On Saturday, September 9th one of the best mixed martial artists in the sports history is set to break a record that was thought to be unreachable. Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson will take on Ray “The TazMexican Devil” Borg in Edmonton, Alberta at UFC 215.
The booking of this fight, and throughout Johnson’s UFC tenure, has earned him and the organization a concerted level of criticism. D.J. has been perennially underrated in large part due to both his size, and the competition he has faced. That stigma, though partially deserved, has skyrocketed ever since this relatively unpopular bout against Borg was made official.
Although Mighty Mouse has beaten an Olympic Gold Medalist in Free-Style Wrestling and an IBJJF World Champion at brown belt — not to mention superb fighters like Joseph Benavidez and John Dodson — his competition has been widely labeled as subpar. In contrast, consider the praise Robert Whittaker has received as of late for beating nearly identical talent (Yoel Romero, an Olympic Silver Medalist and Jacare Souza, multiple time ADCC, Pan Am, and CBJJ World Champion).
While it is obvious that competitiveness varies greatly between divisions, the case cannot be made that Mighty Mouse has had any easy fights. The fact that he has blown out his competitors is more of a positive reflection on his abilities than a disavowal of his opponents. That being said, there is a case to be made that the man standing between Johnson and a record 11-Title Defenses is, on paper, a marked step down from his peers.
Before the main-event of UFC 215 was finalized, fans were closely following the rumors of a matchup between Johnson and former Bantamweight Champion T.J. Dillashaw. When that fight fell through, the Flyweight Champion found he had lost the respect of many hardcore fans. And justifiably so.
If you asked any fight fan who they would rather see D.J. fight — Borg or Dillashaw — nearly 100% would answer Dillashaw. Although the Washington-based fighter has faced an extreme level of competition, his performances leave one with the impression that he is not being adequately tested. It is therefore natural that fans would want to see Johnson face a larger man who is also a former Champion.
The problem with making that fight is two-fold: First, Dillashaw has never made 125lbs. There is neither an indication that he can make the weight at all, nor the assurance that he could make it safely, thus putting an entire card (not to mention the potential record-breaking moment) in jeopardy. The second problem with a Johnson/Dillashaw fight is that it could potentially cause a two-divisional logjam not dissimilar from the present problem plaguing the Light and Middleweight divisions.
Had the former Team Alpha Male product Dillashaw won the belt at Flyweight, what would that mean for the division? Would he be compelled to defend the title? What if he realized he couldn’t make the weight again? Would Johnson then be reinstated as Champion fresh off a defeat? And what of Bantamweight? Dillashaw’s rivalry with current 135lbs Champion Cody Garbrandt would be put on hold, or worse, potentially lost for good. Perhaps he would have gotten severely injured, or it might have come to pass that Garbrandt would refuse to fight anyone else leaving that division paralyzed as well.
The fans who wanted to see Johnson/Dillashaw essentially wished for it to occur in a vacuum. They wanted the pleasure of the matchup without all the inevitable consequences it would bring. Ironically, these are the same people who bemoaned McGregor’s sabbaticals at Featherweight and Lightweight. They ask why the Irishman can’t defend his belt just once in his career, and are at the same time furious at Johnson for fighting a legitimate Flyweight for his 11th title defence.
Most of us would agree that Ray Borg is not D.J’s toughest test at 125lbs. So while some would argue he should instead be facing Benavidez for the 3rd time, or the up-and-coming Sergio Pettis, the UFC has settled on the Jackson/Wink product. The disappointment of many fans, over this fight, is in many ways a microcosm of the current situation in MMA.
Fans want big name super-fights like May/Mac, Alvarez/McGregor, and GSP/Bisping. At the same time though they want to see meritocratic and legitimate matchups based on somewhat objective rankings, fights like:
McGregor versus literally any top 3 Lightweight
In recent times the UFC and WME-IMG have decided on both avenues though their affinity for super fights is not inconspicuous. Both the main and co-main events of UFC 215 will be “legitimate’ bouts and non-coincidentally the card itself will likely be one of the worst (by PayPerView standards) of the year.
The fact that cards like these do poorly while “super fight” and gimmicky cards do well has translated into an desire for entertainment over sport on the part of the UFC. If the UFC continues on this path and Demetrious Johnson indeed surpasses Anderson Silva’s record of 10 Title-Defenses on Saturday night we might never again see UFC Champions defending their belts for such impressive and extended periods of time.