Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is easily the UFC’s most dominant champion right now. He blends speed and technique with sublime precision, beating some of the best fighters in the world and making it look easy. He also probably plays more video games than you.
Image credit: Getty.
When he’s not training, Mighty Mouse streams for his adoring Mighty Squad, but unlike many big names who’ve brought their song and dance to the small screen in the corner of a slightly larger screen, Mighty Mouse is serious about it. He wants streaming to be his main source of income after he’s done fighting. Right now, though, he’s in the prime of his athletic career, so he juggles both professional fighting and professional streaming.
During TwitchCon, I talked with him about that balancing act, as well as the lack of appreciation he receives from fans and the UFC, his favourite games, and the time he streamed, defended his belt in front of millions of people, and then went right back to streaming. Because he is a madman.
Nathan Grayson: How do you strike a balance between training and streaming as seriously as you do? It would be easy, for instance, to get bored defending your belt over and over in a division you’ve cleaned out — to slack on training to advance your streaming career. But you only seem to be getting better. You mauled Henry Cejudo in your last fight.
Demetrious Johnson: Even when I trained before I started streaming, I had a little briefcase that had a TV in there with an Xbox. I looked back recently, and I was disgusted. I had 76 hours on a Dark Souls character. Then I had maybe 56 hours another one. Eventually I got introduced to Twitch and streaming. I was rocking one of my kids to bed, somebody said you can watch people play video games while you’re doing whatever you want. I tuned in and watched a guy play Mega Man X and all this shit. I was like, “You know what? I’m going to do that between my training sessions.”
There’s actually a lot of time to do whatever I want. I live about 45 minutes away from the gym. Going back and forth doesn’t make sense, because I’ll train at 11, get done by 1:30, shower, eat. By 2 I can sit there and stream from 2 to 4:30 and get two and a half hours in. Then go train from 5 to 7 0r 7:30, get home, and sit down with the wife. I’m a night owl, the wife’s not. We’ll spend time watching movies or talk. She’ll pass out, then If I want to stay up and play more games I’m like, “Fuck it. I’ll play more games.” I’m getting like three and a half hours, or four hours of streaming in a day.
That’s the thing. People are like, “Wow, you’re a full time fighter.” Sometimes the full-time streamers work more than I do, because I go into the gym, train for an hour and a half, done. Then I can go home for the rest of the day and do whatever the hell I want. I just find time to do it.
Grayson: I know for me, if I do a really hard workout, I’m mentally wiped afterwards. Do you ever find yourself in that state where you’re like, “Shit, I have to stream now, but I feel like a punch-drunk zombie”?
Johnson: I won’t stream if I’m exhausted. I don’t have a set schedule. I told these guys, “I’ve got a fucking wife. I have two kids. I’ve got a full time job.” This is another way for me to interact with my fans on a totally different platform. I’ve always interacted with my fans in mixed martial arts doing UFC Expo, and the fights, and all that stuff. This is totally different. That’s why I don’t have a set schedule. If I’m tired and exhausted, I’m like, “I’m not streaming.” If they have a problem with that, like I told everybody every single time, if they have a problem with the way someone wants to live their life, fuck ’em.
Grayson: Are you and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson still stream rivals?
Johnson: Nah. I done whipped his arse way too many times. He hasn’t broadened his spectrum on video games. When it comes to one-versus-one games, I tried to fight him on Street Fighter V. He said, “no.” I played him in Rainbow Six Siege, but that’s more of a team-based game.
When Tekken 7 comes out, I’ll definitely fight him in that and whoop that arse. He doesn’t play Dark Souls. He doesn’t play Bloodborne. It’s a bit harder to keep that rivalry going on. [UFC featherweight contender] Max Holloway, I played him at Street Fighter V and destroyed him.
Grayson: I didn’t know Max Holloway streamed! Who else?
Johnson: Yeah, Max Holloway streams. Angela “Overkill” Hill streams. Who else? Rampage Jackson streams. You’re starting to see a lot of mixed martial artists. Dennis Bermudez streams as well. They’re all trying to get into it. We all played video games anyway, but now if we can put a camera up on a face, make a little revenue doing that, they’re going to try to do it.
Grayson: Why do you think that crossover’s there? Why does it seem like so many pro fighters are drawn to streaming video games?
Johnson: I think with the football and basketball, sports like that, it’s a lot harder. In football everybody wears a helmet. You really truly don’t know what that person looks like. In mixed martial arts, we’re so friendly and accessible to the public that I’m walking around here [at TwitchCon] like I’m Joe Schmo, and I like that.
Grayson: You are easily the most dominant champion in the UFC right now, and you’ve found an alternate means of promoting yourself — of standing out — in Twitch. You’re personable, intelligent, and freakishly talented. Despite that, you’re not really a mainstream “name,” and the UFC doesn’t do you any favours with promotion, even though you’ve more than earned it. Is that discouraging? Infuriating?
