Opinion: Of Mice and Men

By: Mike Sloan
Dec 16, 2013
The diminutive Demetrious Johnson has emerged as a pound-for-pound great. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

He is without question one of MMA’s top pound-for-pound fighters, but few outside the sport’s hardcore audience seem willing to give Demetrious Johnson the respect and adoration he deserves.

“Mighty Mouse” cemented his place as MMA’s premier flyweight and retained his Ultimate Fighting Championship title with a violent knockout against Joseph Benavidez in the UFC on Fox 9 main event on Saturday at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif. Hopefully, in the wake of Johnson’s latest triumph, the casual fans will start paying closer attention to the smaller guys.

The big men of fight sports have always drawn the bulk of the attention from fans and media. That has become a troubling truth because in most cases, the larger the fighters, the slower the fights; and slower fights are often painful to watch. There are fans who tune in only when the biggest events are televised, and many have been duped into believing the real action resides in the heavyweight division. The general consensus holds that the lighter weight classes lack anyone who can score a knockout and that every fight devolves into a fast-paced pecking battle that goes the distance. Nothing could be further than the truth.

Apparently some have not yet witnessed the destructive striking prowess of a John Dodson, Jose Aldo or Anthony Pettis. After watching him separate Benavidez from his senses, you can add Johnson to the list.

Johnson’s skill set was scary enough before he entered his title defense against Benavidez, before his first knockout in nearly four years and before many of his colleagues made known their apathy towards watching a match for the flyweight championship.

“Mighty Mouse” has the kind of talent that could allow him to hold onto his title for many years. He is faster than everyone else in the division, utilizes almost perfect angles and uses superior movement. Plus, he seems to have an endless gas tank, and his work ethic is second to none. Add those qualities to a burning desire to dominate and you have a combination that will be difficult for anyone to overcome.

Georges St. Pierre held sway over the welterweight division until he vacated his title and announced plans for an extended sabbatical; Anderson Silva ruled the 185-pound weight class for almost seven years; and Jon Jones has put together a historical run at light heavyweight. Though it might sound ambitious at the moment, there is no reason to believe Johnson cannot reign over the flyweights in a similar manner. He has already beaten four fighters ranked below him in the top 10, including Dodson, Ian McCall and John Moraga. Benavidez was believed to be his most pressing threat, and we all saw how that turned out.

Johnson could also choose to strengthen his legacy by someday returning to 135 pounds for super fights, should the pickings become too slim at flyweight. There, battles with interim champion Renan Barao and reigning titleholder Dominick Cruz could present themselves. Cruz, who owns a win over Johnson, has been sidelined for more than two years with knee injuries and will return to the Octagon for a unification bout against Barao in February. If Cruz comes back at the top of his game and defeats Barao, a potential rematch with “Mighty Mouse” becomes all the more attractive.

Johnson has markedly improved since he last locked horns with “The Dominator” in October 2011, and my money would be on him in a rematch. He possesses unique all-around skills, and if he can continue delivering the kind of debilitating blows that felled Benavidez, the possibilities with this guy seem endless. With that said, the time has come for the MMA world to regard “Mighty Mouse” with the same reverence it has bestowed upon other great champions, past and present.

For those of you who still balk at the notion of emotionally investing in a fight between two of MMA’s more diminutive competitors, well, I feel sorry for you. You are missing out on one of this generation’s greatest martial artists.

Follow Mike Sloan at www.twitter.com/mikesloan19 and www.facebook.com/mikesloan19.

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