Death, taxes, and Mighty Mouse title defenses. There are few things certain in life, but Demetrious Johnson successfully defending his UFC flyweight title really is starting to feel like one of them. Yet now that the division has been cleaned out (twice over, arguably), the big question is “what’s next?”
Sure, that’s the question the MMA world asks after every fight, but it holds a little more meaning with Demetrious Johnson earning sole possession of the UFC title defense record. At eleven title defenses and counting, Mighty Mouse has reached the summit of the UFC mountain. The state of the UFC flyweight division suggests that he could stay there for a while.
Consider the options that currently exist for the champion in the 125lb weight class today. Sergio Pettis is probably the best option currently swimming in those waters. The Roufusport fighter is on a 4-0 run, and frankly has the right name for a title fight. Beyond that, he’s a fresh face in the title picture — one of few. Pettis is currently booked against Henry Cejudo at UFC 218 in December, and should he win that, he’s likely a lock for the next title shot.
The problem? Pettis doesn’t have much to offer that Demetrious Johnson has not seen before. This hypothetical booking has a feeling of “been there, done that” — just another line ’em up, knock ’em down fight for Mighty Mouse.
Should Henry Cejudo prove victorious later this year, he’d be a decent enough option for a title fight with Johnson, but of course, he’s already had one. Having defeated Joseph Benavidez twice, John Dodson twice, and even having faced Ian McCall twice prior to becoming champion (with one fight ending in a draw), it’s becoming a challenge to find fresh faces for the flyweight king. Sure, a second Cejudo fight would be passable, or even a third Benavidez fight (Joe Jitsu has won six straight), but in reality, Demetrious Johnson needs new challenges.
John Moraga, who scored a Performance of the Night winning knockout earlier on the UFC 216 card? Johnson has already bested him in a title fight. Ben Nguyen has won a couple, including a big upset of former title challenger Tim Elliot, but the eighth ranked flyweight would be a longshot, and needs a little more seasoning.
That leaves the prospect of a “superfight” — or at least a challenger dropping down from bantamweight. It’s exactly what Mighty Mouse didn’t want earlier this year, and it’s exactly what needs to happen at this point.
The circumstances, of course, would be different. Johnson had already agreed to face Ray Borg when the UFC tried to force T.J. Dillashaw upon him. At the time, the champ balked at the opponent switch, and the specter of a fighter never having made the flyweight limit possibly blowing weight. Now, with no existing opponent agreed to, and with Borg having been forced to drop out of UFC 215, forcing Johnson’s record-setting fight to be pushed back a month, those concerns no longer exist.
Realistically, one of Cody Garbrandt or T.J. Dillashaw makes the most sense. Johnson needs a challenge, and beating one or the other would mark one of the biggest fights of his career. It’s a fight that would draw, by a champion who has failed to draw the respect or attention of casual fans (though after his slam arm-bar finish at UFC 216, maybe that will change). More importantly, it might be a real challenge for Mighty Mouse, who seemed to cruise through the first four rounds of his fight against Borg, then finished him seemingly at will.
Should Dillashaw lose at UFC 217, he’d be the perfect candidate. As a former bantamweight champion, his name and status would bring the fight up a notch, and the idea of a fighter dropping down in weight for an immediate title shot off a loss is not unheard of. Frankie Edgar, after all, did it after losing to Benson Henderson for the second time, then dropping down to face Jose Aldo.
Garbrandt might be a little more complicated. As the reigning champ, with a loss, he might have his sights set on a rematch, especially in a close fight. With a win, well, that might be a stretch, given he would have defended his belt just once.
Realistically, however, the UFC needs a bigger name, and a bigger challenge, to put up against Mighty Mouse. Because thus far, the diminutive Johnson has proven to be the biggest man the UFC has at getting results.