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Demetrious Johnson: The Humble King

"Whether the belt’s here or it’s gone, the
same thing happens. I go into camp, I train my butt off, I do my media,
I show up to the fight, and I’m gonna get in the Octagon and we’re
gonna fight." - Demetrious Johnson

UFC flyweight champion Demetrious JohnsonJune 15 will be a different kind of Father’s Day for Demetrious Johnson. It used to be that the UFC flyweight champion saw the yearly celebration of dads as just another Sunday, having never met his biological father. But this year, he gets to celebrate, thanks to his son Tyren, born in July of last year.

And nearly a year after his wife Destiny gave birth to their first child, “Mighty Mouse” is getting the hang of this whole dad thing.

“It’s a little bit crazy,” he admits of fatherhood. “I try not to watch the news as much. I watched the news yesterday and went to bed disturbed. So it’s definitely different. It’s not always about you and not always about my wife. Every decision I make is going to affect my son. The universe is a scary place and my son is gonna have to grow up in it, so I try to make sure I give him the tools that he needs in order to succeed in life.”

It’s something he never had growing up, but he managed thanks to some good role models, and today, he’s learning how to parent on the fly, but with Destiny they make it work.

“It’s almost like I’m going with the flow,” said Johnson. “I had a lot of role models growing up like my best friend’s dad, and I saw what he did. And even now, I look at my coaches for guidance because they all have kids. Other than that, I try to do my best, and me and my wife try to work as a team.”

> Watch: Demetrious Johnson's UFC Breakthrough

Yet the most important part is that he’s there for Tyren.

“As far as me not having a father in my life, that’s not gonna happen with my son,” he said. “I’m gonna be in his life for the rest of my life.”

But before Johnson takes the three-hour ride from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada back to Washington state, he has to do what all good dads do and that’s work to put food on the table. Johnson isn’t like the other fathers though when it comes to his day job. And while fighter or professional athlete is likely what he puts on his tax return, you wouldn’t be out of line if you called him the most dominant champion in the UFC today.

Think about it; he’s the only man to hold the UFC’s 125-pound title, the only contender in the top five he hasn’t beaten is the one he faces in Saturday’s UFC 174 main event, Ali Bagautinov. And when you consider that he’s come from behind to beat John Dodson, submitted John Moraga, and knocked out Joseph Benavidez, not to mention defeated Ian McCall as well, that’s quite a run over a division he is already close to cleaning out. But you won’t hear the “D” word out of Johnson’s mouth.

“I don’t look at myself as a dominant champion,” he said. “I think (light heavyweight champion) Jon Jones is in the lead with that. He’s beaten the best of the best in his weight class. Granted, people can say I have too by beating Joseph twice and John Dodson, John Moraga, and Ian McCall, so I guess you can put me in the same category as Jon Jones, but I think he’s a little bit ahead of me for dismantling (Lyoto) Machida and all the guys he’s beaten. But when it’s time for me to fight, I just go out there and fight and if it comes out to be a dominant performance, then that’s fantastic. I did my job, and I did my homework in the gym.”

> Check It Out: Flyweight Title Interactive Timeline

Johnson’s modesty is refreshing enough, but it’s his approach to life at the top that is even more admirable. He’s a champion who hasn’t let the outside pressures get to him, he doesn’t feel as if the belt is a burden, and he appears to be genuinely enjoying the ride for as long as it lasts, knowing that in this sport, it has to end sometime. He’s just not ready for it to be on Saturday night.

“I know it’s gonna come and I know it’s gonna go,” said Johnson of the belt. “Everybody who’s coming after me, all I can say is bring it. I’m always in training and I train whether I’m defending the title, fighting for it, or if it’s just a regular fight. At the end of the day, whether the belt’s here or it’s gone, the same thing happens. I go into camp, I train my butt off, I do my media, I show up to the fight, and I’m gonna get in the Octagon and we’re gonna fight. Either my hand’s gonna get raised or it’s not, whether the belt’s there or not. So it’s not a burden on me.”

So the idea of a gang of 125-pound killers gunning for him and that belt doesn’t make him lose sleep at night?

> Watch: UFC 174 Free Fight: Johnson vs. Benavidez  

“There’s always going to be someone coming up in the division or in the world,” he said. “There’s probably the baddest man on the planet at 125 and he’s just not signed to the UFC yet. So I keep a clear head, keep on training, and train for the best fighter in the world. I don’t obsess over the idea that there’s somebody else out there who’s training to beat me. I know I’m the best in the world right now, and I’m gonna keep on training to keep trying to be the best in the world, but you never know, all it takes is that one day and the next thing you know, you get knocked off and you don’t have the belt anymore.”

That day doesn’t look like it’s coming anytime soon, simply because Johnson hasn’t hit a plateau yet. Despite making it to the top of the mountain, he’s getting better with each fight, a frightening proposition for Baguatinov and the rest of the division to deal with. But again, “Mighty Mouse” deflects such praise to his team.

“I’m working with the best in the world – Matt Hume and Brad Kertson – they’re really good and I spar those guys,” he said. “We fight each other and it’s really good for me to do it because how many coaches do you know that actually spar with their students? And when I spar with them, they’re not good at just the ground or striking or grappling; they’re good at all of it. In mixed martial arts, that’s key and I think that’s what helps me in my process to keep on growing as a mixed martial artist. And they’re always pushing me to keep on evolving. They say don’t let the sport pass you up; you’ve got to keep on evolving and getting better so I can stay champion for a long time.”

He may just do that.