When the phrase pound-for-pound is brought up in mixed martial arts discussions, it should be attached to a fighter who actually fits the bill.
Being regarded as the pound-for-pound best means that a fighter's skill level, championship expertise, and aura of invincibility culminate into one spectacular force, while escaping the bounds of specific weight classes.
In today's world of cage combatants, no single fighter encompasses this illustrious designation more than UFC flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. As the absolute best 125-pound entity walking the planet, Johnson is a quintessential pound-for-pound candidate when stacked up against bigger and stronger names in the game.
Fueled by unparalleled athleticism, Johnson has dismantled the premier collection of flyweights via menacing footwork, timely counters, and an evolution of intelligence that is unlike anything we've ever seen. But despite six straight UFC title defenses, the latest finish in UFC championship history (submitting Kyoji Horiguchi at the 4:59 mark of the fifth round back at UFC 186), 13 career finishes between two divisions, and supersonic hand speed, Mighty Mouse continues to elude the pound-for-pound throne.
While much of his success and improved technique can certainly be attributed to head coach Matt Hume, Johnson's attention to detail and professional gait have easily played as much a part in his glaring modifications. From an elevated grappling game to a refined striking arsenal sculpted by split-second reactions, DJ has developed into one of the most well-rounded fighters of all time.
Yes, all time.
Granted, the plethora of flyweight contenders that Johnson has debunked in the past have not all been renowned as staggering dynamos, but that same argument can be made about UFC women's bantamweight queen Ronda Rousey and even UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman, who has fought a deprived line of aging Brazilians en route to an unscathed title reign (with all due respect).
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Johnson has accomplished as much, if not more, than both Rousey and Weidman. Even when it comes to former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and current featherweight tilteholder Jose Aldo, two fighters who have either exited the sport entirely, even if temporarily, or have withdrawn from five title fights due to injury, Johnson's recent track record suggests he has passed them by.
Yet, despite his Octagon excellence over the past three years, DJ has undeservedly flown under the proverbial pound-for-pound radar. The reason why, among a few other inordinate ones, is the fact that Johnson fights within a division that falls to the wayside when it comes to international appeal, fight fan interest, and marketability.
To no fault of the champ's, the flyweight roster doesn't stand a chance when compared to blistering divisions like featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, and the always-prestigious collection of heavyweights. This is the main reason why Johnson has been brushed over when mentioning the best of the best, and a leading factor for him becoming the king of FOX title fights. While he has recently begun his long-awaited pay-per-view invasion, 2013 had Johnson defend his title three-straight times on national television (UFC on Fox 6, UFC on Fox 8 and UFC on Fox 9). The promotion does need good fighters to headline these exposed events, but it undoubtedly suggests that the UFC isn't fully comfortable in pushing Mighty Mouse as a bona fide PPV draw.
With all of that said, does it really matter? We're talking about fighters who exceed natural limits inside of the cage, not consummate cash cows. Guys like Johnson, who have never been out-struck through 15 UFC/WEC fights (including losses to high-level strikers like Dominick Cruz and Brad Pickett), and have amassed 1,244 total strikes landed in just 12 Octagon appearances (according to FightMetric.com), are the candidates we're looking for; ones who have demonstrated an elevation of artistry every time they step foot on the bloody canvas.
In reality, Johnson should already be the No. 2 pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, ahead of the aforementioned Weidman. While the rankings are often skewed (like putting T.J. Dillashaw at No. 5), Aldo is the only active fighter in today's sport that can hold a candle to Johnson. But considering DJ will have almost double the amount of UFC fights as Aldo has had after UFC 191 this Saturday (13 to 7, respectively), crowning a relatively inactive king is like owning a vintage Ferrari and never starting it up. In Johnson's case, he's been spinning his wheels, peeling out, and leaving a division in his dust a few times each year.
If Mighty Mouse can decisively finish John Dodson this weekend and Aldo ends up losing a grudge match with Conor McGregor at UFC 194 in December, nobody will be able to deny the flyweight prince his ticket to greatness.
Of course, Jon Jones will certainly reclaim his spot atop the throne when he eventually makes a return to action.
(Follow Daniel Hiergesell @DH_MMA on Twitter)