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SINGAPORE — He is undoubtedly the most famous name in ONE Championship, Asia’s premier mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion company, even though much of his fame came from his exploits in the rival Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
But former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson does not want to rest on his laurels, and be thought of simply as a trailblazer who made the highly-publicised switch between the two fight companies.
Ahead of his major bout with Japan’s Tatsumitsu Wada in the Flyweight World Grand Prix semi-finals at the Dawn of Heroes fight night in Manila on Friday (2 Aug), the 32-year-old American was a picture of intensity and focus as he spoke to Yahoo News Singapore at the Evolve MMA Academy at Far East Square on 26 July.
“If people see me as a trailblazer, that's fine, but I'm not really concerned about that. I’m not running with that flag,” he said.
“I’ve had a good time putting on amazing fights, and I’ve accomplished so much already. For me now, it’s about continuing to be successful and put on great fights.”
A momentous move in his prime
Yet, it is hard to overstate the impact Johnson created when he made his switch from the popular US-based UFC to ONE Championship, along with former UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez.
Here is an outstanding fighter still in his prime, one who holds the record UFC record for most consecutive title defences with 11, as well as the most takedowns in UFC flyweight division history.
Yet he is eschewing UFC’s trash-talking, drama-chasing stance, and pursuing purer, less controversy-driven fight events, a desire that led to him to joining Evolve and ONE Championship.
When the American was first unveiled by ONE Championship in a media conference last November, he insisted that he is not a controversial guy. “I just want to do martial arts,” he declared then.
He elaborated during the interview, “Everyone trains hard for his fight, and I don’t want to disrespect any of my opponents. That’s the best mentality to have whenever I approach a fight – to just train hard as I can, do whatever I have to do to prepare to fight.”
Big reputation as one of the fastest fighters in MMA
Nicknamed “Mighty Mouse” for his diminutive 1.6m frame, Johnson earned a fearsome reputation as one of the fastest fighters in MMA. His martial arts background in freestyle wrestling allows him to land numerous takedowns in a single match.
After fighting for more than a decade, he feels ready to handle whatever that comes his way in the Octagon.
“Obviously, I have to strategise and say, ‘We're going to do this, we’re going to approach it X, Y, and Z.’ But I'm a freestyle type of guy who just likes to fight. At the end of the day, it should just be a straight-up fight between two guys,” he said.
“I like see how the fight goes, and then plug in, improvise a little bit.”
Preparing to ‘give hell’
Johnson’s arrival in Asia has definitely given ONE Championship and Evolve a big boost in their drive to promote MMA. His ONE Championship: A New Era debut on 31 March – in which he defeated Japan’s Yuya Wakamatsu in the first round of the Flyweight World Grand Prix – boosted the promoter’s inaugural event in Japan amid a sell-out crowd at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Sumo Hall.
Evolve MMA also benefit from his addition, as he takes part actively in training seminars whenever he is not preparing for fights.
“As the widely-regarded greatest pound-for-pound MMA fighter of all time, Demetrious has been a great addition to the Evolve Fight Team, and brings with him years of experience. We're happy to have him as a part of the Evolve family,” said Evolve MMA vice-president Wesley de Souza.
For now, Johnson is fully focused on Friday’s fight. Unlike Alvarez, who suffered a shock defeat by Russia’s Timofey Nastyukhin at the Tokyo fight event, he still has an unblemished record in ONE Championship.
“It’s really a global sport right now. You get to compete with fighters of different ethnicities, and that’s great,” he said.
“I’m prepared for a tough fight, but I’m also prepared to give hell.”