Twelve months can mean a lifetime in combat sports, sometimes. Jon Jones went from “prospect on the verge of becoming great” to dominant champion in less than a year. And at the end of 2012 Demetrious Johnson was on top of any list that asked “Which UFC champion was going to lose their title first?”
At the end of 2012 Johnson’s flyweight career had been a contentious split decision win over Joseph Benavidez, a draw with Ian McCall and a solid but forgettable win over “Uncle Creepy” left him as the UFC’s least solid champion. A win on a UFC on Fox card in Chicago to start off 2013 seemed to confirm this notion.
Johnson was elite … but he had that Benson Henderson level of elite going for him. On paper he won but when you actually watched his fights the same thing that happened to Henderson you’d apply to Johnson. He was a champion on paper but you could reasonably argue he hadn’t done enough to retain his title. Two times you could reasonably argue he wasn’t the best flyweight in the world and they happened to be his title win and first defense.
Johnson’s first title reign wasn’t starting out like it was supposed to but then again no one had ever expected him to win the four man tournament to crown a new flyweight champion in the first place. He had been the forgotten man in the near unanimous picks of McCall or Benavidez to hold the first UFC flyweight title. And the way he managed to win the title didn’t inspire confidence in anyone that he’d be a long term champion, either. It seemed to be that the only reason he was champion was because he hadn’t faced Benavidez again.
And then Johnson went on the sort of fight streak that makes champions into legends to close out 2013.
After brutally dominating John Moraga for four rounds, and then finishing him in the final moments of the fight, Johnson just solidified the best campaign for a UFC champion in 2013 with a devastating knockout of the man largely picked to take his title from him since their first meeting a year ago.
It’s why when all is said and done “Mighty Mouse” has a very strong case for being the fighter of the year. He’s the only champion to defend his title more than two times, for starters, and is tied with Renan Barao for most title fight finishes in 2013 as well. His win over John Dodson at the beginning of the year puts him ahead of Barao in total title defenses, as well, and Johnson accumulated the most fight time of any UFC titlist in 2013.
Coming into 2013 Johnson was viewed in a much different light than he is right now. What a difference a year makes.
Tags: demetrious johnson, John Dodson, Joseph Benavidez, Mixed Martial Arts, UFC on FOX 9