A lot has gone down in the UFC flyweight division since Demetrious Johnson’s departure.
The former longtime UFC champion left the organization in late 2018, not long after his split-decision loss to Henry Cejudo, which ended a reign that began with the title’s 2012 inauguration.
The loss marked the end of Johnson’s six-year run as champion, during which he notched 11 successful title defenses – making him the UFC record holder for the most in a row.
Johnson (30-3-1) then was essentially traded for Ben Askren to ONE Championship in a historic deal.
Following Johnson’s departure, plenty took place at 125 pounds in the UFC. There was champion vs. champion superfight pitting Henry Cejudo against T.J. Dillashaw in which Cejudo defended the flyweight belt, a relinquishing of the title by Cejudo, and most controversially, an alarming number of fighter cuts from the company, which left the division’s existence in question.
In a recent interview with MMA Junkie, Johnson revealed talk of eliminating the flyweight division was already underway before he left to compete for ONE.
“Yeah, of course it has, I wasn’t outspoken about it, but it is what it is,” Johnson said. “I understand the company is about making money. Right. And then they felt like the division wasn’t making money, then go ahead, scrap it. And that’s it.
“I was like, ‘Well, hey, close the division and I’ll just go to 135. We do new contracts, et cetera, et cetera.’ But I’m glad the division is still moving forward. I’m glad Joseph Benavidez is getting his chance to fight for the title again. I wish both athletes nothing but the best, and I look forward to see who’s going to be the third champion of the flyweight division.”
After missing time due to injury, Cejudo relinquished his title in December. Not long after, a five-round contest between top contenders Benavidez and Deiveson Figueiredo was scheduled for the vacant belt.
It seems the UFC flyweight division is safe for now, as fighters are getting signed again to compete at the weight, fights are being scheduled, and there’s a championship fight in place. Johnson is happy to see Cejudo draw the attention needed to keep the division afloat, despite not coinciding with his style of going about things in his career.
“I wasn’t going to change,” Johnson said. “This is who I am, right? This is who I am. I’m not going to put on a mask or pretend I’m somebody who I’m not. This is who I am. I’m a dude who likes to take care of his wife and kids. And then, when everybody’s asleep, I get to play some video games. ‘World of Warcraft’ or ‘PUBG,’ and that’s it. I go to the gym and I bust my ass. This is this who I am. I can relate to half of the people in the world, which is a hard-working man.
“So I’m happy that Henry Cejudo was able to do that and be able to be very successful defending the belt and going up and becoming the bantamweight champion as well,” Johnson continued. “So, yeah, I mean, I’m happy he was able to do it.”
Despite being glad about the continuation of the flyweight division, “Mighty Mouse” never worried for the fighters who might have potentially lost their jobs, as he believes there’s plenty of options for fighters outside the UFC – more than people realize.
“Everyone thinks that’s the only home in the world,” Johnson said. “It’s not the only one home in the world. You look at Sergio Pettis, he went on to Bellator, he’s fighting at 135. I’m pretty sure he made a good penny. He probably got paid more than half of the flyweights on the UFC roster.
“So I mean, that’s not the only home. Look at me; I’m over in ONE Championship. Look at Eddie Alvarez, he’s over at ONE Championship. You look at Kyoji Horiguchi, he’s at Rizin. Look at Lance Palmer, he’s in PFL making a million dollars. He’s made $2 million, right? There’s many, many great organizations out in the world. And for people to think that there’s only one that’s going to make let you have a great living or whatever, you’re living in a box.”
Many think what convinced the UFC to retain the 125-pound weight class was Cejudo’s self-admitted cringe persona, which is polarizing in MMA. Many enjoy it, though many others don’t. Johnson didn’t mind Cejudo’s antics, and said he finds it entertaining.
“It was more entertaining when people came and told me, ‘What the (expletive) is this dude doing? Is he really going to be fighting women now?’” Johnson said. “I’m like, ‘Guys, don’t worry about it. ‘Triple C’ is doing what he wants to do,’ and then I go, ‘He’s doing exactly what he wants you to do. Just talk about him, right?’
“And so I got more kick out of that, where people I’d be working out or just hanging out, and people would come over and be like, ‘What the (expletive) is this dude doing?’ and I’d go, ‘What are you talking about,’ and they’ll tell me what he did.”
Johnson and Cejudo have split a pair of fights. “Mighty Mouse” handed Cejudo his first professional loss, stopping him in the first round at UFC 197 in 2016. Cejudo defeated Johnson in the UFC 227 rematch.
With both continuing to find success, many ponder the idea of a trilogy fight. Johnson is not as enthusiastic of the idea as others. He’d be open to fight Cejudo one more time, but he’s not going to go out of his way to pursue a third bout with the Olympian and said he won’t lose sleep if the trilogy doesn’t come to fruition.
“I always look at what’s ahead of me,” Johnson said. “And what’s ahead of me, it’s Adriano Moraes. And then obviously, like, I just don’t like, that’s like me thinking about the Brad Pickett, the Dominick Cruz (loss). Those fights I’ve lost. Do I ever think about trying to get those back? No, I don’t even think about it.
“I mean, if the opportunity arose were for some reason, Henry Cejudo would the end up in ONE Championship, and he was working his way up, then let’s say I beat Adriano Moraes and I become the champion, and he’s over here, yeah, I would love to find him again. But am I going to sit here and like, it’s not, it’s something I don’t really think of.”
Johnson, who won the ONE flyweight grand prix in 2019, will challenge ONE flyweight champion Adriano Moraes at “ONE Infinity 1” in Jakarta, Indonesia on Apr. 10.