The Op-EdDemetrious Johnson: A Champion but Not a Star

At UFC on Fox 8 this Saturday night, UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson will fight John Moraga to defend his belt. He will also be fighting for recognition, something that has so far eluded his tenure as champion. His fight will continue his run of being the only UFC champion to have never headlined a pay-per-view event. The flyweight champion currently occupies an unusual space, he has reached the pinnacle of his profession, winning a world...

At UFC on Fox 8 this Saturday night, UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson will fight John Moraga to defend his belt. He will also be fighting for recognition, something that has so far eluded his tenure as champion. His fight will continue his run of being the only UFC champion to have never headlined a pay-per-view event. The flyweight champion currently occupies an unusual space, he has reached the pinnacle of his profession, winning a world title, but he is not yet a star. This is the gap that Johnson and the UFC are trying to bridge.

His omission from pay-per-view main events has little to nothing to do with his talent, as of right now he just simply does not have the star power to carry a pay-per-view on his own. Instead, he will defend his title for the second consecutive time on free television. This, of course, has its benefits. Fighting on Fox garners much more exposure than fighting on a PPV would. Johnson’s last title defense on Fox, for example, was watched by an average of 3.78 million according to TVbytheNumbers.com.

Johnson is a relatively new champion in a relatively new division, so it is understandable that the UFC are trying to build his profile before giving him a PPV main event slot. The 125 pound division was only introduced in March 2012 when a tournament consisting of four flyweights began at UFC on FX 2. Johnson went on to win the flyweight title in September 2012 at UFC 152 by beating Joseph Benavidez in the tournament final. His title reign and division are in their infancy. Maybe this is the sole reason why audiences haven’t quite connected with Johnson; maybe they just haven’t seen enough of him and the flyweights.

But maybe not.

Johnson’s fighting style is one that does not translate well with casual fans. Whilst MMA purists may applaud his technique and athleticism, his style lacks the drama and brutality that fans on the periphery of MMA are attracted to. There is a core group of MMA fans who will pretty much watch any event that the UFC puts on, so viewing figures are really determined by how many casual fans decide to tune in. It is this group of people that Johnson needs to appeal to in order to become a star.

The issue is, as previously stated, that casual fans have not taken to his style. He has consistently been branded with the ‘boring’ moniker.

Johnson is 5-1-1 in the UFC and all five of those wins came by decision. Combining his UFC and WEC stints, Johnson has participated in ten fights. In only one of those has he managed to finish his opponent, a third round submission victory over Damacio Page at WEC 52. Furthermore, in his four fights at flyweight in the UFC so far, he has yet to truly dominate his opponent. Those four fights all ended in close decisions, including one draw and a split decision. However, it must also be noted that since moving down to flyweight, in just four fights, he has won two ‘fight of the night’ bonuses. This again showcases the polarizing nature of Demetrious Johnson. To some he is a technical wonder whose performances are impressive displays of skill. Whereas, others see a dull fight lacking in excitement and violence.

His position is similar to that of Benson Henderson, they are both the kings of their divisions but they seem to be just eeking by their opponents. They have not yet achieved that definitive career-defining win. Until that happens, they will continue to hover around the mid to low spots on the pound-for-pound rankings and be the uncelebrated champions.

Johnson is unquestionably the best flyweight in the world. He just has to encapsulate that into a single performance. Destroy the next best guy in the division. The king needs to unquestionably be the king. So far Johnson has beaten everyone he has needed to at flyweight, just never in spectacular fashion. This is why he is currently treading water as a champion who is not yet a star.