Why Demetrious Johnson isn't MMA's greatest of all time

Kevin Iole

I don’t care that he is not a pay-per-view seller. It doesn’t matter that he’s not a big television draw. It’s insignificant that he’s not the talk of social media.

If you’re a mixed martial arts fan and you don’t appreciate Demetrious Johnson’s greatness, if you’re more concerned with whether he can sell a pay-per-view or attract a large television audience, then that’s your shortcoming.

You, ultimately, are the loser.

You have the opportunity to see the fight game’s Michael Jordan in his prime, setting a standard that may not be attained again for decades.

That’s the kind of stuff we’re seeing from Johnson, the UFC flyweight champion, pound-for-pound kingpin and co-owner of the record, along with ex-middleweight champion Anderson Silva, for most consecutive title defences, at 10.

Johnson celebrates another win. Pic: Getty

What makes Johnson great is his dedication to his craft. While Jon Jones, the ex-light heavyweight champion who is the only other active fighter who compares to Johnson in terms of accomplishments, walks around as a heavyweight, Johnson is nothing of the sort.

He’s a physical freak, even though he looks no different than the guy driving the forklift at the warehouse down the street.

After he submitted Wilson Reis with an arm bar on Saturday in Kansas City to tie Silva’s record, UFC president Dana White told a story that gave a glimpse into Johnson’s brilliance.

“What’s crazy is, he does what he did here tonight,” White said at the post-fight news conference on Saturday.

"I’m doing an interview with Brazil, and I start to walk away, and I hear him ask his coach, ‘What did I do wrong?’ I stopped and said, ‘Hey coach, let me answer this for you: Nothing.’

"First of all, he looked incredible on his feet. The punch stat numbers are ridiculous.

"Then he goes to the ground and is absolutely dominating and goes for the most dangerous move you can pull off, an arm bar.

"And it’s not only pulling off an arm bar like that, but [doing it] against a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion.”

White then added, “This kid could be considered the GOAT right now.”

“GOAT” is an acronym for Greatest of All-Time, which Muhammad Ali came up with in his early days.

Though MMA remains in its infancy as a professional sport, there are several viable candidates for that honour, including Johnson.

Jones has been the consensus choice, but there is also support for Georges St-Pierre, Silva and Fedor Emelianenko.

Jones, though, was at another level. Consider the six-fight stretch he had when he went 6-0 with four submissions and a TKO from Feb. 5, 2011, through Sept. 22, 2012.

There may never have been a 19-month period for a fighter like it in MMA history. In a bout that guaranteed the winner a title shot, Jones submitted 12-0 Ryan Bader with a guillotine in the second round.

Five weeks later, he mauled Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, stopping him in the third round after a brutal beating to win the light heavyweight belt.

He then made successful title defences against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort.

Rua was the current champion and Jackson, Machida, Evans and Belfort were former champs.

It’s logical to believe that Rua, Jackson, Evans and Belfort will make the UFC Hall of Fame, and it’s not out of the question that Machida makes it, as well.

Including Bader, those six fighters had a combined record of 118-24-1 at the time they fought Jones. That’s a winning percentage of 77.5 percent, yet Jones defeated them all, fairly easily.

That level of opposition is the one advantage Jones has over Johnson. Of Johnson’s opponents during his streak, only Joseph Benavidez seems certain to be in the Hall of Fame.

Jones, though, has been beset by numerous personal issues, and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever be physically the same again. He’s so talented, though, it wouldn’t be a shock if he came back and was just as dominant as ever.

This is a guy who tested positive for cocaine as he was preparing to face Daniel Cormier, himself one of the greatest fighters who ever lived. He was hardly living the life of a champion, instead running in the fast lane and enjoying the high life while he was preparing for his biggest challenge.

But he went out and dominated Cormier, sending an emphatic message about his greatness.

Johnson is the guy who, after a dominant victory over a gifted opponent immediately asks his coach what he did wrong.

He’s maximizing every last bit of talent in that body of his, performing at an improved level each time out.

Given Johnson’s almost monastic existence and Jones’ freewheeling lifestyle, it’s easy to see Johnson ultimately being the man when they’ve both retired for good.

It’s a debate, but Jones deserves the nod as the GOAT now because of his level of opposition.

If Johnson keeps improving the way he has, and maybe gets a bout with that opponent the public believes in, he could wrest that mythical title from Jones before he’s through.