Demetrious Johnson still humble and pragmatic despite UFC riches

Yahoo Sports

For a small, gifted and fortunate percentage of athletes, sports are a path to unfathomable riches.

The first thing many of those athletes do upon signing a multimillion dollar contract is buy a car. And then they find the nightclubs where a bottle of champagne goes for $5,000 or more. Eventually, there are multiple sports cars, sometimes an airplane, vacations at posh resorts, $10,000 suits, $2,500 pairs of shoes and, often, a lifetime of regret later when the physical skills disappears and the money runs out.

Demetrious Johnson has no use for any of that. The UFC flyweight champion, who defends his title Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif., in the main event of a card televised nationally on Fox, is more concerned with making sure that his fight career sets his family up for the future.

"When this is all over, I don't want to have to write a book and say, 'Oh, I'm broke and I have all these issues,' " Johnson said.

Life is good now for Johnson, who won the inaugural flyweight title by defeating Benavidez in a thriller last year in Toronto, but he's still the lowest-profile of the nine UFC champions and still must answer questions about fan apathy toward his division.

A little more than two years ago, when the UFC initially announced its broadcast partnership with Fox, there was a sense of relief among a very vocal portion of the fan base.

These fans were thrilled that, finally, they could watch UFC content on a regular basis without having to pony up $45 a month.

The UFC has featured Johnson on three fights on Fox now, trying to raise his profile and build interest in the division.

Judging from the response, though, the fans were desperate to see the best fighters in the world fight on network television so long as they weighed 135 pounds or more.

It's ridiculous that Johnson's had to continually answer such questions. His fight with Benavidez was a thing of beauty, and his title defenses against heavy-handed John Dodson and John Moraga were outstanding.

But Johnson is the pragmatic type and not one to argue. He's focused on the things he should be focusing on, such as saving for the future and improving as an athlete, and not worrying too much about public perception.

"I'm a humble guy and I realize that one day, all of this could be taken away from me," Johnson said. "That's why I train so hard at the gym. I have things I want to be able to do in life, and this is the way I can accomplish that. I'm a family man and I'm married with a son. My goal is for my wife and for my son to live a life in which they don't have to sacrifice or worry about money.

"I'm sure there are plenty of champions, in boxing, or NFL players who won the Super Bowl and like to go out and party and have nice cars and all of that. And that's good if that's what they want. What I want is that I take advantage of the time I have now to make money so that later, when I can no longer fight, we don't have to worry about how we're going to pay the bills."

Johnson's paying the bills nicely now, but staying on top is never easy. Not only is Benavidez a formidable opponent, but the odds are stacked against him. In the UFC's 20-plus-year history, only 12 men in the same title reign made three or more successful title defenses.

He's proud of what he's accomplished, but he knows it will mean little once the bell rings.

"I don't linger on my success in the Octagon," he said. "My fight with John Moraga, it was a great fight and I'm happy people liked it and I'm pleased I was able to finish it, but it won't have any impact on how this fight goes. The only fight that matters is the one you're fighting, and that's always the case.

"When one fight is over, I appreciate it a little bit, and then I go out and act like a normal civilian for a while and have a beer and a burger. But when it's time to fight again, nothing matters but the next one, and that's how I've always been."

It's that kind of approach that leads to long title reigns and the ability to make the kind of money to plan for the future.

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