One minute. Give or take a few seconds, depending on your capacity to be alarmed, that 1/60th of an hour against John Dodson in January of 2013 is the only time Demetrious Johnson appeared to be in danger of losing his UFC flyweight title.
Dropped to the mat twice in that minute by Dodson, Johnson still recovered quickly and got back to work, going on to fight three-and-a-half more rounds and retain his crown via unanimous decision.
With his first successful title defense in hand, his reign had truly begun, and no one has gotten close to him since. The most recent challenger to be dismissed was Henry Cejudo, an unbeaten Olympic gold medalist whom Johnson stopped in less than three minutes last Saturday in Las Vegas.
That was defense No. 8, tying him with interim light heavyweight champion Jon Jones on the UFC’s all-time list. The man at the top, former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, is the leader with 10 successful defenses.
Such excellence has many calling for “Mighty Mouse” to supplant Jones as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. But would it be out of line to call Johnson the most dominant UFC champion – not just today, but ever?
He’s not the first name to come to mind. That headspace is reserved for icons with unforgettable names: Silva, GSP, Jones, Liddell, Hughes, Ortiz, Shamrock, Aldo and Rousey. But a closer look shows a reign by Johnson that is not just lengthy, but historic.
Frank Shamrock, the earliest titleholder on the list, was champion of what is now known as the light heavyweight division from 1997 to 1999. He was a talented and dominant champion, but he did go life-and-death with Tito Ortiz before beating him in 1999 and then relinquishing the title to go into a brief retirement.
Ortiz and Chuck Liddell also dominated the competition at 205 pounds during their respective reigns, but with a combined nine successful title defenses, they don’t match the longevity of someone like Silva.
The First Lady of MMA, Ronda Rousey, has a strong case for her reign from 2012 to 2015, which saw her win six title defense fights, finishing all of them — five in the first round and three in less than a minute. But her title loss to Holly Holm last November has many fans and pundits focusing on Rousey’s present and future and not appreciating her body of work before the defeat. The same goes for Jose Aldo’s five-year run at the top of the featherweight division, in which he defeated six challengers in seven title fights before a stunning knockout loss to Conor McGregor. So let’s address these reigns at a later time.
So what of Johnson’s title run compared to the fearsome foursome of Jones, Silva, Georges St-Pierre and Matt Hughes? Each fighter dominated his division for years, fighting stellar competition each step of the way. But if we’re talking clear dominance, it means the champion to hold this mythical crown must have been virtually untouched while at the top. So it can’t be Hughes, who was nearly finished by Frank Trigg or BJ Penn; Silva being pushed to the brink of defeat by Chael Sonnen before a miracle fifth-round finish; Jones almost getting submitted by Vitor Belfort or going through a five-round war with Alexander Gustafsson; or GSP getting dropped by a Carlos Condit kick or eking out a decision over Johny Hendricks.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
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On the contrary, a fighter coming back from the brink of defeat to win shows championship heart, and it’s those battles we will be talking about for years. Johnson even did it himself when he rose from those early knockdowns to win the next three rounds and beat Dodson.
But that “danger” lasted all of a minute. Not a round, not five. It was one minute where you sat there and thought Johnson actually might lose. Since that fight, Johnson has fought in the Octagon for one hour, 51 minutes, and eight seconds, compiling seven wins. He has finished five of those bouts, and in the two he went the distance in, he lost one round on two judges’ scorecards.
It’s a championship resume few, if any, can touch. It’s not Ali rope-a-doping Foreman into defeat or a half-blind Leonard knocking out Hearns. Think of it more as fistic perfection, a Floyd Mayweather going 49-0, Pernell Whitaker or Willie Pep showing that technique and defense can win fights.
In other words, appreciate “Mighty Mouse” while you can, because when he leaves, it will be more than a minute before we see the likes of him again.