This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's May 29 issue. Subscribe today!
Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson tied one of the most prestigious records in combat sports -- Anderson Silva's mark of 10 consecutive UFC title defenses -- with his relentless pounding of challenger Wilson Reis on April 15 in Kansas City.
How dominating was he? Try 135 total strikes to just 18 for Reis before ending the fight with an armbar at the end of the third round. The performance ran Johnson's record to 26-2-1 (his two losses coming at 135 pounds) and added credence to his proclamation that he is the greatest Octagon fighter ever -- at 125 pounds or any other class.
In an interview with ESPN's Brett Okamoto, the 30-year-old proves he won't duck a question, throwing shots at UFC's promotional stunts, its pay-and even its fans.
If things continue to go the way they have, how many title defenses will you end up with?
I hope I can get to 20. I'm on pace to get two or three fights per year, and I think I've got five or six years left in me. Maybe I'll get to something like 18 and walk away from the sport-retire as champion. I think 15 to 18 title defenses is something that would be in the record books forever.
Do you feel like the fans and media appreciate what you've done?
It goes back and forth, man. MMA has the rudest, most negative, dumbest, ignorant fans in the world-but it also has the most passionate fans in the world. I hear that I should move up in weight all the time. I was at the gym the other day, and some guy was like, "Man, you need to fight [UFC lightweight champion] Conor McGregor!" I've been getting that for years, and I'm over it. I want to focus on my division and just smash that record. Just destroy it.
Why do you think there's this fixation on you to move up in weight?
I think a lot of people don't like to see someone succeed. They want to see someone go through adversity. But what those people don't understand is that I have been through adversity. I have been in trouble during a fight and pushed through. Yes, I have also had fights where I have put on a clinic. I guess people want to see me in more conflict, but I'm not going to put myself into that conflict unless I'm compensated more. You get concussed more fighting a bigger man. There are dangers that come with the bigger body. I could tear my labrum. I have no problem going up, but if I'm going to possibly take years off my life and career, I need to be well-compensated.
Are you starting to resent the topic?
I do feel offended when they're like, "Oh, you need to go up a weight class. You have no competition." Why are you trying to take something away that I've worked so hard for? I would never go up to Usain Bolt ... and say, "You need to run the 400-meter because you're just going to win the 100-meter anyway, and it's not fun to watch you anymore."
You mentioned being willing to move up if the compensation is better. How is your pay now, as a dominant flyweight champion?
There is not another sport in the world where you can be the best at it but not get paid the best. I never wanted to say this before, but I don't care anymore, and it's just facts: When [former WWE star] CM Punk [Phil Brooks] signed with the UFC, people asked me how I felt about it, and I said, "CM Punk will probably make more money than I do on his very first fight." And he did. I think his payout was $500,000. I have nothing against CM Punk, but if you look at the sheer nonsense of that, it doesn't make sense. I know you have to look at the business standpoint, that he's going to sell a lot of tickets, but he can't fight! That's why I've said the UFC should just try to sign that "Cash Me Ousside" girl, because she'll talk s--- and probably outsell everybody.
Like you say, there is a market for that. Do you blame fans or promoters or media for covering it?
I don't want to say there's blame on anyone, but it's a combination of everything. At one point, the media was saying that Ronda Rousey was the greatest fighter of all time and that she could beat Floyd Mayweather [in MMA], and I was like, "Are you kidding me?" She never threw a single kick, and the public and media were saying she was the greatest mixed martial artist ever. And I'm not taking anything away from Ronda. She's a great athlete and did very well, but she had one move. And the media said she was the best fighter in the world, the UFC got behind her and pushed her brand. I've never been on Conan O'Brien or Jimmy Fallon. I do think the UFC can make someone a star if they really want to.
How much money should a dominant flyweight champion in the UFC make per year?
A long time ago, my coach Matt Hume said, "Any UFC champion should clear $1 million per year." So say I fight twice a year and my paycheck for each is $400,000. The UFC should send me a bonus at the end of the year to get me to $1 million, for being champion. I know why the UFC runs the business the way they do. I know why Conor McGregor makes a base pay of $3 million. But I think I justify my pay with my skill set, and I've always been willing to promote my brand.
Has any of what you're talking about affected your feelings toward MMA?
I still love the sport. I love training every day. My relationship with the business aspect of it, how they go about putting money where, has changed. I guess I'm bothered by how fans react to certain things and how they're interested in certain things over true talent. I've always appreciated talent over everything else. People ask me, "Oh, what do you think about the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather fight?" And there are two ways to answer it. My truthful answer is that I would rather see Conor defend his UFC belt and that I don't think him going to boxing makes any sense. I want to see him use all the skills he has, and I want to see Mayweather fight the best of his sport, like Saul "Canelo" Alvarez or Gennady Golovkin. Another answer I could give would be, "F--- Conor! F--- Floyd! I'll beat them both on the same night, they both suck!" ... and people would eat that up way more than a man giving his honest, truthful opinion. That's what's sad about this sport, and social media, today.