Demetrious Johnson looks to keep his streak going as one of the best UFC fighters
Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson has dominated UFC’s featherweight division since it was established, causing commentator Joe Rogan to speculate that Johnson may be the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world today. Johnson has no intention of letting Rogan, the world or himself down as he faces John Dodson in defense of his championship belt at UFC 191, and definitely doesn’t let the accolades get to his head. He spoke with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen at Mandalay Bay’s sports book on a late July morning while on a break from training in his Seattle hometown.
Is it hard to be humble when Joe Rogan is touting you “the best, there’s no one better”?
It’s easy to be humble, because I know this is a sport. It’s reality. Any champion can lose their belt. Anybody can change their perspective on that person. I’m pretty sure those touts from Joe Rogan won’t happen anymore. I hope they still will, but you never know. All this can fade away like that, so I stay humble, live in reality. Never let the outcome of my fight, whether it’s a win or loss, change my life or change the way I go about looking at the sport.
Did it give you a boost when you set the world record for winning by submission closest to the end of a fight?
Absolutely. It gives you butterflies and it makes you excited, but you’ve got to stay humble. Anyone can get beat on any given day.
You’re fighting John Dodson, who you defeated by unanimous decision in 2013. You defeated Joseph Benavidez twice. What’s different about preparing for a second match against an opponent?
We’re able to look at our previous fight in a video and see what worked very well, and apply it again. We also look the same guy’s fights after me to see if he’s evolved, see if he’s changed at all. With Dodson, we go back to that first fight and see what was successful. He’s gone through some injuries, some serious surgeries, and for us, we’re looking to get back in there and start where we left off.
How is this fight going to contrast with UFC 186? How is fighting Dodson different than Horiguchi?
It’s a little bit similar because they’re both counter-strikers. They both like to move a lot, run back and wait to catch their opponents, trying to capitalize that way. I think Horiguchi tried to take me down and wrestle me. I think Dodson’s more looking for the left hand to put me to sleep.
Horiguchi almost seemed random at times.
He’s random, but very awkward. A very awkward style, which is good because as a champion I think you should try and fight every type of style out there and be able to beat them. I think Horiguchi has one of those interesting styles.
Can you reveal anything about your training for this fight? How have you adapted it for Dodson?
We typically don’t adapt our training toward the fighter, and the reason why you don’t want to do that is because you want to make sure you’re the best athlete when you step in the Octagon. You changing the way you go about training for a specific opponent, it’s not going to work out. Granted, let’s say you’re fighting a guy who’s very powerful and you need to get your strength up. You want to set aside enough time in the beginning of your training camp to hit that power and explosion, and then roll into a different phase of your training. If you try to train too long for a specific person you might end up burning yourself out or possibly injuring yourself.
How would you characterize your first fight against Dodson? One commentator described it as a “workmanlike” victory.
I’m a hard worker, and I had to work hard to get that victory. I like working hard for my victories. It’s not like my victories have been handed to me. With that fight with Dodson … it was a great fight. I got in trouble a little bit in the fight, but once the dust started to settle, once he stopped moving as much and running from me, I was able to get my hand on him and take it to him.
The line is currently 4-to-1. Most people are confident you’re going to win.
Well f*ck, I won the first one, I hope I win! (laughs)
And now he’s had injuries and stuff.
Yeah, that all could play a factor, but at the same time it’s always about any person can get beat. All it takes is one shot. Some guys who look invincible end up losing and falling on their shield, and that could possibly happen to me. Don’t not think for a second I know … in the back of my mind that could happen. Nobody’s invincible. Anybody can be beaten.
And that’s realistic.
It’s realistic. Absolutely.
Anything can happen at any given time.
A f*ckin’ plane could crash in this building right now.
Do you know why the MMA echo chamber seems to have reached a consensus that Dodson gets under your skin? I’ve heard you react to that and it doesn’t seem like it at all.
Exactly. I don’t know why people think that. I think Dodson gets underneath a lot of people’s skin, not just mine. Honest truth: like I tell everybody, it’s not like I don’t like the guy. It’s not like he’s out there beating his wife, or committing crimes or anything, so I respect the guy. But is he a guy that I want to go out to the club and share an appearance with? Absolutely not.
