ONE Championship flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson believes being traded benefitted everyone involved.
Johnson (31-4-1), a former longtime UFC flyweight champion, was traded by the UFC to ONE Championship for Ben Askren back in 2018.
At the start, it appeared the UFC won big when formerly unbeaten Olympic wrestler Askren engaged in a barnburner while it lasted in his octagon debut against Robbie Lawler at UFC 235. But Askren didn’t only bring his mat skills to the UFC; he brought his skills on the mic, too, which made him an instant star.
Johnson, who holds the record for most consecutive UFC title defenses at 11, has found continued success in ONE Championship. He thinks Askren’s short, but impactful, stint in the UFC made a star out of Jorge Masvidal, who handed him his first loss with a record-setting flying knee knockout. Masvidal’s shine went on to rub off on other fighters, which Johnson said created a domino effect.
“I think everybody won,” Johnson told MMA Junkie Radio. “Not just the organizations, but I think everybody: Ben Askren, Jorge Masvidal, Leon Edwards, Kamaru Usman, myself. When I say that we all won, we’re all eating good now. So you look at the UFC’s standpoint, when I was there, obviously I wasn’t the highest-selling pay-per-view guy there, and I was also very dominant, so there was not an opportunity for somebody else to be able to make a name for themselves. Then ‘Triple C’ came in, cringe, did his thing. But then I leave, and you get Ben Askren.
“The reason why I say Ben Askren got a chance to eat is because Ben Askren always wanted to be able to compete in the UFC. He got that opportunity, won a couple, then lost, and with his loss was the rise of Jorge Masvidal. And the rise of Jorge Masvidal, ‘Street Jesus,’ going out baptizing people – he fought Nate Diaz and got that ‘BMF’ title, which there’s never been a title like that, and he gave Leon Edwards the five-piece chicken meal in the back of the arena, that kind of put eyeballs on Leon Edwards. Now you have Kamaru Usman, who fought Jorge Masvidal, and Kamaru sent Jorge Masvidal to the shadow of realm.”
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Johnson explained that Usman’s star power skyrocketed after beating Masvidal twice, which went on to benefit Leon Edwards, who dethroned Usman with a dramatic head-kick knockout at UFC 278 to capture the welterweight title – and now the UFC is talking about doing a stadium show in the U.K.
“When Kamaru Usman fought Masvidal, I think that’s where his elevation and his star power went through the roof, because everyone was talking about the ‘BMF,'” Johnson added. “Now you have Kamaru Usman who’s super big and very, very popular, who’s the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. And now you have Leon Edwards, who just knocked him out, and now Leon Edwards is the king of the welterweight division.”
The UFC got to build new stars, but Johnson got to experience new chapters in his career after a dominant promotional run. He got knocked out for the first time in his career by Adriano Moraes but was able to even the score with a knockout of his own at ONE on Prime Video 1. He also engaged in a mixed rules bout with muay Thai legend Rodtang Jitmuangnon, submitting him in the second round.
But after getting knocked out by Masvidal in five seconds, Askren was submitted by Demian Maia in October 2019, which would mark his final UFC fight. Johnson, on the other hand, just captured the ONE flyweight title and has no intentions of retiring anytime soon.
“Everybody got the opportunity to eat, and everyone’s happy,” Johnson said. “I think if it goes to decide who’s got the best fighters, I think ONE Championship definitely won that ball game by far. Nothing against Ben Askren, but I’m 36, I don’t know how old he is, but I’m still f*cking going. They’re still getting dividends from your boy here. I’m still putting the work in.”