The lead-up to Demetrious Johnson’s second world title fight in September 2012 wasn’t optimal, and that’s putting it lightly.
“My wife went through major surgery, it was my second title fight in the UFC and my weight cut was horrible,” recalled Johnson, who will defend his flyweight championship for the 11th time on Oct. 7 against Ray Borg.
Needless to say, he got the job done in his UFC 152 bout against Joseph Benavidez in Toronto, with his split decision victory earning him the promotion’s first 125-pound title. But it was his approach to the fight when everything was going south that separated him from the pack.
“I was still focused and ready to go out and do my job,” he said.
Five years and 10 successful title defenses later, Johnson is still doing what is necessary to separate his professional and personal lives. It’s not as easy as it sounds, as so many athletes have been distracted and defeated by matters taking place far from the playing field. “Mighty Mouse” is not that guy.
“A lot of people put winning championships high on their list,” he said. “You hear people saying, ‘I was born to be champion, I was born to win titles.’ For me, nothing is more important or precious in life than life itself and building a family.”
He’s done that. He and his wife, Destiny, have two sons, and the family is always preparing for the next chapter, which is Johnson’s life after fighting. That doesn’t mean he’s distracted from his day job, one in which he is widely considered to be the best in the world at what he does.
“My status has changed,” he admits. “I’m a ten-time defending world champion in the UFC, but nothing else has changed. I’m still the same guy. But when it’s time to step up and start whupping ass, I make sure I show up and I’m game for every opponent I fight.”
The proof is in the record. Since winning that title, the division’s best all lined up and they were all defeated. And in a shocking development, Johnson, still only 31, may be getting better as he prepares to break his tie with Anderson Silva as the most prolific champion in UFC history.
“I don’t want to do this for another ten years,” he laughs. “I’ll continue to train, but the competing aspect of it, I’ll probably give myself another five or six years, maybe even seven. We’ll see what happens. But am I in my tip-top physical peak as a man? I’m probably getting there.”
The more you watch Johnson in the Octagon and get more insight into his routine over the years, it’s clear that this is an athlete we get to see once every 25 years if we’re lucky. On fight night, Johnson can do it all, and when the final horn sounds, he’s back into his own world, marching to the beat of his own drum. His philosophy? That life doesn’t stop.
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“Even right now, I’m working on building another house and gathering all this information and getting all this going, and I enjoy it because life doesn’t stop,” he said. “Life has to continue and I’m going to keep building my brand and continue to invest in my career so when I’m done fighting I’m not like other fighters who didn’t invest their money correctly.”
In many ways, Johnson brings to mind boxing great Bernard Hopkins, a fighter who was always in shape, did not follow the crowd when it came to life outside the ring, and who was once criticized for staying in the middleweight division long enough to defend his title a record 20 times over ten years. “Mighty Mouse” may move back up to bantamweight one day, just like Hopkins ended his career with a run at light heavyweight, but he’s not chasing glory for glory’s sake.
“For me, it’s not about going up,” Johnson said. “I don’t have an ego in trying to fight guys who are bigger than me. I’ve been there and done that, and obviously the only thing that makes me intrigued to go up a weight class is if the paycheck is gonna be nicer.”
If he wins at UFC 216 in Las Vegas next weekend, there will likely be calls once more for him to tackle the 135-pounders, but that’s not on Johnson’s mind at the moment. He’s fighting Ray Borg next, and he hasn’t counted this as another victory yet.
“I think anybody I fought is the most dangerous guy I’ve ever fought, just because I’m the only champion ever to be in the flyweight division,” he said. “If anybody can beat me, then they just became the man who decapitated the king. So I know he’s hungry, I know he’s young, and I’ve never taken any fighter lightly and I don’t take my paycheck lightly, so I’m gonna go out there and it’s gonna be one of the best performances you’ve ever seen.”
Then does he get a little time to smell the roses?
“I think when it’s all over and done with, if I’m successful, then obviously that’s something nobody else has done,” Johnson said. “So I’ve got to do that first, and when I get back home with the family, sit down, crack open that beer, take a deep breath and say, ‘We done did it,’ that’s when I’ll realize that I’ve done something.”