Friday, July 26, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Any athlete who soundly defeats his three greatest contemporaries in succession should rightfully expect a parade of praise to follow.
Demetrious Johnson, therefore, has every right to scratch his head in confusion that the response he’s received more closely resembles a pack of protest. The UFC’s first and only flyweight champion beat No. 1-ranked challenger Joseph Benavidez, No. 2 John Dodson and No. 3 Ian McCall within a seven-month span from June 2012 to last January.
As if mashing the best three 125-pound fighters in the world for a total of 65 minutes in his last three outings wasn’t enough, Johnson is battling the perception that he’s a boring fighter for not finishing any of them.
“Everyone is entitled to his opinion,” Johnson says without his voice losing any of its typical, squeaky charm. “I don’t care.”
Johnson (17-2-1 MMA, 4-1-1 UFC) is too diplomatic to speak the truth leading into Saturday’s title defense against John Moraga (13-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) at UFC on Fox 8 in Seattle, so let’s do it for him. Criticisms against Johnson are baseless, bogus and blatantly disingenuous.
Moraga leads the chorus of those not enthused by Johnson’s reign in a division that’s still in its UFC infancy. His feelings don’t sound like standard pre-fight chatter used for promotion, either.
Moraga genuinely believes everything he’s spit about Johnson’s faults.
“What I think he’s shown best in his fighting ability is that he tires people out,” Moraga says. “That’s not going to happen in this fight.”
With eight wins by stoppage in 14 career fights — as opposed to nine out of 20 for Johnson — Moraga doesn’t quite fit the criteria as a human wrecking ball, either. He had his own chance to stop Dodson in a bout 2 1/2 years ago.
But Moraga couldn’t even beat him, dropping a unanimous decision. Moraga and other detractors tend to discount how difficult a submission or knockout is to come by at a championship level.
All together, Dodson, Benavidez and McCall — Johnson’s only opponents since getting down to his natural flyweight class — have fought professionally 57 times. Combined, they’ve lost by stoppage once.
The sight of “Mighty Mouse’s” championship belt doesn’t magically squeeze out a couple notches worth of challengers’ ability to take a punch. Give Johnson a break.
“He plays it safe,” Moraga says. “He bounces around, uses his angles, uses his speed.”
That’s never going to stop. Johnson is the fastest fighter in the UFC. His feet could morph into a title-retaining instrument as valuable as Georges St. Pierre’s double-leg takedowns or Jon Jones’ elbows.
Not to mention his velocity’s merits as a selling point. As long as Johnson keeps wining — far from a certainty in mixed martial arts, especially with a rematch against Benavidez on the prowl — he’ll make for a fine champion. Finishes and highlight moments will come.
Moraga needs to watch out, or he might become the first.