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‘I think he’s legit’: Demetrious Johnson names who he thinks could dominate the UFC flyweight division

Demetrious Johnson was the king of flyweights in the UFC for six years, dominating and outclassing every single one of the contenders available at the time. But now that he’s fighting for ONE Championship in Asia, “Mighty Mouse” has his eyes on one 125-pounder, in particular, that he believes has the best chance of replicating his feat.

“I truly felt that Deiveson Figueiredo was that guy,” Johnson told MMA Fighting ahead of UFC 277. “He’s athletic, hits hard, good jiu-jitsu. I think the only thing that he had that was lacking was just the conditioning, right? He had a hard time making that weight because he’s just a big guy. Brandon Moreno was good, great movement, good footwork. I thought it was going to be either one of those two. Kai Kara-France looks to be doing his thing. But other than that, you have [Alexandre] ‘Pantoja.’ I think Pantoja is probably the frontrunner.”

Johnson broke the record for most title defenses in UFC history with 11 straight wins, stopping the likes of Henry Cejudo, Kyoji Horiguchi, Joseph Benavidez and Ray Borg between 2012 and 2018. He admits he expected current UFC flyweight champion Figueiredo to go on a long unbeaten run, but that obviously ended at the hands of Moreno before Figueiredo reclaimed the title with a narrow victory at UFC 270.

With Figueiredo still sidelined by a hand injury, Moreno and Kara-France are slated meet for the interim championship this Saturday in Dallas at UFC 277. Johnson understands the UFC’s decision to book an interim title fight, but he disagrees with Pantoja not being included, especially considering the fact that Pantoja is a combined 3-0 over Moreno and Kara-France. Pantoja is instead slated to meet Alex Perez on UFC 277’s main card.

“Even though [Pantoja] doesn’t get a lot of love from fans and the organization,” Johnson said, “I think he should be fighting for the interim title right now because he’s beaten Brandon Moreno and I think he’s beaten Kai Kara-France. … If I had to pick one of those guys, it would probably be Pantoja. I think he’s legit. He’s got legit stand-up, tough as s***, and amazing ground.

“If Pantoja becomes world champion, I think I’d have to put — like I said, at the beginning I thought Deiveson Figueiredo would be the guy who would be super dominant and going to beat everybody, but obviously he just lost. Now, if Pantoja becomes the champion, I think that he would be the most dominant. But, at the end of the day, it’s not about winning the fights — it’s about staying healthy, making weight, making it to the fight.

“People don’t realize how hard that is, just that part right there,” Johnson continued. “When I did it, it took me six years to get 11 consecutive title defenses, so it’s a long span of time to be consistent and show up and fight a new challenger every single time.”

On the most recent episode of MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca, Pantoja said he feels “very honored” to be viewed like that by a UFC legend.

“If I could do half of what this guy has already done, it would be amazing to me,” Pantoja said. “I respect this man a lot. Not only his fights — he’s proved to have the highest fight IQ, is a family man, and always keeps his feet on the ground. Everything he’s done to get at the level he is — man.

“And I agree with him that Deiveson would be a great name, but I think he lost himself along the way. I think he had everything to be that guy, but something went wrong for Deiveson on his way. I won’t say that he’s had an easy path to the belt, but he maybe he’s lost his hunger after becoming champion.”

Figueiredo also agreed with Johnson when regarding his own biggest issue being a “hard time making that weight,” but still sees himself as the one to dominate the flyweight division moving forward.

“He’s dead wrong,” the Brazilian champion said of Johnson’s comments on a recent episode of Trocação Franca. “If I’m 100-percent focused, rest assured that it won’t be easy for anyone to take the belt away from me in this division. I just want to have my weight under control, because it always goes up after the fight. With that under control, I’ll be 100-percent ready to fight whoever that is and defend what is mine.

“Demetrious Johnson has always kept himself light, he’s very short, so it’s easy for him to make 125. It’s hard for me because I’m bigger than him and I have to make 125. I have to stay focused on my weight cut and stay lighter at all times so it’s not a sacrifice.”

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