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Hate is such a strong word. Demetrious Johnson would never go there.
So let’s just say he and John Dodson are polar opposites, like oil and water. Their lives and their personalities run in different directions. Johnson would prefer to cross the street than meet Dodson on the sidewalk.
Get along? “We don’t,” Johnson says.
It’s nothing personal, other than a clash of characters inside and outside the Octagon. Johnson is a no-nonsense guy, all business; Dodson is as much entertainer as fighter, smiling and waving, boasting without shame and undeniably charismatic.
Johnson doesn’t talk much game; Dodson talks enough for two. Understandably, they go their separate ways, which is precisely how Johnson prefers it.
“If I’m in a club or a bar and I see him across the room, would I say hi to him? Probably not,” he says. “Would I want to go out and have a beer with him? Probably not. Joseph Benavidez I’ll go have a beer with. I’ve hung out with Ian McCall.
“We have nothing in common. I might find him irritating, and I don’t want to hang out with irritating people.”
"I don’t need to say anything. I just need to go out there and fight.” -- Demetrious Johnson on UFC 191
It doesn’t make their fight Saturday night at UFC 191 a grudge match, regardless of all the things Dodson has been saying. For Johnson (21-2-1), the UFC’s first and only flyweight champion, it’s just chatter.
Besides, he isn’t consumed by either a deep-seated hatred of Dodson or a need to sell the event. He’ll let Dodson do that.
“It’s got to be in you,” he said. “I could sit here and say, ‘Screw Dodson,’ and blah, blah, blah. I don’t really mean it. I just don’t. It’s not who I am.
“When it comes to (Saturday), we’re going to fight. I’m going to go straight forward, I’m going to get on his ass and I’m going to take the fight to him. I hope – I’m praying – that I meet somebody who wants to come in there to fight, someone who wants to scramble with me, who wants to clinch with me, who wants to out-grapple me.
“That’s all I need to say. That’s it.”
Johnson, known famously as “Mighty Mouse,” is approaching a significant milestone with this fight. Should he win, it will mark his seventh consecutive title defense, tying him with Jose Aldo for the fourth longest in UFC history. Only Anderson Silva (10), Georges St-Pierre (9) and Jon Jones (8) have more.
It could be his toughest match so far. Johnson and Dodson fought once before, a five-rounder in January 2013 that Johnson won by unanimous decision. But he was knocked down three times by left hands – one in the first round, two in the second – before taking control in the final three rounds.
Looking back, Dodson doesn’t see it that way, recently telling the Los Angeles Times, “I’m real excited because I can go beat up a guy I already beat up once.”
Neither Johnson nor his coach, the respected Matt Hume, seems concerned with Dodson’s punching power. In the end, Johnson won by moving forward, clinching, throwing knees and scoring takedowns.
“DJ went down a couple of times, but the first one was more of a balance (knockdown),” Hume said. “There were two others that clipped him pretty good.
“But that was everything Dodson had for him. The rest of the fight was pretty much domination by DJ. My takeaway was that he made errors where he got hit. He knows those errors, and he also took Dodson’s best shots, so he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.”
If there was one criticism of Johnson, it was his impatience to push the pace early. But he doesn’t like to wait. He prefers to press forward, and that may have been what left him open to Dodson’s left hands.
Even though he knows he has five rounds to work, he’d rather come out quickly and look to finish.
“When we watch the previous fight, my coach is like, ‘You were way too impatient. You need to be more patient,’ ” Johnson said. “I’m like, ‘Screw that noise, I’m trying to get in there and get him.’
“If I had all the time in the world, then maybe I can be patient. But I only have 25 minutes, five rounds. Every round counts. It’s stupid to think I need to win this round instead of I just need to beat this guy up.”
Johnson is currently ranked No. 3 in the UFC’s pound-for-pound ratings, although there are some who believe he should be first ahead of Jose Aldo and Chris Weidman. He has never lost as a flyweight, has a string of eight consecutive wins and has never been finished.
