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Breaking Down The Drama Between Demetrious Johnson and TJ Dillashaw

Written by @NickRiznerMMA

Let me start by saying that this is a complicated situation. Given the statements made by both Johnson and Dillashaw, I think even they are aware of that. And at the end of the day, everything being quoted here, believable or otherwise, is 100% hearsay. So keep that in mind.

Demetrious Johnson is currently ranked as the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC and rightfully so. After fighting to a draw with Ian McCall back in 2012, Mighty Mouse has won twelve in a row, eleven of which were title fights. That translates to ten consecutive title defenses, good enough to tie Anderson Silva for one of the UFC’s most elusive achievements. But what’s the fun in being tied? Demetrious Johnson wants to win.

That makes this next fight a crucial one. One more defense and Mighty Mouse becomes the most accomplished champion in the history of this sport. Arguments can be made about the level of competition or the margin of error in the flyweight division vs. some of the heavier weight classes, but that’s a discussion for another day. Besides, the manner in which Johnson has dominated his opponents should be taken heavily into consideration.

He’s not edging these guys out. He’s dismantling them.

We’ve seen, throughout the years, how much legacy means to the champ. While some athletes downplay the importance of these accolades, Mighty Mouse takes great pride in what he’s accomplished. Being the Greatest of all Time matters to him. I’m pretty sure it matters to us all, on some level, but few are as vocal as he.

Earlier this week, Demetrious Johnson sounded off on how he’s been treated by Dana White and the UFC, and it’s pretty shocking stuff. As you read through the statement, in its entirety, it’s hard not to feel for the guy. He’s been as successful as he can possibly be in his respective division, and yet he’s being treated with an utter lack of respect. Hard to justify that.

But despite how the UFC is handling the situation behind closed doors, there are some concrete obstacles to overcome. Traditionally, Mighty Mouse doesn’t sell a lot of pay-per-views. Is this because the UFC is not promoting him correctly, as Johnson alludes?

“UFC  has failed to market and promote me appropriately. In comparison to others who they promote across their social media platforms, they failed to do their job in promoting me and that monumental event [Johnson’s 10th title defense]. In my recent conversations, Sean and Dana have confirmed UFC’s lack of desire to put any effort into promoting [the flyweight division].” – Demetrious Johnson

Or is this because flyweights, as a whole, don’t spark the interest of the casual fan? Like it or not, most people seem to favor the heavier weight classes. It’s simplistic and naive, but diehard fans don’t shatter pay-per-view records. And it’s impossible to know the true impact that marketing would have on Johnson and the rest of the 125ers, because we’ve never really seen it.

Is it under-promoted because there’s no interest or is there no interest because it’s under-promoted? Johnson would claim the latter, but who’s to say? Let’s focus on matchmaking, since that seems to be the crux of the matter.

First, it was Ray Borg; a flyweight who lost to Justin Scoggins as early as last year and is currently on a two-fight win streak. Not exactly a monumental opponent for such a monumental fight, but that’s who the UFC picked. Even Mighty Mouse, while acknowledging the unique challenge Borg brings to the table, expressed interest in taking on a bigger name:

“I thought [Sergio] Pettis was a more marketable name and on a longer winning streak. Mick [Maynard] went back to Dana, then came back and told us that I had no choice, it was going to be Ray Borg, not Pettis, and there were no other options.”

“I said OK, but it’s not fair to make that my only chance at PPV points, when Cody Garbrandt is saying he wants to come down and fight me at flyweight, which was the fight I wanted. I think a fight between Cody and I would be popular if it was even given a small serving of the marketing efforts put into other fights.” – Demetrious Johnson

From a marketing standpoint, it’s fairly undeniable that Johnson vs. Pettis or Johnson vs. Garbrandt would outsell Johnson vs. Borg. The extent of which is the larger question. Nevertheless, though it’s not the fight that fans seem to want, the UFC decided that Borg was the man. Until he wasn’t.

