With his third round armbar submission victory over Wilson Reis, UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson tied the company record for consecutive title defenses. Considering the dearth of quality 125-pounders in the company, it’s almost a certainty that “Mighty Mouse” is going to claim a record-breaking 11th successful title defense before the year is up – maybe even a 12th.
Mighty Mouse is clearly the most dominant fighter in the world right now. He remains the only Flyweight Champion in UFC history, with his illustrious title reign approaching the five-year mark. Since then he’s practically wiped out the flyweight roster; he’s defeated John Dodson twice, beaten Joseph Benavidez twice and made short work of a long list of pretenders to the throne … John Morago, Chris Cariaso, Kyoji Horiguchi, Henry Cejudo, among others … in spectacular fashion. While the UFC definitely has some talented up-and-comers in the division (Tim Elliott, Sergio Pettis and Magomed Bibulatov spring to mind), it doesn’t look like anybody on the payroll has the skill set, experience or sheer power to compete with Johnson. Like GSP and Anderson Silva in their primes, it just doesn’t seem like anybody is on the same level of Johnson.
But there’s a major, major difference between this dominant champ and the dominant champs before him. Simply put – people actually cared about St-Pierre and Silva, while a long list of disappointing PPV buyrates and overnight TV ratings are proof positive the MMA-watching public just doesn’t give a damn about Demetrious.
That Johnson/Reis title fight was the least watched UFC on Fox event ever. The lowest PPV buyrate of the modern era? Well, that belongs to UFC 174, which was headlined by … you guessed it. Only one Johnson-headlined PPV has eve garnered more than 200,000 buys, while his free TV title fights have drawn barely half the audience for non-title strawweight women’s main events.
The evidence is indisputable. Not only is the self-declared “greatest champion in UFC history”not a box office draw, he’s TV rating and PPV buyrate cancer. Every time the most dominant champ in MMA fights, less people than normal tune in. That means that when Johnson fights, not only are causal viewers not watching, even people who regularly consume the UFC product don’t bother checking in.
A lot of MMA purists are desperately trying to spin Johnson’s consistent box office failure into some sort of indictment of the casual MMA fan base, arguing that those filthy normies just aren’t cultured enough to appreciate Johnson’s skills and technique. Others suggest TV viewers and would-be PPV purchasers just don’t care about the lower weight classes – a pretty stupid argument, considering the two biggest draws in MMA history, Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, fought within two weight classes above Johnson. I haven’t heard too many people playing the race card yet, but even that fails to explain why Jon Jones, Anderson Silva and Rashad Evans fights routinely draw triple and sometimes even quadruple the audience for Johnson’s fights.
It’s not that Johnson’s fights are boring or uncompetitive – and even if they were, you could say the same thing about GSP and he still regularly drew 750,000-plus PPV buys. And before any of you try to blame it on the lack of talent in the division, remember – Silva was doing half a mil in PPV sales going toe-to-toe with such illustrious competitors as Stephan Bonnar and Demian Maia.
Two things, we know for sure: Demetrious Johnson is a world-class, super-dominant fighter and as evident by the ratings he draws, nobody gives a shit, either. Which raises the million dollar MMA enigma – why doesn’t anybody care about Mighty Mouse?
The charisma factor is a pretty hard one to ignore. But along those same lines, GSP and Anderson Silva really can’t speak English, yet somehow, they connected with U.S. fans. In the past Johnson has tried to talk shit and promote fights, but it always comes off as forced and hokey. Meanwhile, Silva never said anything you could understand in King George’s native tongue, but by golly, you knew he meant business.
On a very unscientific, superficial level, it’s clear that Johnson just doesn’t have “it.” He doesn’t have that presence, that aura of “oh shit, things are about to get real” whenever he enters the Octagon. Whenever he defends the Flyweight title, it doesn’t really feel like it’s that big of a deal – which, I suppose, explains why his last title defense wasn’t in Vegas on PPV, but on a free network card in Kansas City.
