What’s next for Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson after felling his latest challenger? What fights would you like to see for him in the next year as he chases Anderson Silva’s title defense record?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
The best fight to make for Demetrious Johnson is really just the best of some less than ideal options. If you scroll down the ranks of the UFC Flyweight division, you’ve basically got three categories: 1. Guys Johnson has beaten. 2. Guys who have recently lost (sometimes to guys Johnson has beaten). 3. Guys who shouldn’t be anywhere close to a title shot. With those choices, I’m going to take Door #1 for Joseph Benavidez. Ironically, Benavidez is a guy that Johnson has not only beaten, but beaten twice. The two first faced off in September of 2012 for the inaugural Flyweight Championship, where Benavidez held his own and lost a close split decision. Their rematch in 2013 did not go nearly as well, as Benavidez barely lasted two minutes before being knocked silly by the reigning champ.
You can spin this pretty easily to make this fight happen. Benavidez was almost evenly matched against Johnson in their first title, and got caught with a lucky punch his second go around. Since that loss in 2013 he’s won five straight fights, four of them against opponents who currently rank in the top 10 at 125 pounds. Two of them were former title challengers. He’s clearly head and shoulders above anyone else not nicknamed Mighty Mouse in the division, particularly as Jussier Formiga, the number three guy, lost to Henry Cejudo. Cejudo, as you recall, couldn’t make it three minutes with Johnson last Saturday night.
I’ve long thought Joe B-Wan Kenobi had a competitive chance to take the title from Johnson. That has changed drastically over the course of Johnson’s last few fights. Mighty Mouse keeps looking better and better. In his eight title defenses, he’s had five finishes (two by KO, three by submission). Benavidez still looks good, but he’s looked impatient and reckless in his attempts to work his way back to a third title shot. Maybe he’s panicky that his two losses might keep him away for good, and he’s trying to make a statement. Whatever the case, he’s best chance we have for a competitive fight with the champ right now, and some chance is better than no chance.
Assuming that fight is made and Johnson gets win number nine in his road to set the new title defense record, there’s not a good fight to make for number ten based on the current lay of the land. The hope is that someone will emerge with a statement win over the next few months. The fallback is probably Jussier Formiga if he can get a win after his recent loss, but he would only be because there’s absolutely no one else. With no clear challenger, it would be a logical time for Johnson to take a superfight at 135 pounds. Logical doesn’t necessarily mean good. I wish T.J. Dillashaw had managed to beat Dominick Cruz (he did, but you know, judges), because I’d much rather see that fight than a snoozer rematch with the Dominator. In the unlikely event that Uriah Faber were to win the title, I wouldn’t mind him fighting Johnson, but I have a feeling a grudge match with former Alpha Male teammate Dillashaw would be higher on the UFC’s priority list. Unfortunately Johnson suffers from the problem of being way too good relative to his competition, meaning the most interesting thing about his future fights might be seeing if the UFC can come up with a creative way to pitch fights we know aren’t competitive.
RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
With all due respect, Who Cares? I mean, what’s next? He’s going to fight someone who has zero chance of winning, he’s going to be impressive, and then we’re going to have this exact same conversation. Johnson’s as close to unbeatable as exists in this sport. Not just because he’s one of the three best fighters in the sport, but also because the chasm between himself and the field is just indefinably large. It doesn’t matter who he fights at this point. As long as he’s at least as motivated as B.J. Penn at a hot dog cart, he’s holding the belt as long as he wants it.
I will say this, though. The one thing I don’t want to see anytime soon is a “superfight” with Dominick Cruz. Not that it would be a bad fight, not that it wouldn’t be competitive, not that he hasn’t cleaned out his entire division; rather, it makes no sense for Cruz. Bantamweight is a weird division right now, but Cruz needs to fight Faber, Dillashaw, Assuncao, Lineker, and Dodson before he can claim to have cleaned out bantamweight. Add to that the fact that Johnson’s goal is to break Anderson Silva’s record for consecutive title defenses, and it’s just not the right way to go. But if they do put that fight together, I’ll be all over FS1 that night to watch it…
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Johnson can do anything he wants as this point. Who’s going to stop him? There’s no true challenger. You might as well draw names out of a hat to pick his next challenger. The only person who can stop Johnson at this point is himself. If he lets his mind get out of the game, or he doesn’t train the way he should, he can be beat. However, if he puts in the work, I can’t see anybody beating him. How do you stop him? I don’t know, maybe somebody bubbles up eventually, but right now there’s no one out there that you can say would beat Johnson. If he wants to, he’s breaking Silva’s title defense record.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
This is amongst the greatest conundrums in the sport right now. Mighty Mouse has cleaned out his division unlike any fighter that I can remember in recent memory. He has fought an beat six of the top ten fighters ranked beneath him (including #1 ranked Joseph Benavidez twice) and that isn’t even counting John Dodson whom he drove out of the division after disposing of him on two occasions. So the four that he hasn’t fought? Jussier Formiga at #3 is coming off of a loss to Henry Cejudo meaning he would probably need at least two wins in a row to be considered and he isn’t currently scheduled for a fight. Zach Makovsky sits at #7 and he has lost three of his last four fights. They have all been quality opponents, but no way he can be considered for a title shot any time soon with that bad of a stretch. Wilson Reis comes in at #8. While he is coming off of a win over Dustin Ortiz, he had lost his previous contest to Formiga, meaning he too would need at least one more victory to be given any type of consideration. He doesn’t have a fight scheduled either. The #9 fighter is the aforementioned Ortiz who is coming off of that loss to Reis.
It’s easy to see why the UFC decided it wanted to have the winner of the TUF 24 tournament fight Mighty Mouse for the title, but it is still a horrible idea. Unless they are putting actual flyweights on the roster in the house, it will produce easily the worst candidate that Johnson has thus far faced as there is a severe lack of depth in the flyweight division in general. Not just in the UFC, but in the entire sport. Tim Elliott, Chico Camus, and Louis Gaudinot are probably the best flyweights outside of the UFC and they have all been cut from the organization within the last 16 months. Not a good sign. Signs indicate the UFC has scrapped this idea which is what most fans are hoping, but until word actually comes down from the top I wouldn’t be so sure.
So what to do? There are two options. The one most would prefer to see is Johnson move up to bantamweight to challenge Dominick Cruz in a superfight for the 135 pound title. Cruz is a heavy favorite to beat Urijah Faber in June and won’t have a clear opponent in his path if he is able to dispose of his nemesis. (Yes, I’m aware of T.J. Dillashaw, and even though I believe Dillashaw won their fight, I’m sick of the rematch precedent that has been set and want to see him win a fight before challenging Cruz again) This would give the UFC time to hope that a worthy opponent develops in both divisions. This is the perfect timetable for bantamweight, but it is likely the flyweight division would need more time… seriously, DJ has cleaned out the division that damned bad. The other option is to give Joseph Benavidez a third crack at Johnson. I’m not opposed to this choice seeing as how Benavidez would be a more than worthy challenger if he didn’t already have the two losses on his resume to Johnson, including a first round KO in their second meeting which has unfortunately made people forget just how competitive their first fight was.
My preference is to have him fight Cruz next (not a guarantee as Johnson is asking for a $2 million payday) as it seems likely Benavidez would still be the best option for Johnson after that fight takes place… that is unless Johnson wins and ends up defending his newly won bantamweight title first. That would cause some issues obviously, but the UFC has shown a willingness to deal with that type of problem as they have been willing to let Conor McGregor hold up the featherweight division in his chase for history which has turned into chasing revenge. Oh wait… that fight isn’t happening anymore… supposedly.
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