UPDATE: Less than 12 hours prior to UFC 215 weigh-in, news broke that Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg was called off. Borg came down with a “viral illness” and UFC doctor’s deemed him unfit to compete. The bout is expected to be rescheduled for a later date.
UFC Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson is on the cusp of accomplishing something no fighter in the history of mixed martial arts has previously done when he takes to the Octagon on Saturday for the UFC 215 main event.
Johnson, the lone athlete to hold the UFC’s 125-pound belt dating back to the inception of the weight class more than five years ago, will attempt to make a company record 11th consecutive defense when he faces challenger Ray Borg in the UFC 215 headliner, which takes place at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (10 p.m. ET, pay-per-view).
A number of incredible title runs have occurred over the course of UFC history. Johnson’s current 10-fight defense streak is tied with Anderson Silva for the longest in the sport’s existence. All-time great titleholders such as Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre don’t fall far behind in the category, but no one has done it quite like Johnson.
“A lot of people, they get the belt, they become the champion and they think that’s the hardest thing to do in the sport,” Johnson tells Rolling Stone. “No, it’s very hard to rack up three or four or even 10 consecutive title defenses. Making weight every single time, and making sure you don’t miss your flights, you do all your interviews, et cetera.”
So, why doesn’t Johnson get the same respect and admiration from fans as other marquee names in the sport? Maybe it’s because he rules the UFC’s lightest male weight class, and therefor spectators struggle to relate to the skills and athleticism of a smaller-than-average man. Or perhaps it’s because his foes aren’t quite as decorated as other great champions have faced.
Or, maybe it’s because he’s a bit of a dork, who instead of buying watches and vehicles worth six-figures like Conor McGregor, prefers to spend his time at home playing video games on Twitch. He’s reluctant to talk trash, instead holding everything back until fight night where he paints a beautiful picture of violence.
Johnson doesn’t rest on his laurels, either. He personifies what martial arts is about, attempting to do as much damage as he can while taking as little as possible in return. He does everything at an exceptional level, from striking to clinch fighting to wrestling to submission grappling. At 31, Johnson likely hasn’t reached his peak. He insists he’ll keep pushing the envelope, even if he isn’t afforded the same promotional push as other champions.
“I have gone out there, I’m the champion, and finished multiple title fights,” says Johnson. “I’m always going out there looking for the finish whether the opponent is dangerous or not. I’ve gone five rounds with people and I don’t even have to submit them. I could just coast my way to the scorecards, and I’m still looking for the finish. … I’m just going out there doing what I do best, and it’s up to the world, the public, to open their eyes and recognize talent, instead of just recognizing the bullshit of the drama talking.”
Johnson keeps his focus on what takes place inside the Octagon, and the results of that method have been nothing short of spectacular. On top of his 10-fight defense run, the American has also put together a 12-fight winning streak overall, good for third longest in UFC history. Moreover, he holds record for most wins (12), stoppages (six), submissions (four) and fight-night bonuses (seven) in his division’s history.
Not good enough? Johnson, who won the 2017 ESPY award for “Best Fighter,” also ranks among the all-time best in categories such as title-fight wins, title-fight stoppages, most strikes landed overall as well as from the clinch, defensive striking and much more.
Johnson is a rare and freakish talent, but there’s a man standing across from him at UFC 215 who intends to bring all of his success to an abrupt end. Borg, 24, enters the fight with the utmost confidence – not only in his ability to dethrone the seemingly unbeatable champion, but halt his career as a whole dead in its tracks.
“For the sport he’s getting old, especially as long as his title reign has been,” says Borg. “He’s never been in any crazy wars, but people don’t realize that you don’t have to be in a war to be getting taxed on your body and stuff like that. Training camp does enough of it. Going through as many training camps as this guy’s gone through, he’s getting older. He’s getting to the end of his career, and I think I’ll go ahead and put a stop to the end of his career for him.”
Johnson, of course, finds Borg’s claim he’s going to send him into retirement, downright comical.
“He ain’t retiring shit,” says Johnson. “I’m just getting started. I’m 31 years old, I’m feeling better than ever. Training is going easy and I’ve fought the hardest-hitting and the most athletic guys in this division. He’s a tough competitor, and we’ll see where his mouth is after the fight night.”
When Johnson says he’s just getting started, he’s not joking. Assuming he wins at UFC 215, the odds of another champion surpassing his 11-fight defense mark are slim. In a sports built on chaos and unpredictability, Johnson bring consistency. But, why stop there? Johnson sees no reason to settle. Although he’s received pressure from fans to seek new opportunities, such as moving up a weight class to vie for a second belt, he’s not particularly keen on doing that just yet.
Johnson says new and unique challenges will eventually be on his horizon, but not until he not only sets every UFC record in the book, but obliterates the existing stats to the point where they’re not merely broken, but impossible to surpass.
“A friend of mine said, ’10, that’s obtainable. 11, that’s obtainable – 15 is fucking legendary,'” says Johnson. “He goes, ‘Why don’t you just go to 15?’ Why not? I mean, I’m 31 years old, I feel good, and you’ve got a lot of new, young, up-and-comer guys coming up in this division, so why not just keep on doing it as long as I can? It’s not like 135 is going anywhere. When I get 35 or 36 or 37 years old, when I’m tired of dieting and not having Oreos the week before my fight, then I’ll go up to 135. But right now, I’m focused on setting the record as high as I can.”