Johnson could match UFC record with 10th title defense in KC
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Demetrious Johnson had just finished an open workout on a muggy spring afternoon when the UFC flyweight champion was asked about the impressive haul of title belts he has amassed over the years.
Did that ever set off a diatribe.
In rant that was half-serious, half-joking, the man nicknamed “Mighty Mouse” pointed out he only has one championship belt at home. Every time he’s defended it, nine times and counting, the UFC straps a belt around his waist following the fight, then takes it away once press obligations are complete.
“You know what? I’m getting pissed off about this,” Johnson said with a smile. “I saw (light heavyweight champion) Daniel Cormier had three belts, so WME, IMG, whoever the owner is signing the checks now, give me eight damn belts, please.”
Or possibly nine come Saturday night.
Johnson will again defend his flyweight title against Brazilian Wilson Reis in the main event at Sprint Center, the first time the UFC has ventured into Kansas City. And if Johnson is successful, his 10 defenses would match the UFC record held by longtime middleweight king Anderson Silva.
“You know, I’m a company man,” Johnson said, once again wearing his perpetual grin. “I come and fight and if they take the belt away from me, peace. That’s it. But now I’ve seen these guys with three belts, and I’ve only got one — and I have to share it with my two kids.”
The only 125-pound champion in UFC history, Johnson (25-2-1) is riding an 11-fight winning streak that includes impressive knockouts of Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo. He beat Kansas City’s own Tim Elliott, who will be fighting Louis Smolka on the undercard, in his most recent defense in December.
Now, he takes on a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist riding his own four-fight win streak.
Reis was supposed to fight Johnson for the title at UFC 201, but a series of events beyond his control scuttled the chance. He wound up fighting on the undercard, then won again, to finally earn a shot against the fighter many consider the best pound-for-pound mixed martial artist in the world.
“Everything in my life happens for a reason. I’m a very positive guy,” Reis said. “I knew it shouldn’t be last July, that’s why it wasn’t, so I just kept my composure, trained every day, worked hard. I didn’t know when it was going to be, one fight, two fights, three fights, but I knew I was going to get there.”
Reis (22-6) didn’t hesitate when asked whether Johnson is the best fighter in the world, pointing out that the champion hasn’t lost in more than five years. But when faced with the same question, Johnson was only willing to put himself in the same category as the elites, rather than at the top of the heap.
To get to that point, it could take several more title defenses.
“It’s like Usain Bolt, nobody is ever going to beat his record,” Johnson said of the Jamaican sprinter, whose Olympic medal haul has put him in rarified company. “But 20 years from now, 30 years from now, there might be another fast guy who smokes that. So I’m going to keep fighting. It might be 15 (defenses), it might be 16. Whenever my body gets tired, I’ll hang it up.”
By that point, Johnson may finally have all those belts the UFC owes him.
“If I’m successful Saturday, I’ll take the belt home and give me eight more,” he said. “One thing Floyd Mayweather Jr. did, he has a picture of all his belts, and Andre Ward did it too. I think it would be cool if I could recreate that image.”
The co-main event of the Fight Night card on FOX features a strawweight fight between fourth-ranked Rose Namajunas and sixth-ranked Michelle Waterson, both of whom have some history in Kansas City.
Namajunas’s first three pro fights came for the all-female Invicta organization in 2013, before she became a household name on the Ultimate Fighter reality TV show. Watterson likewise fought three times for Invicta in Kansas City, winning and defending its atomweight championship several years ago.
But there is more on the line for both as the UFC makes its debut in the City of Fountains: The winner remains in title contention, the loser could be left with a long road back to the top.
“It’s always a breath of fresh air when you can come to a place with familiarity, and that’s what Kansas City feels like,” Waterson said. “The airport feels familiar, the street sounds, the smell of barbecue. That’s what it feels like. And every time I’ve fought in Kansas City, I’ve won.”