Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson’s frankly stunning attack on the UFC earlier this week opened the floodgates for criticism of both the promotion and himself. The majority seemed to side with Mighty Mouse. Yet just a week earlier, Germaine de Randamie penned an open letter that generated far less sympathy.
On the surface, there are similar issues: each has an opponent being pushed by the UFC that they have little interest in fighting. Of course, Johnson has a host of other grievances, and rightfully so. For GDR, also known as the Iron Lady, there was the promise of being able to head back to bantamweight (a rather odd one, to be sure — why put on a featherweight title fight, but promise one of the fighters involved that she could head back down in weight, win or lose?). The opponent: Cris “Cyborg” Justino, who de Randamie does not want to face due to the Brazilian’s questionable involvement with banned substances.
Johnson, meanwhile, doesn’t want to face former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw after already agreeing to a bout with flyweight contender Ray Borg. He also takes issue with the fact that Dillashaw has never proven that he can make the 125lb limit.
Of course, critics of both have used the ever popular argument that these champions are running, or ducking, opponents. It’s the MMA version of calling someone chicken in a schoolyard (do kids still do that?). An oversimplified argument in an age where fighters are struggling to make what they’re worth, even champions.
For Johnson, if Dillashaw misses weight, his eleventh consecutive title defense is (at least temporarily) off. For de Randamie, there’s the ever-present cloud of PEDs. Whether you see it as running or not, it’s a legitimate complaint in this day and age. Mark Hunt is in the midst of suing the promotion over allegedly booking him against a fighter they knew was dirty, after all. Part of Hunt’s complaint? Losses to dirty fighters have cost him financially.
Both champs have essentially said they’re willing to take their ball and go home. For the Iron Lady, it’s back down to bantamweight. For Johnson (likely calling Dana White’s bluff), he responded to a threat to close the flyweight division should he not comply with the UFC’s demands with “close the motherf***ing division then!”
That stance likely earned Mighty Mouse some new fans, especially among the “Dana White is the Devil” crowd (we’d like to point out that White, as of yet, has not been spotted with a tail or pitchfork). de Randamie, well, things aren’t as clear cut. To some, PED use is forever a black mark, or better yet, the Scarlett Letter of the MMA world. Just make it a capital C for “cheater.” To others, well, Cyborg has done her time, served her suspension (for stanozolol, resulting in her missing all of 2012), and been cleared by USADA in her most recent incident.
Both champions are now at a crossroads.
When it comes to de Randamie, her options are slim. She either defends the belt against Cyborg, or is likely stripped, and heads back to bantamweight (if the UFC is true to their word about allowing her that option). Worst case scenario, she’s stripped and cut by the promotion. While she has the sympathy of those opposed to PEDs in the sport, that only goes so far, and unlike Johnson, it’s not as if the Iron Lady agreed to face someone else for the title. Especially since there’s no one else in the division, which is currently GDR and Cyborg. Megan Anderson is still with Invicta and excepted to defend her title there at Invicta FC 24, and Holly Holm has already dropped back to bantamweight for a bout at UFC Fight Night 111.
She may be able to buy some time: Justino has been booked into UFC 214, against an opponent to be determined later. Assuming the UFC doesn’t work a deal with GDR herself, there’s always the chance that Cyborg fights someone else, loses, and de Randamie reconsiders defending the featherweight title.
Failing that? The Iron Lady’s reign may be an awfully short one. Or, she compromises her beliefs, and takes the Cyborg fight. Ultimately, she may not have a choice.
Johnson, well that’s another story. He’s arguably one of, if not the, best fighters in the sport. He’s the face of his division. He might not be the most marketable champ, but if there’s one thing MMA fans seem to get, it’s that you must respect success. Johnson has been successful every time he’s stepped in the octagon since winning the flyweight championship.
The UFC in this case should — and likely will — make things right with the fighter. The damage, however, has already been done. It’s more weight to a snowball that has been rolling down hill for the past few years, which at its core is about fighter compensation and well being.
If the promotion decides play hardball (more so than they already have), things could get very interesting. Johnson might have a difficult choice of his own to make: compromise, take the Dillashaw fight, when he’s dead set against his treatment by the UFC, or sit out for who knows how long. The risk might just be worth the reward in the long run, given the media firestorm Mighty Mouse set off this week.
It’s an interesting situation for a pair of fighters who happen to be the longest reigning, and at the other end, shortest reigning (if you count the start of Max Holloway’s title reign as his interim championship win at UFC 206 in December) champs in the company. How the UFC handles this will be critical, because under new ownership, with fighters speaking out about pay and treatment more and more, and their U.S. television deal set to expire, they’re under the microscope more than ever.