It’s been a few days since UFC 197, but discussion rages on. Mainly, everyone’s talking about Jon Jones, who returned after a year of atonement for actual crimes, and Conor McGregor, who didn’t even fight at UFC 197. Flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is once again getting the shaft.
It’s a damn shame. While people (including Jon Jones himself) debate whether or not Jones’ methodical five-round shut-out of last-second opponent Ovince Saint Preux was dominant or listless, Johnson is getting the usual “he’s cleared out his division” talk from hardcore fans and MMA publications, while the mainstream shrugs and produces pitch perfect cricket noises.
This despite the fact that Johnson took on a guy considered to be his Toughest Challenge To Date over the weekend and buried him beneath a pile of busted ribs and broken dreams in a single round. That guy, Henry Cejudo, was an Olympic gold medallist in wrestling, the youngest ever in American history. Johnson made it look easy. He outmanoeuvred Cejudo with his trademark Mighty Speed (TM [not actually trademarked]), popped right back up after a takedown, and finished Cejudo with a brilliant multi-angle knee barrage from the clinch. It was a top-notch performance from a guy who composes a new masterpiece every time he steps into the cage.
I mean, watch this breakdown of his past fights:
He’s far-and-away the UFC’s best champion. He has been for years. He’s also well-spoken and funny. Heck, he’s even making headway into a burgeoning side career as a Twitch video game streamer. But his live gate and pay-per-view numbers are abysmal compared to other champions. Many think it’s because he’s 160cm tall and weighs 57kg. They are wrong.
For the longest time, the going line of thought about Mighty Mouse has been, “He’s too tiny. Mainstream fight fans want to see big men crash into each other like 18-wheeler trucks covered in doughy, glistening skin.” Thing is, people said the same thing about lightweights (70kg) until BJ Penn came along. Then they said the same thing about featherweights (66kg) until Conor McGregor became the UFC’s cackling money king. Back in action after an aeons-long layoff, Dominick Cruz has a solid shot at turning bantamweight (61kg) into a draw thanks to his cerebral brand of trash talk and rivalry with perennially sunbaked boy-man Urijah Faber.
So why won’t people give Mighty Mouse — a champ who’s charismatic, exciting and better at finishing fights than most other UFC champs — the time of day? Simple: he’s too dang consistent.
I don’t mean that just as a fighter, either. I can’t think of a fighter who’s shown more consistently steady improvement while champion, but he’s also consistently respectful to his opponents, clever but not hilarious and composed in the cage. Despite an ever-growing list of accomplishments, Mighty Mouse is, unfortunately, the antithesis of the modern UFC. As I wrote a while back, the UFC’s current incarnation thrives on chaos.
Don’t get me wrong: I love all the storylines and, yes, even some of the drama that the UFC now spews like so many busted sewer pipes. It’s fun and ridiculous. It makes fights feel personal. But what really turns those things into can’t-miss TV is uncertainty. What will Conor McGregor say this time? Will he win despite fighting a dude who’s bigger than him? Will he find himself in a dangerous position? Will he make it out, manage a come-from-behind victory? Has Jon Jones really turned his life around? Is he the same fighter who once dominated current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, or will he get stomped by his bitterest rival after a year of crime and punishment? Will he find himself in more car-related trouble soon? Will he be banned from cars by the President?
With Mighty Mouse, there aren’t really questions beyond, “How will he win?” And honestly, you never know. He’s so skilled and determined that he can pull off anything from a first-round TKO to the latest submission finish in UFC history (4:59 of the final round). But there’s no suspense inside or outside his fights. He’s usually pretty dominant from the word go, and on the rare occasions he’s gotten rocked, he glued his Humpty Dumpty brain back together faster than most. Then he went right back to surgically dominating. Contrast that with, say, Jon Jones, who also shuts people down in the cage, but has still had multiple back-and-forth wars, bitter rivalries and, of course, life drama by the truckload. The problem is not just Mighty Mouse’s consistent dominance as a fighter. It is, sadly, the complete package.
It’s been wild watching post-UFC 197 discussion unfold this week, especially in the wake of last week’s McGregor madness, in which the Irish fireball “retired” as a power play in a spat with the UFC. After a prolonged period of “he said, she said” silliness, the UFC yanked McGregor from UFC 200, leaving the main event slot for a landmark card wide open. All eyes suddenly shifted to Jones. If he escaped UFC 197 relatively unscathed, he could fight Daniel Cormier in July. Nobody even mentioned Mighty Mouse as a possibility, despite the fact that he barely got touched during his fight. Not that I expected them to. I’m a massive Mighty Mouse fan, and even I know the idea of him headlining UFC 200 is ludicrous. He’s not a draw, and he’s got no compelling rivals.
Still, how crazy is that? UFC 200 will not feature the UFC’s best, most well-rounded champion — the guy who, maybe more than anyone else on Earth, embodies the sport of mixed martial arts. He’s not even on the undercard. But let’s be real: Who would he fight? What would the storyline be? Why would people want to watch?
Mighty Mouse is the UFC’s best, most dominant champion, and that is why he’s also its least appreciated.
Image credit: Getty/Christian Petersen.