More on UFC 191: Full Fight Card | John Dodson’s road to UFC 191 | LISTEN: Johnson, Dodson, Arlovski and Mir sound off on media call | WATCH: Johnson-Dodson I | Fighter Profiles: Demetrious Johnson, John Dodson | Get your tickets for UFC 191 here | PPV ordering instructions
His last defeat came in October 2011 when he fought as a bantamweight and dropped a unanimous decision to Dominick Cruz.
“I really don’t think anyone at 125 pounds will beat him,” Cruz said. “The only person that has a chance is John Dodson because of the power he possesses in his hands.
“What Demetrious has done is learn how to fight people the way he needs to fight them rather than what makes him comfortable. He changes and adapts to the strengths of the people he fights, and while doing that he takes away their gifts and forces everybody to deal with his gifts. That’s what makes him effective.”
The fight matches two of the fastest fighters in MMA, although Johnson said Dodson used his speed to try and avoid clinches the first time they met. If Dodson has a game plan for the rematch, it’s probably to get in quickly, throw big combinations and get out. Given his power, one left hand could be the difference.
“I believe he’s going to use the cage, use the space, use distance,” Johnson said, “because if he doesn’t want to run, that’s when we’re going to clash heads and that’s when the clinches are going to come. That’s when the wrestling and the grappling exchanges are going to happen. I absolutely believe he wants nothing to do with that. He wants to throw a big shot to try to knock me out.”
But before they meet again, Johnson will have to deal with the bluster and the buildup that usually accompanies main events. And that means listening to Dodson’s attempts to stir interest by making outlandish statements.
To Johnson, it’s all meaningless talk. If his opponent wants a public conflict to sell the fight, he’ll have to look elsewhere.
“When I watch Serena Williams play tennis, I don’t care what feud she has with the other competitor,” Johnson said. “I’m more entertained by how fast she’s able to react on the ball. That’s what intrigues me. That’s just me.
“I honestly pay no attention to (the trash talk). I saw a quote, ‘Silence is confidence, loudness comes from people who are insecure about themselves.’ I don’t need to say anything. I just need to go out there and fight.”
Hume is quick to point out that Johnson is simply a nice guy who can’t be irritated or pushed by the hostility that is sometimes employed to sell a big fight.
“You don’t describe Demetrious in terms of fighters or anything like that,” Hume said. “He’s just a good guy. He’s a nice guy, a genuine guy, an honest guy. He likes everybody, and he just happens to be the pound-for-pound No. 1 fighter on the planet.”
If so, Johnson may need to find new challenges to stay on top. He has already beaten five top-10 fighters in the UFC’s flyweight division – Dodson, Joseph Benavidez (twice), McCall, John Moraga and Kyoji Horiguchi – so making a move to bantamweight is a possibility at some point.
A rematch with Cruz at a catchweight might even be worth considering.
“There’s still people left in this division,” Hume said. “Certainly a super fight would be something we would consider in the future. Right now, Dodson is the one in front of us. If we get through him, that gets us one step closer to getting the record of most title defenses in the history of the UFC. We’ll keep on that path.”
But a move up a weight class is not to be dismissed.
“DJ was a flyweight who was fighting at bantamweight as a rookie,” Hume said. “He made it all the way up the rankings and fought for the title. Not counting our chickens before they’re hatched, but if DJ keeps his goal of keeping the flyweight championship and defending it and setting the record, you could see his next goal becoming a two-weight-class champion and cementing his legacy.”
Johnson has probably already done that.
At the very least, he hopes to retire as the UFC’s only flyweight champion. Perhaps.
“That’s a long, long road,” he said. “If I was to retire after this fight, I could say, ‘Damn, I was the only one.’ But eventually there will be another flyweight champion because the UFC will keep on rolling, and when I retire there will be a new one crowned.
“But I can say in my time and my era, if I stay undefeated for another eight years, yeah, it would be awesome to retire as the only champion, undefeated and truly undisputed. But that’s a long time. I don’t like to get ahead of myself.”
Michael Martinez is a longtime sports journalist and former staff writer at The New York Times, the San Jose Mercury News and FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMMartinez