UFC champ Demetrious Johnson may be a white belt in BJJ, but he has consistently demonstrated a top-level understanding of the sport inside the MMA cage.
Demetrious Johnson’s UFC career has been nothing short of incredible, thus far. Barring a single unanimous-decision loss to current bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in 2011, Johnson is undefeated inside the Octagon. Now close to clearing out his division, he has defended his belt seven times in a row, and each and every time he has done so, the results have been far from close; these title defenses weren’t just wins, but dominations.
Along the way, Johnson has encountered some trouble regarding his pay-per-view sales and the general interest in his career, which the UFC has tried to improve, but has been largely unsuccessful in doing so. Contrary to the reports and beliefs that this disinterest is due to Johnson’s weight, size, and/or general style, there is an excellent chance that it is a result of the aforementioned domination and skillset of “Mighty Mouse”.
Everyone loves a dominant champion—in fights that are expected to be close, that is. The Las Vegas odds for each of Johnson’s title defenses do well to illustrate the problem with his simply overwhelming skill level, relative to pay-per-view buys:
Johnson (-260) versus John Dodson (+200)—January 26th, 2013
Johnson (-400) versus John Moraga (+375)—July 27th, 2013
Johnson (-140) versus Joseph Benavidez (+100)—December 14th, 2013
Johnson (-550) versus Ali Bagautinov (+560)—June 14th, 2014
Johnson (-1450) versus Chris Cariaso (+1150)—September 27th, 2014
Johnson (-700) versus Kyoji Horiguchi (+700)—April 25th, 2015
Johnson (-725) versus John Dodson (+350)—September 5th, 2015
These odds may vary from site-to-site, but the point remains that Johnson has been expected to run-through his competition in nearly every one of his fights; his performances simply enhance and perpetuate these expectations.
Still, most everyone understands that Johnson is a terrific athlete, fighter, and champion; this point won’t be the focus of this piece. However, individuals aspects and skillsets of Johnson’s game are often overlooked because of the aforementioned general disinterest and his well-rounded nature—especially his BJJ skills.
Demetrious Johnson may only hold a white belt in the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), but time and time again, he has demonstrated an excellent understanding and awareness of ground fighting in general inside the Octagon. Let’s take a look at some of his most impressive BJJ-based wins, in an attempt to remind fans of how excellent of a BJJ practitioner Demetrious Johnson really is.
Demetrious Johnson’s BJJ and submission reign of terror began against John Moraga at UFC on Fox 8 on July 27th, 2013. Despite being a heavy favorite heading into the title defense, few expected Johnson to win via any method other than decision, let alone submission. Evidently, he had other plans in mind.
Johnson was all-over the elite wrestler Moraga throughout the contest, but with less than one and one half minutes remaining in the contest, he successfully caused his opponent to tap due to a well-timed armbar, which was expertly set-up with what appeared to be a relatively deep kimura.
An outstanding overall win, this triumph certainly alerted the division’s other competitors that the reigning champion had been diligently improving his BJJ game.
Just a couple of fights later, Johnson was ready to re-emphasize his brilliant BJJ game once again, as he battled Chris Cariaso on September 27th, 2014 at UFC 178.
Unlike the Moraga submission, Johnson’s winning kimura against Cariaso would come in the second round, in a display of a more aggressive and confident BJJ skillset, as part of an overall gameplan that was evidently dependent upon taking the fight to the mat (Johnson had no problem doing so in the first stanza).
The same was true in the second and final round of the contest, as Johnson found himself in side control. Interestingly, Johnson, prior to the submission, switched from side control to half guard and back again with ease! From there, Johnson placed his opponent’s shoulder and arm under the pressure of the kimura, and when the tap didn’t immediately appear, stepped over Cariaso’s head to apply additional torque and end the fight within seconds.
Whether aggressive or calculated (not that his aggression isn’t calculated, of course), Demetrious Johnson is able to use his powerful BJJ skills to dominate fighters on the ground and find submissions—and this point was abundantly clear versus Cariaso.
In his most recent submission victory and display of true BJJ excellence, Demetrious Johnson defeated the high-level Kyoji Horiguchi via armbar with just one second remaining in the contest. To date, not only is this win the latest submission in a UFC title fight, but is also the latest submission in any UFC fight.
Johnson assumed top control at numerous points throughout the contest, and with just over thirty seconds remaining in the fight, completed a takedown and did so once more. He locked-in a crucifix from here and landed a punishing series of blows to Horiguchi’s head, before sliding over and locking-in a perfect armbar which forced his opponent to tap, after some brief consideration.
The culmination of these wins—the main point that should be taken away—is the recognition of the ever-improving and outstanding BJJ game of Demetrious Johnson. He may once again hold just a white belt in the sport, but his prowess on the ground indicates that he could very well be ranked much higher than that, under another coach; he may very well be the most talented white belt in the world!
Johnson is now set to defend his title against the undefeated Henry Cejudo, who is an Olympic wrestling gold medalist, on April 23rd at UFC 197. Whether or not fans will get to see Johnson hit the mat and display his incredible BJJ skills remains to be seen, and is far from certain either way, given his well-rounded nature. However, should Johnson need to utilize his ground skills—be it by his own choosing or as a reaction to a takedown from Cejudo—fans can rest assured that they’ll be in for a treat.
Remember to look past the hype and the general criticism surrounding Demetrious Johnson’s career, as well as his deceiving white belt, and there will be quite a bit of high-level jiu-jitsu technique and excellence to enjoy and appreciate.
Demetrious Johnson is the best BJJ white belt around.
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