You’d think that every time a man listed as the best pound for pound fighter on the planet fought, the MMA world would come to a grinding halt. And that, I am afraid, is the problem. Go ahead, take a look back at these “pound-for-pound” rankings from 2009, which listed colossal MMA busts like Miguel Torres, Mike Thomas Brown and Thiago Alves as the “best” overall fighters on Earth. You see, MMA fans don’t give a good gosh darn who the most talented or most skilled or most dominant fighter within a particular weight class is. What we care about is who the toughest, most powerful and most brutal fighters are. The whole reason we watch MMA is to see dudes knock each other out, slam one another unconscious and rip apart one another’s tendons; and unfortunately, none of those adjectives – powerful, tough or brutal – encapsulate what the flyweight division is about, and they most certainly do not encapsulate what Demetrious Johnson is about, neither.
Johnson might be one bad mofo at 125, but could he beat Conor McGregor or Jose Aldo at 145? Hell, he’s already lost to Dominick Cruz at 135, so I can’t imagine him doing very well against TJ Dillashaw or Cody Garbrandt. Even middle of the road 155-pounders like Evan Dunham and Al Iaquinta would be huge favorites against “the best fighter in the world.” And practically anybody fighting at 170 in the UFC wouldn’t just beat the holy hell out of Demetrious Johnson in a real fight, they’d probably literally kill him. As fans, we could buy the idea that GSP and Anderson Silva or Jon Jones could kick the crap out of 90 percent of the UFC roster, but Johnson? We all know that if it came down to it, 90 percent of the UFC roster would kick the crap out of him. Mighty Mouse might be an absolute beast at 125, but anything outside of that? He’s dead meat.
As MMA fans, we have a natural inclination towards dudes we KNOW could beat the hell out of people. When you look at Johnson, that badass factor just isn’t there. Daniel Cormier or Brock Lesnar could easily hold their own against a couple of Hell’s Angels in a bar fight, but could you imagine Mighty Mouse coming out on top in a battle against a 265 pound, pool-cue wielding biker hopped up on crystal meth? Impeccable technique or not, “the world’s best fighter” isn’t winning THAT fight. You know it, I know it, Mighty Mouse himself knows it. MMA fans and casual viewers gravitate towards fighters who are imposing and demonstrate sheer power – that ungodly strength and force that could end a fight at anytime. And that’s something that Demetrious Johnson, God bless him, just doesn’t possess.
I’ll never forget the reaction Johnson got at the sports bar at UFC 152. The crowd took one glance at Mighty Mouse – who was literally a foot and a half shorter than the referee – and just laughed off the rest of the match. This wasn’t watching the world’s toughest and most badass fighters going at it – it was the MMA equivalent of midget wrestling. That image of toughness – that these dudes on the screen could whup the asses of everyone in the room – went straight out the window. We would all die in a fight against Michael Bisping or Khabib Nurmagomedov, but we could probably hold our own pretty well against Demetrious. After all, the dude would literally need a step ladder to uppercut the aggregate American male – you could probably just put your hand on his forehead and watch him swing at air like a jock bullying a nerd in the hallway.
As an audience, we can buy 5’9 Conor McGregor messing us up, and we can buy 5’7 Ronda Rousey messing us up. But what kinda damage is 5’3 Demetrious Johnson going to do in a real life fight?
The UFC can try to spin it anyway they want, but we just can’t take Demetrious seriously as a real-life badass. He might be the world’s most dangerous jockey, but at the end of the day, he’s just a 5’3 dude who punches other 5’3 dudes for a living. He doesn’t convey the aura of a real life threat, as somebody who could knock the shit out of you in a bar room ruckus. He’s supposed to be the best fighter on the planet, but a good 90 percent of the viewing audience honestly thinks THEY could take him in a one-on-one fight, if not because of the weight differential, certainly the discrepancies in height.
Sorry, UFC, but the root cause of Johnson’s box office failure ought to be clear as day: just why in the hell would anybody spend money to watch a dude whose ass they know they could kick themselves?