Demetrious Johnson spent six years as the UFC flyweight champion, and then he spent another two pursuing the ONE Championship flyweight title.
Now, he’s looking at other opportunities that don’t necessarily end with a belt around his waist.
On Saturday, the 35-year-old veteran jumps into his first-ever special rules fight against Rodtang Jitmuangnon, alternating rounds between Muay Thai and MMA. Rodtang is widely considered one of the best muay Thai stylists in the world with a ridiculous resume that includes 267 wins.
While Johnson isn’t looking toward retirement any time soon, he recognizes that he can’t fight forever, and a chance to go to battle with someone like Rodtang was an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up.
“I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and I think this matchup with Rodtang is bigger than my fight against Adriano [Moraes],” Johnson told MMA Fighting. “Because it’s something totally out of the box. It’s fun. I didn’t get that same kind of buzz when I was fighting for a world championship.”
According to Johnson, ONE Championship actually offered him the chance to face Rodtang for his flyweight Muay Thai title but he felt that would be disrespectful to the athletes who have competed in that sport all their lives.
Instead, Johnson was very enthusiastic when ONE officials came back to him with a special rules fight and he knows the inherent danger that comes along with accepting this kind of matchup.
“This is probably the most dangerous fight in my entire career,” Johnson said. “Fighting in muay Thai in four-ounce gloves is no joke. A lot more things can slip through than in mixed martial arts. I’m going to go out there, I’m going to use my forward beat dynamic. I’m going to go out there and fight like a mixed martial artist like I’ve done my whole entire life and see how the first round goes.
“Rodtang is a world class athlete. It’s not like the fight starts on the ground. People who aren’t as educated in mixed martial arts are oblivious that it’s going to be as easy as get him to the ground, pass guard and submit him. There’s a lot more than goes into it, especially with only three minutes.”
Another attractive element to this fight is Johnson stepping out of his comfort zone in MMA to test himself in another sport like muay Thai, even if he’s not trying to chase a championship. That was part of the allure to signing with ONE Championship in the first place, because the Asian-based promotion regularly features MMA, kickboxing, muay Thai and even grappling matches.
“For me to step out of the bubble, just shows I’m not scared to do art forms and fight guys in their world,” Johnson said. “After this fight if it goes well, and I’m able to beat Rodtang, I could do a kickboxing fight, if the matchmakers allow me to do it, perfect.
“Now, do I want to fight for a world title in kickboxing? No, I’m not a world-class kickboxer but it would be fun to dabble in it. Like what I’m doing right now.”
Of course, Johnson isn’t shutting the door on doing MMA again after his fight on Saturday but he also loves that he could potentially explore his interests in something like kickboxing in the future.
“If I have the opportunity [to do something else]— they gave me the opportunity for this fight and I accepted,” Johnson explained. “I jumped at the opportunity against a very interesting opponent. It’s not just somebody who I’m just going to tear through. It’s a tough fight.
“I’m really excited for it. ONE Championship is excited for it. The whole world is excited for it.”