"I would love to be the face of this division. In order for me to do that, I’ve just got to go out there and perform." - Demetrious Johnson
The life of a fighter is extremely unpredictable. You never know when you’re going to fight next or if something will happen between signing your contract and the night of the fight that keeps you out of the cage. Everything else in life is at the mercy of your schedule, intricately fit into a small window of opportunity somewhere between a morning workout and that evening’s strength and conditioning session.
That includes getting married.
With just a couple of weeks remaining before he was set to step into the cage with Ian McCall for a second time, UFC flyweight contender Demetrious Johnson hopped on a plane for Hawaii. Surrounded by friends and family on Angels Bay Beach in Oahu, “Mighty Mouse” and his “Mighty Bride” said their “I dos.”
Despite the scenic locale and major life event, this wasn’t a mid-camp holiday for the 25-year-old title hopeful.
“I was training twice a day in Hawaii,” offered Johnson, dismissing the thought that his Hawaiian Island nuptials might have made for a more abbreviated training camp than normal. “We have (Hawaii Martial Arts) there, and Haru (Shimanishi) was there, and it all just flowed.
“It was almost like I didn’t leave training because HMC is our sister school, and Haru was one of the trainers that trained Matt Hume, so they’re all kind of on the same page. They welcomed me with open arms, and I was training for about four hours a day while I was there.”
Just as getting married in the middle of training camp wasn’t part of the original plan for “Team Mighty,” neither was preparing to face McCall for a second time.
The two flyweight title hopefuls initially met in one half of the four-man tournament established to crown the first 125-pound champion in UFC history. Meeting head-on in the center of the Octagon in the organization’s first ever flyweight contest, Johnson controlled the opening two rounds by keeping “Uncle Creepy” off-balance, blending his striking and wrestling well, and maintaining the speed that had made him a bantamweight title contender in the past.
McCall came on strong in the third, finishing the round in back mount, raining down strikes as he played to the crowd at the Allphones Arena in Sydney, Australia. When the scores were read, Johnson was declared the winner, taking a majority decision, causing McCall to storm out of the cage dejected.
Later that night, however, it was announced that an error was made in tabulating the scorecards, and the bout should have moved to a “sudden victory” round, as it was actually scored a draw by the judges. With the event already in the books, there was no other choice but to do it again.
“I don’t look at it as I have more to lose,” offered Johnson. “Yes, I could look at it that way, and be bitter about it, but I’m seeing this as a way for me to go back out there, and do it all over again.
“I told my coaches the other day that I’m glad I get to rematch him because I feel sharper. I feel like I’ve gained a lot more this time around in training camp. My body is not banged up, and I just feel better.”
An elite bantamweight contender before making the drop down in weight, the 14-2-1 Kentucky-born resident of Kirkland, Washington had no problems making the 125-pound weight limit the first time around, which he determined after the contest wasn’t a good thing.
“Getting down for the first weight cut was way too easy, and that means I starved myself, and didn’t diet correctly,” admitted the charismatic and personable Johnson with a laugh. “When I was doing my weight cut, it was just way too easy. I felt good the first round, but as the fight progressed, I started to feel my body slowing down, being sluggish, not having enough string on my punches. You could see it – this was the first time in my UFC career that I’ve slowed down in a fight, and that’s because of my diet, and my own being hard-headed, and not listening to my coaches.”
A frenetic blur of constant activity and pressure in the cage, Johnson sees Friday’s second bout with McCall as a do-over; a chance to correct the mistakes he made last time around, and earn the right to face Joseph Benavidez in a fight to become the inaugural UFC flyweight champion.
“I thought the performance was good,” he said of the initial meeting with McCall in early March. “It always can be better, and I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get the nod, but it’s okay. I’m happy that I can do it all again. I feel a lot sharper this time, and I’m in a better place in my training camp, and I can’t wait to get out there, and do work.
“I feel like if I had gotten the nod, and went on to fight Joseph, I would have been like `Oh, my weight cut was good because I beat Ian McCall. I don’t need to work on very much; just stay on the same steady track.’ But at some point, I took a lot of steps backward to fix my game, and my mindset, and now I feel good.”
Part of what has him feeling even better heading into the sequel is the fact that he’s now training with Hume at AMC Pankration full-time. Following his decision loss to Cruz in October, Johnson committed himself to making fighting his one and only job, and went from making three or four trips per week to work with the man known as “The Wizard” to spending six days a week taking instructions from his highly respected and accomplished coach.
“I think the sky’s the limit when I’m training up here with Matt Hume full-time now. Before, I was only up here four days a week – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday – but now I’m up here six days a week, the sky’s the limit, and (I’ve already seen) huge improvements (in my skills since making the change). My body feels nice and relaxed. I feel calm, I feel sharp, and I feel good.”
This second meeting between the two flyweight title hopefuls serves as the headliner for the UFC’s third event on the FX network. While the lighter weight classes don’t often get the chance to close out a show, Johnson relishes the opportunity, and believes it’s something that should happen more often moving forward, especially given the impressive track record of the smaller fighters so far this year.
“No pressure at all,” Johnson answered when asked if having his name atop the marquee ups the ante heading into this weekend’s event. “It’s my job, and I would love to be the face of this division. In order for me to do that, I’ve just got to go out there and perform. I’m trying to make history, and that’s all the motivation I need.
“I do think it’s important for the lighter weight classes to get that spotlight though,” he added. “If you look at the last few fight cards, Louis (Gaudinot) and John Lineker got Fight of the Night when they fought. “Korean Zombie” and Dustin Poirier – they got Fight of the Night. We’re not going to knock people out like the heavyweights do because they’re bigger dudes — they hit harder than us – but at the same time, we’re more technical, we’re in better shape. I think if all the lighter guys keep doing what they’re doing, I think you might see a pay-per-view card where it’s all flyweights, bantamweights, and featherweights.”
While a lineup featuring a collection of fighters competing south of 155-pounds could be intriguing, there’s only one thing on Johnson’s mind right now, and it’s not playing fantasy matchmaker.
After momentarily believing he’d taken the first step towards claiming the flyweight title back in March, the diminutive dynamo is ready to square off with “Uncle Creepy” for a second time, and promises to deliver the type of performance fans have come to expect from him in Friday night’s main event.
“Typical “Mighty Mouse” approach — relentless pace, moving, head movement, making my opponent miss me a lot, and just tagging him whenever I can. All you’ve got to do is tune in to FX.”