He can either try a little psych-out before the fight or not. I don’t see why he wouldn’t try to do that, but you seem pretty unflappable.
Yeah, when people ask me that I’m like, “Don’t care.”
Do you train in Vegas at all?
No, I do not train in Vegas. Typically when I’m on my business trips or media trips, I don’t like to train at all. I almost kind of use that as down time away from the gym to get my mind mentally focused on other things and other tasks at hand.
But in training for this fight your arc has already started.
Yeah I’ve been training for this fight for maybe seven weeks now, eight weeks.
I think I read a recent interview where you said you had just moved into cardio.
Yeah, long-distance cardio phase.
You have phases of training rather than everything a little bit each day.
Yeah, we go through phases. The reason why we do that is we always want to keep the body guessing, always growing and evolving as a fighter. In the beginning we always do the heavy-lifting work: the power, the explosion, making the heart grow stronger to be able to push lot of blood. With that, you can’t always do all that together because when you do all the heavy lifting stuff, that’s typically when people get sore. You’re body’s going to be aching a lot more, and when people get injured is when they do all this explosion and all this heavy lifting work, and they go in and they do their mixed martial arts training and they start sparring and all that stuff, then that’s when they pull their ham and their tear their ACL, because their body is hurting from doing the heavy lifting.
We still do the sparring and all that stuff, but to a certain degree. We’re doing the power and explosion stuff, and then on Tuesdays typically I would spar and we would fight, but instead of sparring I jump in my gi and start doing grappling. Only on Saturdays. I’m sparring once a week instead of two times a week when I’m getting ready for fights. But then, after we get done with that, I go to the speed and agility phase, to where we’re just looking at being quick and cutting corners. We’re still using the power and explosion but we’re adding the speed and agility in there. Then after we do that for certain amount of weeks, four weeks, then we switch to a different phase where we’re using long distance cardio to where we’re going over the distance, to where we’re training for 30 minutes. And it’s no brakes. We’re just gonna go. That’s it. No stopping, and we’re pushing the heart rate to 192 beats per minute. My resting heart rate’s maybe 45, 50. To be able to jump to 192 and to be able to function at 192 beats per minute, that’s from my long distance cardio phase. I might get there with my speed and agility, but I get there with my cardio phase.
Then after that we’ll jump to a different phase, where it comes to fight-specific cardio. We’re adding all that stuff into one specific phase, to where we were adding the same movements as power-explosion, but not as much weight. We’re doing the same thing as speed and agility, but not as explosive. We’re doing the same thing as long-distance cardio, but not in a 30-minute span. We’re doing five-minute spans to simulate the fight. That’s why I like to have my camps 12 weeks out instead of eight weeks. I don’t like to wait for UFC to tell me, “You’re fighting John Dodson, tickets go on sale this Friday or Saturday,” because if I do that then I’m way behind the curve. I pick a date I want to fight. After my last fight I took a month off, relaxed, worked out, lifted heavy, got my weight good. Saw they had a fight card for Sept. 5, I was like, “’Kay, I’m planning for that date.” When it got 12 weeks out, started training for that date. We started power explosion. And if they say, “Hey, instead of Sept. 5 we’re going to have you fight Oct. 4.” Okay, perfect. I’ll dial it back, rework the phases, and you go after that.
Is your personal training fairly standard for contemporary training, at least in your weight class, or is this something you and [trainer] Matt Hume have evolved over time?
This is something that we’ve evolved customized to my fighting style. When I fight I go in and I push the pace. In order to do that I need to be able to put my body in different phases, to make it suffer through training. We always have this thing during training camp. We walk ourselves to the edge of hell to a cliff where you’re standing there, you’re training there. Then you walk yourself back a little bit, then you take yourself right through hell again, and then you back yourself off. That way, when it comes fight time, you should be able to walk through hell, because you’ve been there. You’ve been at that peak for so long that you’re just able to walk through it.
Are you planning on breaking Anderson Silva’s record of 10 consecutive title defenses?
That’s the goal. That’s the goal. That is the primary goal, to break No. 10 and set it higher.
It’s not that far away.
It’s four more fights, but I’ve got tough fights ahead of me. This next fight’s not an easy fight, so we’ll see what happens.