Johnson: No, I’m not discouraged at all. When I jumped into mixed martial arts, I didn’t care about being famous. I cared about just proving I was the best fighter in the world. That’s still how it is today. People are always going to have shame and not give you the credit that you might think you deserve. I don’t focus on that. I focus on keep on getting better at whatever I do. Whether it’s fighting or streaming. Just keep pushing.
Grayson: Does it ever motivate you in the sort of way like, “I’m going to prove people wrong” or like, “I’m going to show them”?
Johnson: Nah. I don’t care about that. I’m a self motivator. I’m just going to do me. If I do the best of my ability to train my arse off, and go out there and perform to my ability, then everything else is going to take care of itself. It’s almost like you’re killing five birds with one stone, if the one thing you focus on is just being the best MMA fighter you can be.
Grayson: Does your motivation ever flag, though? You’ve beaten pretty much every top contender at flyweight, some of them twice. What gets you out of bed every day, makes you want to subject yourself to the lactic acid hell that is professional MMA training?
Johnson: It’s just like with video games. It’s like playing World of Warcraft. Why do you keep on trying to get your reputation up with one fucking faction instead of the other ones? Because you want to see an achievement pop up. It’s the same in mixed martial arts. I want to see achievement. I want to see me break Anderson Silva’s record for most title defences. That’s how I make my money. That’s how I pay my bills. You know, if I’m not able to fight and make that type of money, then I won’t be able to stream as much as I do, because I’ll have a different job.
Fighting gives me the opportunity to come on of these beautiful trips, to San Diego, to my first time at TwitchCon, to do things like this. If I had a full time job, I’d be like, “Hey, can I get the week off to go to TwitchCon?” This life has given me so many opportunities to do things I would never have a chance to do, and my wife doesn’t have to work, and my children, I’m taking care of them as well.
Grayson: On the flipside of the coin, a lot of fighters keep fighting way past their primes, and it puts a major strain on their health. Like, I’m super not excited to see Dan Henderson fight next weekend. You can only defy father time for so long before he smites you with permanent brain damage. You, on the other hand, are already laying the foundation for your next career, if that’s the direction you decide to go.
Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. I think even if I didn’t find this avenue, I would hope I could retire very young. I’ve always been smart with my money and never been a big spender. With that being said, yeah, it’s awesome. I mean, talking to some of the guys last night, it’s a grind in the Twitch world. You’ve got to go to entertain the chat, do a lot of things, and sometimes you might not fit that cup of tea that they’re looking for, and you know they might not want to subscribe to you, or you have X amount of subscribers and the next month you lose all those guys. You’re going day to day with those guys and that’s a hard thing to do.
Even when I first started doing mixed martial arts, I had a full-time job. I finally quit my full-time job within three years of being in the UFC. As a full time professional fighter, I kept on working. Then, when I stopped doing that, the money wasn’t as good, but it was enough for me to take care of myself.
Hopefully, if streaming and Twitch have gotten me a good enough fan base, if I was making $US2,000 ($2,636) or $US2,500 ($3,294) a month [from streaming], then I could be like, “OK, my house is paid, my cars are paid. I still have income coming in from investments. I can live off this full-time.” Or if I can get like Lirik and make, like, $US14,000 ($18,449) a month, then I don’t need fucking investments. I’d be like, “I’m good!”
Grayson: I think some people might look at your situation and say, “Oh, well of course he has a big audience on Twitch. He’s a big-deal fighter.” But you’ve managed to attract and hold onto a bigger crowd than a lot of other professional fighters who also stream. What makes you different?
Johnson: It’s because I’m a nerd. Or not a nerd, but a gamer. I’ve been playing games forever. When I’m here talking to other people, I’m talking about games that, you know stuff like Onimusha. Then I start talking about old school games, you know Zelda and things like that. And yeah, I also have that mixed martial arts brand behind me as well. I try to show some skills.
And no, I don’t have skills like these guys who have 3,000 hours plus in one single game, where it’s like, “Duuuude.” That’s their full-time job. My full-time job is to kick arse and chew bubble gum. They come to my gym, it was like, “Hey this is what I’ve been doing for the last ten years of my life, and I don’t know how many hours I have in it.”
Hopefully, you know, I think I have the charisma to be a good streamer. I think I have the intellect to do it as well — to talk to people and hold a great conversation. So far it’s been working out good.
Grayson: What were the games that you got started on? What were the games that got you into video games?
Johnson: Oh man, I would say Contra for the regular Nintendo, Super Metroid on SNES. Mario 64… fuck, I mean Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. I mean essentially all of them. I just enjoyed playing all of them.
Grayson: So you’ve been playing video games for way longer than you’ve been fighting, right?
Johnson: Oh yeah, yeah, I’ve been playing video games longer than I’ve been fighting. When you look at the dates, yeah, I was playing Super Metroid, and I’d do competitions with my brother. It was like, “OK, you get an hour and I get an hour. When my hour’s up, you start, your hour’s up, I start.” We were also trying to see who could beat Mario 64 as fast as we can. We’d sit there and watch each other. That’s what we did on the weekends.
Grayson: Have you seen people speedrun Mario 64?
Johnson: I’m not a fan of speed running because they always look for glitches and shortcuts. I remember I saw this guy beat Legend of Zelda in I think it was something like six minutes. I was like, “boring,” and I left.
