Since the advent of the flyweight division, Demetrious Johnson hasn’t had much time for summer vacations.
Four years and change after the UFC introduced the 125-pound weight class, the one and only man to wear the division’s championship belt has either spent the summer months preparing to compete or actually stepping into the Octagon and in some cases, he’s done both.
He won the title in September 2012 after beating Ian McCall in June to advance to the inaugural championship bout opposite Joseph Benavidez in Toronto and made the same quick turnaround two years later, defeating Ali Bagautinov at UFC 174 in Vancouver in June before stepping in and stopping Chris Cariaso three months later in Las Vegas.
Over the last couple years, Johnson’s schedule has become even more static in a sense, as the man known as “Mighty Mouse” has alternated between fighting in April and September dating back to that UFC 178 clash with Cariaso.
It was supposed to me more of the same for Johnson this summer as well, as the pound-for-pound standout was booked to defend his title against Wilson Reis at UFC 201 on July 30 in Atlanta, but three weeks out, the champion was forced to withdraw from the contest due to an injury.
And just like that, his summer schedule was wide open.
“Sometimes I look at it like a blessing in disguise,” Johnson said of the sudden, unexpected change in plans. “It’s the first summer I’ve had off in maybe four years, so I got to spend time with my family and that was good. It was good to have time off and just focus on myself and my family.
“I worked on building up my Twitch, went to Disneyland, went to Montana, did some camping,” offered the proud father of two, listing off the activities and adventures that occupied his time over the last few months. “I almost kind of stepped away from mixed martial arts – I didn’t worry about what’s going on in that world and just focused on my family.”
That’s not to say he wasn’t still in the kitchen, cooking up new recipes with head chef Matt Hume and sous chef Brad Kertson at AMC Pankration; it just means that he wasn’t getting caught up in the non-stop storm of bickering and grousing that takes place on MMA Twitter after every close fight and following each event.
Training never stops and now that the summer is behind him, Johnson and his coaches have started to really get down to business, as the flyweight champion will defend his title on Saturday, December 3 against the winner of the current “Tournament of Champions” taking place on Season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter.
“I knew a couple of the guys,” Johnson said when asked how familiar he was with the cast and if he’s been paying close attention to the show, knowing that he’ll eventually share the cage with one of the contestants. “I knew Tim Elliott because he fought in the UFC, Damacio Page because he fought in the UFC and I remembered “Danger,” Matt Schnell, from the “Caged” MTV show.
“Those are the three I knew off the top of my head, and then I looked up “Zulu” because I thought it was cool to have the African champion and I looked up Hiromasa Ogikubo and I saw Horiguchi beat him for the title and that’s when Horiguchi got to the UFC.
“Other than that, I didn’t give it a lot of time because I’m not the type of person who scouts people,” he added. “People say, ‘Losers focus on winners and winners focus on themselves,’ and I have to focus on myself to make sure I’m the best Demetrious Johnson when it comes to fight night.”
Over his last 10 fights, the first and only flyweight champ in UFC history has been pretty close to perfect, earning victories in all 10 outings and walking away from most of those encounters unscathed.
Having claimed the vacant title in the second bout of his winning streak, Johnson will be searching for his ninth consecutive successful title defense when he returns to action in December. If he’s able to retain the belt, it will leave him one victory away from equaling Anderson Silva’s UFC record of 10 straight successful title defenses, a major goal Johnson set out to reach when he began his reign a little over four years ago.
While many have been clamoring for the ruler of the 125-pound ranks to return to bantamweight and face Dominick Cruz in a clash of champions, the 30-year-old fighting out of Parkland, Washington has been steadfast in his desire to remain at flyweight in order to chase history and now that he’s getting close to the record, Johnson is starting to get excited.
“Hopefully I get through this one and then 2017 looks like an awesome year,” said Johnson, who is fully healed and feeling great following the injury that forced him out of the bout with Reis this summer.
Should he break the record, don’t expect a grand celebration or the flyweight champion to suddenly start making all kinds of demands; that’s just not how he’s wired.
“Somebody said to me the other day, ‘You’ve got two parts to mixed martial arts – the entertainment and business side and the pure sport’ and I believe I’m the pure sport of it because it’s, ‘Okay – who do you want me to fight? Who’s the No. 1 contender?’ I’m the guy who just goes to the gym and trains and waits until the UFC calls.
“As long as I stay healthy and I go out there and keep my performances where they need to be, I’m excited to see what happens when I tie it and when I break it and then we’ll go from there.
“It’s just like when I won the belt: ‘Okay – what’s next?’”