LOS ANGELES – There’s a certain mystique that goes with being a combat sports champion, an expectation that there’s a lifestyle that must come with it, and it amuses UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson to no end.
“People are like ‘You’re the world champion, man, you must have [expletive] all over you and cocaine and getting high, how many Rolls-Royces you got?'”
But as the only 125-pound champion the UFC has ever known gets set to defend his title against Wilson Reis in the main event of the UFC on FOX 24 card Saturday night in Kansas City, the truth is a whole lot more mundane.
“I’m like ‘I got no Rolls, I don’t do cocaine or drugs,'” he said. “I’m going home, putting my kids to bed and kissing my wife and playing video games.'”
So maybe you’ll never see Johnson flashing rolls of hundred-dollar bills like Floyd “Money” Mayweather or posting Instagram pics with fancy cars like Conor McGregor.
But if Johnson defeats Reis, he’ll tie one of mixed martial arts’ most hallowed records: Former middleweight champion and future Hall of Famer Anderson Silva’s UFC mark of 10 successful title defenses.
And as far as Johnson is concerned, he never would have gotten to this point if he hadn’t stayed true to himself.
“It’s not my personality,” Johnson said. “It’s just not in my bones. Never have been in my life, so why would I start now? If it’s not what the person is, don’t try to be it. I’d rather be myself and be able to look in the mirror.”
It’s not as if “Mighty Mouse” doesn’t want to get paid like a superstar. In a perfect world, Johnson believes the UFC’s champions, from heavyweight down to strawweight, should draw the biggest paychecks. The titles, are, of course, the symbol that you’re the best fighter in the world in your weight class, so why shouldn’t pay reflect your status?
“I do believe the champions should get paid the most,” Johnson said. “And the champions might not bring in the most ticket sales and pay-per-view buys and all that stuff, but, I still think if you earn the gold you should be getting the biggest paychecks. You gotta make this feel like people want it. This is what makes me keep on fighting.”
Of course, the Tacoma, Washington, native also isn’t naive enough to deny that over-the-top personalities sell tickets. It’s why someone like the brash Nate Diaz, who has a 3-4 record during the period Johnson has been champion, made a seven-figure payday to fight McGregor, and why McGregor challenging Mayweather in boxing would be expected to break all UFC pay-per-view records.
“Other guys, they’re starting to think ‘I don’t need to be champion,'” Johnson said. “‘I just gotta talk a lot of [expletive], that will sell a lot of tickets.'”
Still, while Johnson clearly isn’t a fan of phony hype, he also understands that some fighters are blessed with an authentic gift of gab, so if Mayweather and McGregor can make a Powerball-like payday because of their mouths, more power to them.
“There’s been guys who made more money than me and I’ve had way more fights in the UFC, and they suck,” Johnson said. “But you have to look at it as, Conor has done amazing things. Two-weight champ, and now he’s on the verge of going out to fight Floyd Mayweather and probably makes the best payday of his life, because it’s going to bring so many eyes.”
So while Johnson has made his peace with the fact he’s highly unlikely to ever make “Money” money, he’s regarded by the sport’s most astute observers as the current top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and each title defense helps cement his legacy as one of the sport’s all-time greatest champions.
Johnson has been champion since defeating Joseph Benavidez in the finals of a four-man tournament on Sept. 22, 2012. That means Johnson will have been champ for four years, six months, and three weeks when he steps into the cage against Reis, the fourth-longest reign in UFC history behind Silva, former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, and the first reign of current featherweight champ Jose Aldo.
For perspective, championship turnover has become so rapid in recent years that there are only two other among the UFC’s 11 titleholders whose reigns go back as far as 2015 – light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and strawweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Legacy is clearly important to Johnson, as he brought up the importance of matching and surpassing Silva’s record long before reporters started asking him about it.
But he’s made it clear that, even if he does share the record with the legendary Silva come Saturday, he’s not going to be content.
“If I’m successful again, its like alright, let’s see if we can break it,” Johnson said. “We’ll be tied after this. After that it’s like OK, let’s see if we can get 12. Let’s see 14. Or, hey, what about 135 [pounds]? So, I mean, at the end of the day I’m just focused on one fight at a time.”
At the end of the day, even if there was a mishap in the cage in Kansas City, Johnson knows he’s already done more than he ever dreamed when he entered the sport. And whether or not he ever makes trash-talking type of money, no one can ever take that from him.
“Ten is just a stepping stone,” Johnson said. “The ultimate goal is 11. It’s like Floyd Mayweather, when he got 49, it’s like, ‘Why would you stop there?’ You can easily go to 50-0 and be the only fighter ever to do it. My goal is to go past. But, let’s say I go out there Saturday and I’m not successful? I far exceeded my expectations for when I got into this sport.”
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