Heading into this weekend’s return to FOX, Demetrious Johnson stands on the precipice of history, one victory away from equaling Anderson Silva’s record for the most consecutive successful title defenses in UFC history.
In a time when prospects pontificate about their championship destiny before first setting foot in the Octagon and champions speak of chasing a second title before they’ve even defended their own belt once, Johnson is an anomaly. He’s a competitor focused solely on perfecting his craft and piling up victories, content to chase history without much fanfare while paying no mind to those who fail to recognize his greatness and the difficulty of accomplishing what he is.
“I just try to stay focused and not let things get in the way of my vision,” Johnson said when asked how he’s avoided the hiccups and hurdles that have prevented all but three fighters – Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre – from amassing as many consecutive victories inside the Octagon as he has heading into Saturday’s main event showdown with Wilson Reis.
“You have people calling me out, people saying there is no talent in the division and all that stuff, but I don’t focus on that stuff or getting everybody to say, ‘What he’s doing is awesome.’ I’m focused on my ultimate goal, which is to be the best fighter in the world.”
It wouldn’t take long to gather enough evidence to support a case for Johnson having already reached his ultimate goal, as he returns to the FOX airwaves as the one and only champion in UFC flyweight division history. He’s the winner of 11 consecutive bouts overall, including nine straight successful title defenses, and stationed at No. 1 in the pound-for-pound rankings.
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At the very least, he’s in the conversation and maybe even the clubhouse leader, with everyone else needing to have a pretty strong argument in order to potentially usurp his position as the best in the sport today.
However, suggesting such a thing to Johnson would be a fool’s errand, as the constant quest for perfection and the hunger to seek out ways to improve that have been the hallmarks of the 30-year-old champion’s ascension remain the driving force in his dominant career.
Johnson has previously used the analogy of a superstar chef in the kitchen of his or her restaurant, tinkering with the menu, seeking out new flavor combinations when asked to describe his between-fight work in the gym with Matt Hume and Brad Kertson, whom he referred to as the head chef and sous chef, respectively.
“We’ve got some new recipes that we’re always looking to try and see how it works,” he said of the non-stop experimenting and innovating that takes place at AMC Pankration in the months between appearances in the cage. “It’s always evolving.
“When a chef gets to open his restaurant and he’s got his main dishes and he’s been serving those dishes for a long time, he comes out with something new and creative, making sure his restaurant is always evolving and not going with the flow. So trying to be the perfect fighter is always going to be about evolving. I might throw some stuff off the menu this time, but bring some different dishes back another time. It’s always going to be evolving.”
Where the analogy breaks down, however, is in Johnson’s complete lack of interest in courting praise and the opinions of the masses.
While the culinary champions on Chef’s Table often speak about chasing Michelin stars, restaurant rankings and the approval of the hard-to-please critics, the UFC flyweight champion continues to approach his career with a workmanlike attitude, resolute in his knowledge that you can’t please everyone and that seeking out acceptance isn’t worth the time.
“People are always going to put certain labels on certain things, whether they want to hear it, understand it or like it or agree with it or not agree with it,” he said. “If I spent my whole career getting people to try to like me and get everybody to accept what I’m doing is the hardest thing in the world, then I’m not focusing on what the true thing is and that’s being the best mixed martial artist that I can be and pushing myself to the limit.”
One of the few things he does think about is the record he could equal with a victory this weekend in Kansas City and setting the new standard of excellence in the UFC.
Johnson has remained steadfast in his desire to match and then top Silva’s record for consecutive successful title defenses before entertaining thoughts of moving to bantamweight or engaging in cross-divisional battles.
Now on the cusp of equaling the mark he’s held out as a goal for himself since beating Kyoji Horiguchi at UFC 186, “Mighty Mouse” is excited about the possibilities the future holds.
“I’m still young – I’m 30 – and if I can get to 15 (consecutive successful title defenses), why not?” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about setting the highest standard and making the most money you possibly can.
“I believe that if I stay in the flyweight division and I keep beating people over and over and over again, I’ll be able to retire in like three years. If I have to go up to 135, fighting bigger dudes, taking way more damage – if I’m going to be doing all that stuff – I have options at that point.
“When I get to 11 – if I get to 11 – I have options where I get to decide what I want to do and that’s always good to have.”
Before he can get to the point of having options, he has to get through Reis this weekend on FOX, which he intends to do with the same blue-collar, “punch the clock” approach that has carried him to the top of the flyweight division and the brink of making history in the Octagon.
“It’s the same old DJ; I’m just going to work every day. I’m going to go in there on Saturday – I got called into work – so I’m going to go in there, handle business, clean up shop and then go home and continue getting better and staying with that humble mindset.”