegal knee and was subsequently disqualified, thus making Sterling the new champion. Coincidentally, “Mighty Mouse” was in a similar position as Yan over eight years ago.
“Obviously rules are put into place to keep the athletes safe and what not,” Johnson told What the Heck. “I dealt with the exact same thing in 2013 in Chicago, UFC on FOX 6 against John Dodson. I had him against the cage, he put his hand on the ground, I did not take the time to see his hand on the ground and it’s not my job to look and see if his hand is on the ground. In my opinion, he was in a knowledgable position that he could defend himself.
“I blast him in his face, John McCarthy stopped the fight and said, ‘Hey, dude. He was a downed opponent.’ I said, ‘What the f*ck do you mean he’s down? His finger is touching the ground. He’s not down.’ So I’ve gone through this before in the UFC.
“To see the same thing happen with Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan, first off, I’m a big fan of Aljamain Sterling. I have nothing against the guy, but each time I give my personal opinion—which you just asked for—I like to do so as a neutral person. If I had friends over my house and they ask why he got DQ’d, well it’s a rule that he was a downed opponent, that he was on the ground. Yeah, he’s down, but he can currently defend himself.”
The result of Sterling’s first UFC title win has sparked a lot of debate about the current ruleset in MMA, specifically what dictates a downed opponent.
Johnson isn’t in a position to change any of the current rules, and he knows that. However, if he was, that would be one rule he would tighten up and it stems from questions asked to him by his coaches over the years.
“Do I think it’s a rule that needs to be changed? I think so,” Johnson said. “I think it’s gonna help the fight progress, it’s gonna help keep people moving. The biggest thing that my coach tells me is, ‘Why should an athlete go to his knees to touch the ground to dictate what I can and can’t do?’ Think about that. When my coach trains me and tells me to have that mindset, it makes sense. If I’m getting beat up in a fight, and I put my hands and knees on the ground, you have to stop your onslaught. You have to rethink trying to proceed with the fight.
“That’s where my mindset was at when I was watching that fight because the fight was starting to go in Yan’s favor. Petr Yan was starting to pick him apart. Sterling got some good shots in there, but once he went down on his knees, and he was holding his hands on his knees like he was praying, and he got blasted. When it happened, I was like, ‘Petr Yan, you f*ckin idiot. You’re finally winning the fight and you throw this knee and get disqualified.’ Then I’m like, it’s just like back in the wrestling days when you get pinned and your coach says, ‘You shouldn’t have been there in the first place.’
“So that was my opinion. Aljamain, you’re way better than that. Why are you putting yourself in that position? But yeah, I think the rule should be changed. It’ll be good for the sport, it will open up a lot more things, and I think people won’t use that position as a safety. Like, I’m gonna use this because I’m safe. And those aren’t my words. Those are his words. He said, ‘I knew I was in a safe position.’ When he said that, I was like, you’re in a f*ckin fight, you’re never in a safe position. You should never think that I’m safe here.”
Another hot debate stemming from how Yan’s short title reign came to an end has to do with who is responsible for making the decision on whether or not a fighter should be able to continue.
A lot of people stand by the idea that it shouldn’t be left in the hands of the athlete, that the referee and doctor should make that decision based on the damage a fighter may have taken. For instance, if the doctor or referee made the decision to not let Sterling continue relatively quickly, would there be this much controversy? Would Sterling be getting the heat he has received since UFC 259?
In Johnson’s eyes, that decision should be left to the fighter because only they know how they’re feeling at that particular moment, not the referee or doctor.
“I think you should let the athlete dictate that,” Johnson said. “Only the athlete knows best. Think about that, that knee, imagine if he hit him with a flying knee and he was able to recover. Let’s say he got blasted flush, he shoots for a takedown and eats a couple of strikes, and he’s able to recover and continue to fight, but he gets blasted with a knee on the ground, then he gets five minutes to drink some water, how are you feeling? Are you okay? Can you shake it off? You feel like you can still continue? Because, don’t get me wrong, that guy got a concussion, but f*ck, when do we not get concussions when we fight?
“This is just my opinion. If I was in a fight and I got blasted, I would want to be asked, ‘How do you feel? Do you think you can continue to fight?’ They might say you shouldn’t give the athlete the option to continue because he could be concussed and he can get further brain damage, but we’re already signing up for that. It’s a double-edged sword. You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. It’s a hard thing. A lot of of people might see this and say you can’t ask a fighter if he can continue or not. I don’t know, I’m just rambling on.”
It seems inevitable that Sterling and Yan will run it back at some point in 2021. Recently, Sterling has advocated that Yan shouldn’t get the immediate rematch, but should be suspended for the illegal blow.
“This guy’s getting rewarded with a rematch, which I get it’s a big fight, but it’s like, we can just break the rules and nothing’s ever gonna happen to us,” Sterling said during a media scrum prior to UFC 260. “I can just jump the octagon, nothing’s ever gonna happen to me. I can just go fight another corner or I can push him after the bell and nothing’s ever gonna happen. I feel like when you have rules for a reason, you’ve got to somewhat enforce them otherwise let’s just run amuck. I’m okay with that, let me run amuck, let me start smacking guys and let me start doing the crazy sh*t that I want to do instead of being professional about the way I handle my business.
“So that was the whole thing with [teasing a fight with Henry] Cejudo and that’s how I feel about Petr Yan. I feel like his ass should have been suspended or something. Pay me some money for an illegal foul that might take years off my career.”
As the all-time record holder for most title defenses in UFC history, Johnson offered his advice for the new bantamweight champion.
“I just think, go back to the drawing board,” Johnson advised. “He had the recipe to beat him. Petr Yan has a very interesting and unique way he goes about his fights, and I’m a big fan of the way he goes about it. He’s willing to absorb punches and shots in order to give his. If you go back and watch that fight, Aljamain is doing a good job just peppering him, but Petr Yan is like, ‘None of that sh*t hurts.’ He covers his face in a different way, so there was a couple of times where if he just sat down, loaded up on a body shot, that could’ve paid dividends and made Petr Yan do something different.
“But I think he should go back and watch the tape, be ready to have a fight and don’t rely on that one takedown to get him down because it’s not gonna be as easy as he thought it would’ve been. I thought it was gonna be hard as sh*t.
“Go out there, stay healthy, and just enjoy it.”