Suddenly, after a bantamweight title fight between Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw was canceled due to a Cody injury, the UFC changed their mind about everything. They now wanted Johnson to fight TJ for the flyweight belt, a fight that excited most everyone except the champ, himself. His concerns centered around TJ’s ability to make weight and his deserving of a title shot at all.

“First, TJ has never fought at flyweight and is unlikely to make the weight, which would then eliminate the possibility of breaking the title defense record. Second, they have already told me that a fight between Cody and I wouldn’t be sellable, so fighting TJ would have no monetary upside. Third, TJ is not a flyweight or a current champion in another weight class and was KO’ed by the flyweight whom I beat twice already.” – Demetrious Johnson

While I don’t necessarily disagree with these points, it does seem a little unfair to TJ. For one, he got KO’ed by Dodson back in 2011 and is a completely different fighter now. He may not be champion, but he was the worthy #1 contender for the bantamweight championship, so that more than qualifies him to fight for the flyweight championship.

Plus, I believe that Cody and TJ are equally intriguing opponents from a PPV perspective, however both were already set to fight each other in July, prior to the Cody injury. It’s not that the UFC is saying TJ is more intriguing that Cody. Rather, only one of the two is healthy enough to fight at the moment.

Finally, there is no indication that TJ can’t make the weight at 125 pounds. He’s never missed weight before and at 5’6″, he’s not a particularly large bantamweight. Granted, he’s never competed at flyweight, but he has ample time for a healthy cut and, in my opinion, holds no more risk of missing weight than any other opponent.

I do understand the frustration, and the UFC’s negotiation tactics seem, at best, extremely crude and disrespectful. The chaotic switches of opponent seem unfair as well, especially when you are at the absolute highest level of the sport. However, at the end of the day, TJ Dillashaw is the fight to make.

Naturally, TJ agrees. In an interview with Brett Okamoto of ESPN (transcribed by Jed Meshew of MMA Fighting), Dillashaw gave his response to some of Johnson’s comments:

“I understand where he’s coming from with some of it, but a lot of it was a slap in the face to me as well, trying to say that I don’t really deserve a title shot, which I think is complete bullcrap. I don’t think there’s anybody in his weight class right now to push him, and I’m healthy.”

“I’m gonna make [weight]. I have the utmost confidence. I know I’m gonna make it. I’ve never missed weight once in my entire life or my career going from wrestling from eight years old through all my professional career.” – TJ Dillashaw

Again, I feel for the way Mighty Mouse has been treated by the promotion. I honestly do. But TJ is making a lot of sense here. He goes on to further explain his reasoning:

“I feel like him fighting me will be able to fix a lot of his problems. He will get a pay-per-view cut. He’s actually gonna make the paychecks he’s earned. He is pound-for-pound best fighter in the world right now, and I think this is the fight to get him paid.” – TJ Dillashaw

Some details may be missing, but the general premise holds true. And if that’s the case, then further negotiations should be able to sort this thing out. It’s all about risk vs. reward. You see, if Dillashaw misses weight, then he will not be eligible to win the flyweight championship. Therefore, even if Mighty Mouse defeats Dillashaw, it will not count as his 11th consecutive defense, and no record will be broken. That would be a disaster for all involved.

Johnson, to his credit, ultimately agreed to fight TJ given a guarantee that he makes weight. He said that if TJ missed weight, he wanted the fight to be called off and to receive both his and TJ’s guaranteed pay.

The UFC then countered by instead offering Johnson an opportunity to switch out Dillashaw for Ray Borg (who will be scheduled to compete on the same card) at the last minute, if Dillashaw does, in fact, miss weight. This would guarantee Mighty Mouse a shot at his 11th consecutive title defense, but would also put him in the difficult position of potentially fighting an opponent that he didn’t train for.

Not ideal. But then again, nothing about this situation is. It’s messy. But if a middle ground can be reached, all else aside, Johnson vs. Dillashaw, in Seattle, for the title defense record and the UFC Flyweight Championship would be one of the biggest moments in the sport’s history. So let’s get together and work this one out.

Let’s hope cooler heads prevail.

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