After nearly 18 months out of action, Demetrious Johnson is ready to get back to work and add another championship belt to his already impressive collection.
Johnson is set to challenge Adriano Moraes for the ONE Championship flyweight title on April 7 in the main event of ONE on TNT 1. It will be the promotion’s first event to air on the network and Johnson’s first fight since his October 2019 decision win over Danny Kingad due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Being able to compete again after several months of waiting, along with competing on a historic card for ONE has Johnson very excited.
“Absolutely, [this is big] especially being able to cater to the American audience,” Johnson told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “I know a lot of people are used to me fighting on [ONE’s] own time zone, with it being super early in the morning. So with this—ONE Championship and TNT coming together and collaborating—and getting this title fight on live television is gonna be phenomenal.
“It feels good that things are slowly starting to get back to normal. ONE has been having a lot of fight cards over in Singapore and their government has been phenomenal working with ONE Championship and the athletes, and we’re doing our best to follow all the protocols. I’m just happy things are slowly getting back to normal.”
After a record-breaking reign as the UFC flyweight champion—which ended with a split decision loss to Henry Cejudo at UFC 227—and signing with ONE, Johnson will once again compete in a five-round title fight. “Mighty Mouse” has gone 3-0 for the promotion in three round fights, something he hadn’t done since his UFC on FX 2 win over Ian McCall in June 2012.
“It was nice going back to the three-round fights [for a little bit]. 15 minutes is literally a sprint for me coming from so many title defenses,” Johnson said. “But I like the five-round fights a little bit more because it gives me time to settle in, impose my will and my game plan, and my conditioning as well.”
With ONE’s flyweight division actually being at 135 pounds instead of 125 like most other promotions, Johnson is enjoying not having to cut that extra weight.
He does admit, however, that there was something a bit challenging about overcoming a weight cut to earn victories that was somewhat appealing to him from an athletic standpoint. But as he got older, he’s happy to move on to a more healthy way of doing things.
“The guys at 135 are a little bit taller but it is nice and refreshing [to not have to cut to 125],” Johnson explained. “There’s a part of me where I didn’t mind cutting to 135 because there was almost that [challenge]; can you dehydrate yourself and put your body at a deficit, make weight, and then bounce back to be able to perform at a high level, high pace performance? I know I can do it. It’s almost like that gamesmanship.
“But the other part of me was like, ‘Dude, you’re f*ckin 34 years old. You don’t need to be sitting in a tub trying to cut to 125. Screw this.’”
Moraes has been the champion for the vast majority of a seven-year stretch in ONE. After dropping the title via split decision to Geje Eustaquio in June 2018, “Mikinho” recaptured the belt seven months later with a unanimous decision win over Eustaquio.
As he prepares to face Moraes in his first title defense of this current run, Johnson feels confident he brings a lot to the table the current champion hasn’t seen before.
“He’s had a great run,” Johnson said of Moraes. “I like the fight. It’s a good fight for me, he’s very long, big, a good grappler for the weight class and I’m just gonna go out there, do what I do best and just go out there and fight.
“His fighting style is a little bit different. He’s a big athlete for the division, a great athlete, likes to get on your back and lock in that body triangle. I know in the past when I fought Tatsumitsu Wada—another big athlete—he got the body triangle on me and it took me three minutes to get those long ass legs untangled from my body.
“So I’m looking to go out there and impose my will. I don’t think he’s ever fought an athlete like me. I think he’s fought great, one discipline athletes. With Kairat Akhmetov, he’s pretty good at the wrestling and standup, and Geje Eustaquio is pretty good with the striking, but I feel the one thing I do better than both of those guys is push the pace and mix it up very, very well. I’m not scared. I’ve been in trouble in some of my fights, I’ve been down, and I’m not scared to go out there and fight.”
Johnson will be ready for a 25-minute battle should that be presented to him. In the end, he’s hoping to do what all fighters strive to do: pick up a memorable victory and come out as unscathed as humanly possible.
“I plan to go out there, blow the bricks off [of him], put on a spectacular performance and come out healthy,” Johnson stated. “That’s my biggest thing is coming out healthy. I’ve gone to war before and been thrashed, have to ask myself, ‘Why the f*ck am I doing this? I’m hurting and I can’t do this and this.’
“That’s my biggest thing, I want to come out healthy. Get in and get out.”