Grayson: I think there’s an impressive element to it, though. I wrote about one Mario 64 speedrun recently that applied all these crazy techniques that took years of work to perfect. Half-A presses, parallel universes — bonkers shit that nobody’s supposed to know about.
There was an obsessive element to people figuring this stuff out and perfecting it, the sort of grind MMA fighters like to talk about with their training. Just doing the same thing repeatedly, far past the point of fun. Honing it to a razor’s edge.
Johnson: That is actually pretty awesome. But if someone was like, “Hey, we’re going to speedrun Mario 64 like the game is meant to be played” from scratch to the end, I’ll probably be more intrigued than watching some guy go, “I’m going to jump through fucking parallel universes.” I’m like, “No thanks.”
Grayson: What are the most obscure games you’ve played, your deepest cuts?
Johnson: Out Of This World for Super Nintendo. I don’t know if you’ve ever played that before?
Grayson: I have not!
Johnson: It’s a game you start in this thing, and it just blows up and you swim up. It’s super old-school. You see a little monster in the background. It’s like, “Rawr,” and in one hit it kills you. You befriend this alien thing. It’s fucking weird. That’s why it’s called Out Of This World. I played Carrier for Dreamcast. A lot of people never heard of that game, Carrier. There’s just so many of them, man. I think Onimusha is probably the one that people are like, “Oh I remember that game. I saw it at Gamestop.” It’s one of the greats. Devil May Cry’s another good one.
Grayson: Devil May Cry does, in fact, own.
Johnson: Yeah, the newer one I’m not a big fan of, because it felt off. I like how they did more up-to-date monsters and how they’re in the modern world, but I didn’t like how they made Dante and his brother. I liked the old Dante.
Grayson: Do you think that streaming has brought out maybe more of your personality? Not just on stream, but in general?
Johnson: I think people have seen my personality more through streaming than in general. You don’t get a lot of face time with me unless you come to my stream. When I’m at my fights, I don’t want to talk. I want to just get ready and fight. Absolutely, I think streaming gives me more time. I’m spending four and a half hours a day talking fans, playing the games I enjoy playing.
Grayson: Does streaming get in your way around fight time? Does it all become a balancing act when you’re a few days away from a fight, trying to get focused, cut weight, and all that?
Johnson: No, actually. Shit, last time I fought, I was streaming Dark Souls 3 while cutting weight. I was trying to beat, ah, what fucking dragon, what boss, I can’t remember, he’s the one with the fucking axe and the shield and he has all those dragons flying around him and he’s just spinning shit. I was fighting him before I was going to cut weight. Then it was like, “Alright, I’ll be back. I’m going to go jump in the tub.”
Jumped in the tub, came back, continued to play the game. Then I went to weigh-ins, came back and ate. The next day I was playing Dark Souls 3 right before I went to the fight. I walked across the arena, kicked arse, came back, and started streaming again. After that, I went out in the club.
Grayson: Wait, so you streamed, fought, streamed some more, and then went to a big UFC afterparty?
Grayson: That’s amazing.
Johnson: I was like, “What’s going on guys? I went out there kicked arse for the Mighty Squad. I’m going out tonight.”
Grayson: So this happened when you fought Henry Cejudo. Does he know about any of this?
Grayson: I wonder what he would think. He’d probably be pissed.
Johnson: He’d be like, “This motherfucker.” But like I said, I’ve been playing games for so long. When people are like, “Oh man you’re playing too many games,” I’m like, “Dude I was playing video games, I was playing games through all my training camps, through all my fights. Just because I put a fucking camera in front of my face doesn’t mean it’s going to change things.”
Grayson: Does streaming actually help you? Does it make training camps and fight weeks easier?
Johnson: Yeah, I think it does. I think for anything it gives me the chance to get away from mixed martial arts, because I love fighting and all that stuff, but I don’t like being around it 24/7. When I’m streaming and somebody’s like, “Yo man, how do you feel about this fight?” I’m like, “Honestly? I don’t want to talk about it.” It happens all the time, but it’s good.
Grayson: Where are you at now in terms of what you’re focusing on and what you’re trying to learn? Against Cejudo, your clench game was crazy. I think the people were really surprised at how quickly you finished that fight. When you have a performance like that, one that dominant, where do you go from there? Where do you go when you go back to the drawing board?
Johnson: You just keep on working on stuff. Working on your striking, working your grappling, your wresting, your clench game, there’s more stuff you can do in the clench, and that’s it, just keep on evolving as a mixed martial artist. It’s just like when you play video games. You beat Dark Souls 3, and it’s like, OK, you beat it with the katana. Cool. Now I’m going to go back and try to do it again with something else. You just keep going through, going through, and working your game. Then you go into your PVP skills and you start working on that. You just keep on evolving.
Grayson: Assuming you beat Anderson Silva’s record for title defences, what comes after that?
Johnson: Keep on beating people, keep setting more records.
Grayson: You’re just going to keep building up that record?
Johnson: That’s how you get legendary status.