Upon his arrival in ONE Championship in 2019, Demetrious Johnson continued to do what he has always done: win.
The former UFC flyweight champion better known as “Mighty Mouse” has just a solitary loss since 2011. That would be the split decision that cost him the belt against Henry Cejudo. One mega “trade” (for Ben Askren) later, and Johnson (30-3-1) was a ONE athlete.
The flyweight great then embarked on a three-fight win streak, claiming victory in the ONE Championship flyweight grand prix, which, with the promotion’s weight cutting rules, essentially saw him competing at 135lbs. This Wednesday at ONE on TNT 1 against Adriano Moraes, it will be grand prix champ versus the established flyweight champ — but past that, Johnson isn’t adverse to bigger challenges. Including the long-anticipated fight with former UFC standout John Lineker.
“I wouldn’t shy away from that whether I win the belt or come up short. Me and John Lineker used to fight for the same organization, for the same division at 125,” Johnson said during a ONE on TNT 1 media day on Tuesday. “But I don’t foresee him getting past my teammate Bibiano Fernandes, and I have no interest in ever fighting Bibiano Fernandes.”
Johnson, who later stated that he’s always been a fan of world grand prix tournaments, also remains open to the idea of moving up in weight for another. “If there was a featherweight [bantamweight under ONE’s system] world grand prix and my body was healthy enough, and Chatri [Sityodtong, ONE Chairman and CEO] gave me the blessing to step into it, and depending on who was in it — like let’s say there’s a world grand prix at featherweight, and it’s like ‘oooh there’s some big motherf*ckers there though,’ and they’re like ‘yeah you can do it if you want’ — then maybe I would do it,” exclaimed Johnson. “But if I were to win it and had to fight Bibiano Fernandes, I’d be like ‘I don’t want to fight Bibiano, I just wanted to the belt.'”
Johnson was inspired by the early Pride grand prix tournaments and watching legends like Sakuraba. His own grand prix experience, he added, “was just fun for me.” Instead of waiting for an opponent, training in the gym with no one in particular in mind, “seeing who’s in the bracket is fun,” he noted.
Before any of that can come to pass, Johnson has the champ in front of him: Adriano Moraes. While not the best known to U.S. fans, Moraes is a multi-time champion in ONE, boasting an 18-3 record. He’s also a former Shooto Brazil flyweight champion.
In terms of the competition “Mighty Mouse” has faced, Moraes is “up there,” Johnson told Cageside Press on Tuesday. “He’s my next biggest fight, he’s my next challenge. I think the reason why potentially he’s not a household name is that he hasn’t done any work on U.S. soil.”
There’s that, but getting to that next level requires something more as well. As Johnson put it, “I don’t skate by in my fights, I’m always looking for the finish. I think that’s kind of what elevated my name essentially.”
Throughout Tuesday’s media day, Demetrious Johnson had a laugh whenever questions about the UFC came his way. Whether it was about proving something to Dana White, or someone asking the former UFC star about fighting in the octagon this week (ONE doesn’t refer to their cage, or ring, as such). So has moving to ONE freed him of that past, or rejuvenated him in his career?
“My past,” replied Johnson, “I don’t run from my past and it’s not like I don’t talk about it. I just love how it’s catching people. ‘How do you feel when you step in the octagon tonight?’ Well, I’m not stepping in the octagon.”
“They generally ask ‘do you need to go out there and prove to Dana White that ‘I’m still one of the best in the world?'” he continued, focusing on another question asked earlier during the ONE on TNT 1 media day. And a frequent one among fans, perhaps. “I know I’m still one of the best in the world. I know that for a fact. Whether I got out there and win or lose, I know I’m one of the best in the world. So I just chuckle about it.”
That said, Johnson does feel like he’s in a better place these days. “When I was in the UFC felt like I accomplished everything I could. I felt like the only thing I could have accomplished more is going up there and trying to do the double champ, or trying to get more PPV buys. That’s the only thing I can look back on my UFC career, like, that’s the only two things I was never able to accomplish.”
And in terms of not accomplishing those feats, Johnson, one of the all-time greats of the sport, alluded to the UFC not meeting a specific demand as the culprit. “At the end of the day, when it was [time for] those talks, I had a stipulation that I wanted that they didn’t want to meet. So here I am now, I’m in a brand new organization going for a world title, and if I could be champion on both sides of the world, that’d be phenomenal.”
Watch the full ONE on TNT 1 media day interview with Demetrious Johnson above. ONE on TNT 1 takes place this Wednesday, April 7, with the main card live on TNT starting at 10PM ET.