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How does Demtrious Johnson’s legacy compare with MMA’s greatest?

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With 12 MMA World Titles and a 30-4 career record, Demetrious Johnson is widely considered to be one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time. Since making his MMA debut in 2007, the man known as ‘Mighty Mouse’ has gone on to dominate and solidified his place atop the flyweight mountain with a recent victory over rival Adriano Moraes to claim the ONE Flyweight World Championship in convincing fashion.

Johnson is widely known courtesy of his remarkable run in the UFC where he successfully defended the UFC Flyweight Championship 11 times, a company record that stands to this day. Even after being traded away from the glitz and the glamour of the UFC for Ben Askren, Johnson’s star shone bright in ONE working his way to an impressive 5-1 record since his arrival in 2019. The 36-year-old’s career is brimming with accolades and accomplishments and his legacy as a legend of the sport is already affirmed, but where does his fabled career rank alongside other major G.O.A.T contenders? 

Johnson’s unmatched wrestling, lightning-quick speed, precision striking and supreme stamina put him in a class of his own at flyweight and have propelled him to unprecedented success. He possesses all the credentials you’d need to stake claim to the moniker of MMA G.O.A.T along with arguably the most impressive collection of records in UFC history. He was the inaugural UFC Flyweight Champion, he holds the record for most consecutive victories in the UFC at Flyweight with 13, he has the most consecutive title defences in UFC history with 11 and holds the third most wins in UFC title fights with 12; if that’s not G.O.A.T material I don’t know what is.

For all his achievements to date, the American’s aspirations are more heartfelt than profound. Speaking at the ONE Fight Night 10 post-event press conference, Johnson said that he simply wants to be remembered as someone who did the best he could against every person put in front of him. It’s a far more endearing and humble approach you’re unlikely to see from some of the more brazen and brash characters that have graced the octagon over the last decade but one that to his credit helps Johnson stand out. Even though ‘Mighty Mouse’ acknowledges he’s accomplished some great things in the sport, he admits that there are others who likely supersede him in the debate and chief among them are champions who have held World Championships in multiple weight classes. 

According to this criteria, the likes of Jon Jones and Conor McGregor stand on a pedestal above the rest of the competition. In the case of Jones, few have left their mark quite like ‘Bones’. We’ve seen plenty of fighters enjoy dominant runs but very few have gone undefeated over a significant length of time, and even fewer still remain that way today. Jones’ annihilation of Frenchman Ciryl Gane to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship at the first time of asking took the 35-year-old’s MMA record to an astonishing 27-1-0 with the only blemish on an otherwise perfect streak coming as a result of a disqualification against Matt Hamill all the way back in 2009. To date, the New York native has never been beaten by knockout, submission, or decision. In that run he has conquered four previously undefeated opponents and has only one split-decision victory with 16 coming via knockout. He has set the standard for others to strive for knowing that the more he adds to his tally the harder it will be for anyone to reach that bar. 

Then there’s the biggest star MMA has ever produced in the notorious Conor McGregor. The 34-year-old Irishman elevated the sport to heights never seen before. His masterful mic skills and psychological warfare made him the talk of the combat sports world and shot him to superstardom on a global level. He is undoubtedly the best trash-talker in UFC history but unlike many with the gift of the gab, McGregor more often than not could back it up.

He will forever be known as the first man to hold gold in two UFC weight divisions simultaneously, first claiming the featherweight title against Jose Aldo ending the brazilian’s ten year 18 fight winning streak before winning the lightweight belt off Eddie Alvarez shortly after. Seven years on from that monumental victory, the notorious one is still a draw today, such is the impact he had. While Johnson’s criteria would give McGregor the advantage in this debate, even he could only sustain his momentum for three years having since endured an arduous journey back to the top going 1-3 since becoming the double champion. The Irishman will continue his journey back when he takes on Michael Chandler, a bout that new bookmakers in the UK have McGregor priced at 4/5 to beat Chandler.

McGregor’s hot streak came to an abrupt end at the hands of another worthy of mention in this discussion, the ‘Eagle’ Khabib Nurmagomedov. Unlike Jones, the Dagestani can lay claim to a perfect 29-0 record, a record in which he only lost two rounds. The former lightweight champion won his title in the most anticipated grudge match in UFC history and retired still in possession of the belt after defeating Justin Gaethje in his final fight in October 2020 to retain.

However, he only defended the Championship three times in his career, perhaps yet again giving Johnson the edge. Another contender would be former welterweight and middleweight champion George St-Pierre. The French-Canadian boasts a win streak of 13 fights that matches Johnson’s, lasting from 2007 all the way to 2017 along with an impressive 26-2-0 record that is marginally behind Jones’. But two poor defeats to opponents that were below his level undermine his case somewhat.

So in terms of assessing where the American’s legendary career stacks up, the real answer is it feels like an exercise in splitting hairs. The margins between himself and other worthy contenders are so fine. Although Johnson holds a slightly weaker record by comparison, he has done so without the controversy of a Jones who has multiple positive drug results and a DQ, without the drop-off of the notorious McGregor, without the limited number of title defences of Nurmagamedov, and without the long term hiatus of St-Pierre. Whether this sets him out as the true G.O.A.T of the sport is hard to say, but either way, and by his own standards, ‘Mighty Mouse’ is likely to be satisfied with the indelible mark his legacy will leave behind. 

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