Putting the stamp on kids
Demetrious Johnson: ONE Championship not 'going to swallow' UFC flyweight division
Demetrious Johnson stepped away from the UFC before it could shut down the men’s flyweight division. But for those looking to follow in his footsteps, the former champion said it might not be so easy.
“I think ONE Championship, they’re very particular who they like to pick, and they’re not just going to swallow this division,” Johnson told reporters, including MMA Junkie, at a recent media day in Las Vegas. “That’s not what they’re looking to do. They’re cherry-picking the athletes for their roster and what fits the brand the best.”
Johnson (27-3-1) is one of several veteran UFC fighters who joined the Asia-based promotion’s roster in recent months. He said the division he left doesn’t look a whole lot different with current UFC champ Henry Cejudo at the top.
Although Cejudo appeared to stave off the flyweight division’s shuttering with a knockout of bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw at UFC on ESPN+ 1 in January, Johnson said not much has changed. The future has always been precarious.
“I think it’s gone the same way it did when I was champion,” he said.
Johnson dismissed the idea that he signed with ONE Championship as a response to the state of the UFC flyweight class. Rather, it was an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream.
“It was more along the lines that I have five years left,” Johnson said. “I give myself five more years. God bless Vitor Belfort, 41, still kicking butt. I don’t think I can do it.
“You look at all the great athletes in MMA, (Mirko) Cro Cop, Vitor, (Gegard) Mousasi, those guys competing over in the east and then competed over in the west, and for me, I never got the opportunity to. So this is a perfect opportunity for me, for my last five years, to go out and try to do something totally different that I didn’t see myself doing.”
Johnson makes his debut as part of an eight-man flyweight tournament set for “ONE Championship: A New Era,” which takes place March 31 at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan.
In his new home, Johnson said he’s more comfortable because he isn’t carrying the fate of a division on his back. Now, he can be more of himself.
“I felt in the past when I was doing media for a different market, you’re trying to sell pay-per-view,” Johnson said. “Right now, the biggest thing (ONE CEO) Chatri (Sityodtong) says to all his athletes is, ‘Just be authentic.’ And that’s what I’m being.
“I love to go out there and give my best and display my skills in MMA to the world. I’m happy to be able to focus on that, so now I don’t mind talking to the media.”