Demetrious Johnson’s historic world title reign came to an unceremonious end when he lost a relatively controversial split decision to Henry Cejudo at UFC 227. Instead of complaining during his post-fight interview about the manner in which he lost, Johnson was gracious in defeat.
“I’m fine,” Johnson said. “Losing happens. Every great champion loses. I’ve lost before.”
After crediting Cejudo with deploying an effective game plan, Johnson alluded to injuries suffered in the fight. When asked about demanding an immediate rematch due to the narrow decision — not to mention the fact that the series is now tied with one win apiece — Johnson brushed off the notion and opted to focus on his health.
“I’m not going to be like, ‘Ah, I want a rematch,’” he said. “I need to get healthy first. My health is No. 1, and I’m not going to sign a contract if I can’t get through eight weeks of training camp.”
If nothing else, Johnson is a class act both in victory and defeat.
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Unfortunately, being a class act will get you nowhere in the UFC.
Although Dana White lauded Johnson for his historic title streak, he also wouldn’t commit on booking Cejudo-Johnson 3 and toyed with the idea of Cejudo moving up to bantamweight to challenge champion T.J. Dillashaw. Although White has been steadfast with not booking fights directly after an event, if anybody deserves an immediate rematch, it’s Demetrious Johnson.
Prior to losing a split decision, Johnson strung together 11 consecutive title defenses, breaking Anderson Silva’s record. Johnson held the flyweight title for nearly six years and stayed undefeated for almost seven years. Other fighters have been given immediate rematches for less. As a matter of fact, the fight that headlined UFC 227 was an immediate rematch between Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt after Dillashaw knocked Garbrandt out in the second round at UFC 217. The result was the same, only that it came sooner as Dillashaw flattened Garbrandt in one round. Yet Garbrandt received an immediate rematch without securing a single title defense. So, not only was the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world in the co-main event, he is now in a position where he may have to watch Cejudo and Dillashaw square off in a “superfight” (a term that is being used very loosely).
Rather than be gracious in defeat, perhaps Demetrious Johnson should chase down Cejudo’s bus and launch a dolly through the window. Because that’s what the UFC values in their fighters. Don’t let Dana White tell you any different. After all, it was that incident back in April that was originally deemed as “the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company” by Dana White. But in the same weekend that Johnson lost his title, the entire event was upstaged by this promo video.
It is the very “disgusting” act that is now being used in a video to promote what is being considered the biggest fight in UFC history when Conor McGregor faces UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 on Oct. 6. The fight will certainly fetch McGregor somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million (if not more) and is now the crown jewel of the MMA world.
As for Johnson, his fight against Cejudo netted him a guaranteed $380,000. To put it in perspective, the man considered one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time will make 2 percent of what McGregor will make in his next fight. Granted, McGregor is a great fighter and arguably one of the best mixed martial artists in the world, but it is his antics outside of the Octagon that has turned him into a household name. The dolly throwing incident in April only raised his asking price due to the demand it caused for the fight. The UFC could have punished McGregor for nearly decimating the entire UFC 223 card — two fighters were pulled due to injuries sustained by the attack — but decided to reward the Irishman for “the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company.”
Controversy sells, being a great fighter does not. It’s an unfortunate reality for Johnson and the reason why we are seeing so many fighters ramp up their trash talking. If Conor McGregor is going to be rewarded for bad behavior, why shouldn’t the rest of the roster? Johnson refuses to crater his integrity for the mighty dollar. He’s made it very clear that he will continue to do his job inside of the Octagon and leave the antics up to everyone else. Johnson’s approach is an honorable one and social media lit up with virtual applause over how Johnson handled losing the title.
But the reality is that closed mouths don’t get fed. Honor and loyalty will get you nowhere. The act of being the best in the world means absolutely nothing if you are unable to drum up interest by either being involved in a heated rivalry or taking it upon yourself to be a controversial and polarizing figure.
The UFC can’t sell the squeaky-clean act and need something with a few more rough edges to put butts in seats and sell pay-per-views. McGregor gets it and pushed the boundaries as far as he possibly could in order to get the payday he feels he deserves. That’s nothing against McGregor, that’s good business. Especially if the company you work for acquiesces to your financial demands despite the despicable act that you were involved in that could very well have been detrimental to your employer.
It’s a fascinating dichotomy that goes against the childhood notion that you’ll be rewarded if you play fair. Instead, the mantra will always and forever be that good guys finish last.