mma / Columns

Demetrious Johnson: Hey UFC, A Little Help?

April 18, 2017 | Posted by Evan Zivin

Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson…


I know there are more important things you could be reading right now. Maybe there’s a news item about a new petition that was started because Braun Strowman didn’t send a get well card to Roman Reigns for the 20 minutes he was in the hospital after his ambulance got friggin’ flipped on its side. Maybe there’s a column questioning if Luke Skywalker’s beard length is going to ruin Episode VIII. Maybe the site doesn’t exist anymore because Russians hacked into it and President Trump ordered it to be fired at Syria.

Whatever may be going on, Demetrious deserves our attention and respect because, at UFC on FOX this past Saturday night, he did something that only one other man in the UFC has ever done.

That’s right. He’s made the grizzled, homeless beard look work in consecutive title fights.

Oh, and he also defended a UFC Championship 10 times, tying Anderson Silva’s record. It’s even a little more impressive since he did it in consecutive fights.

Does anyone care, though?

Also, aren’t you sick of seeing people on the Internet ask that question?

I bet DJ is. I can only imagine how annoying it must be to get asked in every interview why one of the most successful fighters on the planet, a man who is unbeaten in the weight class he rules over, has competed for titles in multiple weight classes, and is easily on the short list for best fighter ever, is seemingly ignored by most of the fanbase.

Wait, do people actually not care about Demetrious Johnson, or do I just think they don’t care because half the content written by MMA “journalists” about him is about why no one cares about him?

Is that too long to fit on a Fry image macro? Probably.

There is evidence to support that claim, though. The UFC Flyweight Division as a whole has never really been presented as all that important, with very few flyweight fights outside DJ’s title defenses getting main event and co-main event slots since the division’s introduction in 2012.

Even DJ’s placement doesn’t show the most confidence in his drawing power. Of DJ’s 10 title defenses, only half have been on Payperview, with the other half airing on FOX or lesser platforms, with this most recent one producing the lowest rating for a UFC on FOX ever (according to Dave Meltzer).

Of those 5 Payperviews, DJ has main evented 4 but UFC booked only one of those shows with the intention that Demetrious would headline the card, that being UFC 174, where DJ defeated Ali Bagautinov in front of the smallest Payperview audience the UFC had seen since the start of the TUF Boom.

One would think UFC books him that way because of the perception that placing DJ in a featured spot comes with the repercussion of diminished returns, since he’s the king of the smallest men’s weight class in the UFC, and it’s hard to raise his pedestal when it’s constantly hitting the ceiling that is our love of big, hulking brutes trying to pound each other’s faces in.

We like large athletes. It’s our biological impulse to stand in awe of the big guys. It’s part of why we enjoy football so much. It’s part of why the list of most watched boxing fights of all time is littered with heavyweights.

It’s in our wiring to instinctively be more impressed by a 6’5”, 250 lb beast even if he can’t go more than 2 minutes without getting winded vs. a 5’2”, 125 lb. little thing who looks like he spent a lot of his school years losing his lunch money even if he could pop our arms off without hesitation, like DJ did to Wilson Reis on Saturday night.

Size, of course, isn’t the only indicator for popularity in MMA. Conor McGregor is proof of that. He’s only 5’9” but has managed to become the biggest name in the sport, partly because of his skills in the cage but mostly because of his skills outside of it.

DJ said in a recent interview, when asked for the million and a half time why flyweights aren’t popular, that it’s due to a lack of “assholes” in the weight class. I would assume he means “fighters playing an asshole character in front of the media to gain attention” as opposed to genuine assholes, as I would think, statistically speaking, there have to be some in the division, and he’s not completely wrong in saying that.

MMA is a personality driven sport and the weight classes that receive the most attention at any given time are the ones with the biggest personalities featured front and center.

It’s why the featherweight division had so much attention paid to it when Conor was a part of it (and why no one cares now that he’s no longer its champion). It’s why the light heavyweight division was the premier weight class when it was ruled by Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, and Tito Ortiz and why it’s a barren wasteland now outside of Twitter wars between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier.

