Demetrious Johnson may now be in a land of his own, growing in his recognition as arguably the greatest champion the sport of mixed martial arts has ever seen. A discussion will always exist as to whether Johnson is truly the greatest of all time, with the legacies of Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Fedor Emelianenko and perhaps Jon Jones preventing Johnson from taking that moniker with ease. There’s no denying that he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of MMA, though.
And no, he didn’t need a record-setting victory at UFC 216 to cement his place among legends.
But, yeah, it certainly didn’t hurt his cause.
For several years now, Johnson had set out to break Silva’s mark for consecutive title defenses by a UFC champion. It was one of several reasons “Mighty Mouse” had to decline any requests of a possible return to the bantamweight division, with fans eagerly hoping to see Johnson take on greater challenges against bigger foes. Saturday night in Las Vegas, Johnson was finally on the doorstep of his highly desired record, needing to get past Ray Borg to surpass the legendary middleweight in the annals of history.
It was a victory many wholeheartedly expected him to get, both because of what dominance he’d exhibited over the course of the previous 10 title defenses, as well as the lack of a compelling opponent. Borg, despite holding an 11-2 record prior to his title shot with Johnson, was never seen as a viable usurper to Johnson’s throne.
Four-and-a-half rounds into the fight, much of the doubt surrounding Borg before the contest manifested into reality. Johnson out-landed Borg to the tune of 172 to 22 in total strikes (64-13 significant) by fight’s end. Outside of a brief grappling exchange that saw Borg latched onto Johnson’s back (before Johnson easily shrugged him off), there was never a single moment throughout the fight that cast any uncertainty as to who was going to win.
With just two minutes left, Johnson was well on his way toward earning his record-setting victory, and doing so with about as much ease as we’ve seen over the 11-fight run. Unfortunately for the champion, this one-sided performance had the makings of one that would swiftly devolve into a forgettable one. Borg couldn’t stop Johnson from taking him down, succumbing to all eight attempts, ensuring that most of what we’d see Saturday night was Borg struggling to get off his back.
Dominant? Absolutely. Entertaining? Not so much.
But then we got the stunning, upset-free ending virtually nobody saw coming.
Bringing Borg into a bit of a lull with the clock winding down, Johnson suplexed the challenger onto his back — a move difficult to accomplish all on its own. But in true “Mighty Mouse” fashion, the champion fastened an armbar just as Borg managed to hit the canvas.
Anderson Silva has his front-kick knockout win over Vitor Belfort. Conor McGregor has his 13-second knockout win over Jose Aldo. Ronda Rousey has her 14-second submission over Cat Zingano. Demetrious Johnson now has this.
Demetrious Johnson is incredible…
— Rob Lopez (@r0bato) October 8, 2017
Let us take a moment to appreciate the unmatched effort: Johnson, already clearly up four rounds to none — and well on his way toward winning the fifth for a clean sweep — attempted an iconic submission with just a few minutes to go. That’s now the third time that Johnson has worked his way toward a finish in the final round despite already having the victory sealed on the scorecards.
The question now, much as it always is for any defending champion, is what’s next?
Having broken the record, Johnson now has victories over the top three contenders in the weight class. Six wins, if we extend it to those in the top 15. Unless Johnson chooses to change his tune, it’s expected he’ll face the winner of Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis. The issue with that is he has already defeated Cejudo, stopping him in the opening round last June. He also seems to be far too big a task for Pettis.
Bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt has openly discussed his desire to challenge Johnson for his title following a scheduled defense against T.J. Dillashaw, which could potentially open up the possibility for a super-fight if all parties were interested. That contest may be a few years into the future, though, considering that Garbrandt has only just won his title and would need to defend it a handful of times before he could be built up as viable opposition to the pound-for-pound greatest fighter on the planet.
It seems that we’re destined to watch Johnson continue his run as champion, extending his record to virtually unreachable heights until he either suffers a stunning defeat or decides to call it quits. But we now have 11 pieces of evidence to suggest it’ll be the latter.