DJ is a well spoken guy and is not afraid to express his opinions, especially as he’s proven his abilities and staying power time and time again. He has a good personality. It’s not an over-the-top, cartoonish personality like the one Conor created but it’s one UFC could put a focus on and present as a good representation of the kinds of athletes they work with.

The problem with that, though, is UFC has no interest in putting that kind of work in unless you’re a Conor-like personality.

That’s why, for as unfortunate, albeit understandable, as it is that most fans don’t show a ton of interest in DJ, the UFC does him no favors in the way they promote him, or, should I say, don’t promote him.

I’ve harped on the UFC before over how bad they are at promoting their roster. They really only seem to put a serious effort in when they have fighters willing to do most of the work themselves, lining up interviews for guys who possess the most colorful vocabularies to see what they’ll say next or getting fighters in hated, heated rivalries in the same room in the hope that something will happen that they can condemn while simultaneously creating a new TV spot.

The UFC rarely seems to bother giving any additional attention to the fighters who give straight, simple, logical answers to questions. UFC doesn’t promotionally invest in the fighters who choose to focus more on their training than their number of Twitter followers because that would require actual effort to give people a reason to care about those guys, right?

I mean, a promoter having to promote a fighter? Perish the thought…

The only non-self promoting fighters who seem to get heavy promotion in the UFC are the ones who either A) wreck all of their opponents and create devastating highlight reels, like Junior dos Santos did on his way to his first title fight, B) take out a popular fighter, like the surge in attention Holly Holm got after separating Ronda Rousey’s head from her shoulders, or C) offer a fanbase or other revenue generating opportunity that other fighters can’t, like Captain Canada, Georges St-Pierre.

GSP is actually a good comparison as, for as good of a fighter as he was, and hopefully still is, he’s always been a quiet guy (his amusing broken French-Canadian English notwithstanding), letting his work in the cage do most of the talking.

Honestly, when you compare the title reigns of DJ and GSP, Mighty Mouse’s looks a lot more impressive.

In 10 title defenses, Demetrious has finished 6 of those fights. GSP has 1 finish in his 9 defenses. And yet, who was considered the more “must see” fighter?

DJ is the champion who looks to stay ahead but always fights for the finish. GSP was the champion that, for as dominant as he was in his fights, would be constantly criticized for his inability to finish those fights.

DJ is the champion who has continually improved with each defense, looking more dominant every time out. GSP was the champion who continually lost motivation with each fight, looking worse every time out.

And GSP is the one UFC got behind because he opened up Canada for UFC events and additional Payperview buys, while DJ continues to languish on FOX cards because UFC thinks that’s the only way they can get people to watch him fight.

I’m not trying to say that GSP was undeserving of the attention he got. He absolutely was, but so is DJ. That’s why it’s so baffling to hear Dana White come out after DJ’s win and proclaim him “The greatest of all time” when he still pays the guy crap and sticks him on un-important shows with little promotional support.

DJ even said he’s only been given one UFC belt. What the hell is that? I thought it was customary every champion gets a new belt after every time they successfully defend it. The fact that Michael Bisping could have more UFC belts in his trophy case than Demetrious Johnson is just wrong.

Make it right, UFC. Get DJ his belts (Dana said he would but why did it take DJ publicly complaining about it to make it happen?). Also, promote the guy. If you’re willing to call him “the greatest of all time,” how about you make an effort to present him as such? Casual fans will only care about the fighters if they are given a reason to. Don’t give up on the greatest fighter on the roster just because he’s little or because he doesn’t say outlandish things or because he doesn’t have an entire country behind him.

If DJ defends his championship one more time, it will set the record for most defenses in UFC history. That’s a pretty big deal. I can only hope that UFC treats it as one.

That being said, I look forward to seeing DJ’s next fight as the co-main event of the blockbuster Vitor Belfort-CM Punk fight we’re surely getting later this year. CAN’T WAIT!

Evan Zivin has been writing for 411 MMA since May of 2013. Evan loves the sport, and likes to takes a lighthearted look at the world of MMA in his writing…usually.

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article topics :

Demetrious Johnson, UFC, Evan Zivin