WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2011 – Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is a small guy with a big laugh. Cheerful and easy-going, one would never guess the 5’ 3,” 135 lb. Washington state native is among the most powerful mixed martial artists in the world for his size.
Currently plowing through the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Bantamweight (126-135 lb.) division, he’ll be on a lot more radars in October when he challenges current Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz in a battle at D.C.’s Verizon Center.
I spoke with the cheerful combatant at Team Lloyd Irvin Dojo in Arlington and got the scoop on all things “Mighty Mouse.”
How did you first become interested in mixed martial arts (MMA)?
Demetrious Johnson: I became interested in MMA through watching The UFC’s “Ultimate Fighter” on TV in 2006. I got a punching bag and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to give that a try’ and I did and it went from there.
I have a wrestling background, but it didn’t lead me into MMA. I wrestled in high school and then stopped. After first becoming interested in MMA, I was punching the bags one day at my local gym and this guy goes, ‘You can punch pretty well. Do you box?’ I said ‘no’ and he responded, ‘do you kick too?’ I said ‘I’ve seen Jean-Claude Van Damme do it, does it look like this?’ and he was like ‘yeah.’
After that, he signed me up with the gym and I started learning Muay Thai kickboxing, submissions, grappling and jiu-jitsu. Before long I had my first amateur fight and won that. Then I had a kickboxing fight and won that. And from there it was shoot boxing matches and wrestling matches and jiu-jitsu matches. If I had done straight MMA right off the bat, I would have never dipped my toes into the other aspects of the sport. I’ve always believed that if you want to be a good Muay Thai fighter, you’ve got to do Muay Thai. It wasn’t long after I had done that that I ended up with World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and then where I am now.
How did you get the nickname “Mighty Mouse” and how do you feel about it?
Johnson: At the gym I train at there’s a lot of guys who are bigger than me and I’m easily the smallest guy there. All the same, I’d always spar with them and just go after them, so with that and my ears, my structure, and always having a smile on my face my coach gave me the name and it’s stuck with me.
You previously competed in World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), which has since merged with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). How has the transition between the two organizations gone for you and how do you feel about the league you currently compete in?
Johnson: It’s the same guys working and fighting there. It was like there was a big pool over there, and then a big pool over here, and now all the sharks are in one pool fighting.
Your last fight was against Miguel Torres in May. Having had time to reflect, what are your thoughts on that bout?
Johnson: My whole game plan was to never wrestle Miguel and rather stand up and bang with him. I was trying to block his punches and throw back a hard leg kick with every one. I felt like I did good the first round, as I got him like four times. He started catching on and the second round he blocked it just right and it was like ‘boom, crack.’ I knew it was broken right then. I just went back to my wrestling at that point. All I could think about was ‘I have to do my job, I have to keep on fighting.’
It was like that back in my first fight too. I broke my hand right away and no one even noticed until I took my glove off at the end of the round and it was completely swollen. They were like, ‘When did that even happen?’ and all I could say was ‘first punch.’
Your next match is in October and will be a match where you challenge UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz for his title. What thoughts do you have on your opponent?
Johnson: He’s a great opponent. He’s got a lot of great tools and tendencies. I plan on using all of those against him at my own pace. I’m a small guy, but that’s what they always say that about me. How about that last guy who said that? Look at what happened to him. I broke my leg and still won.
Cruz hasn’t lost any of his last nine matches. How do you plan to stop his winning streak?
Johnson: I’m just going to go out there and do my thing. We both move very well. I think there are some things he does I can decipher. You don’t look at the bad things someone does but the things they do well. Every time somebody does something well, they might just leave you the opening you need.
It’s all about watching video footage. You watch enough of one guy like Cruz and you’ll see in every match he does some of the same things. You can take one part of this match and one part of that one and just switch them. If you look at my fights, I always try to adjust to my opponents so they’ll never be the same.
It’s going to be a great fight. I’m fit, I’m in shape, and I’m a full-time fighter now. I’m not working another job 40 hours a week as a construction utility man like I was before. I owe it to my fans and myself to put a 110% into this fight. Dominick’s a great fighter but if I dedicate myself just to fighting and my body, I can do it.
You’re no stranger to success yourself, having won your last four matches. What do you credit as your main reason for such a string of victories?
Johnson: I think it’s my pace and my work ethic and just me having my heart. There’s guys who are a lot bigger than me or who have had more fights than me. I try to come out there with nothing to lose and just get my face out there. I try to win and see what happens. I never talk bad and always try to do my best.
What would winning the UFC Bantamweight Championship mean to you?
Johnson: I’m just honored the UFC chose me instead of anyone else to fight for it.
As someone with a life-long interest in MMA, what do you think makes a good fight?
Johnson: I think a good fight happens when two fighters are matched up who are equal in almost everything. That’s why I’m excited to fight Dominick. We match up well as we have the same structure, we both move a lot, we both throw combinations a lot, we both have lots of cardio, and we both never quit. It’s going to be a great fight between me and him.
What tips do you have for other people looking to compete in MMA professionally?
Johnson: Stack your money up and put it away so you don’t have to worry about your living conditions. I just purchased my first house and I have a fiancé and we plan on getting married soon. Fighting is a part of my life but it’s only a part of my life. I have that financial backing where I don’t have to worry about making one more dollar at the store to get by. I can live comfortably now. You have to enjoy it and not let it consume your life. If I had to walk away from it, I could do that.
I’m lucky because my fiancé loves MMA too. She loves traveling with me and when we started dating I was beginning my amateur fighting and I said, ‘Look, you can ride with me on this or not.’ She got on the boat and we’ve been sailing ever since. She watches my fights and critiques my technique. She’s not religious with it but we can have a legitimate conversation about MMA.
What do you hope to accomplish next in your UFC career?
Johnson: I want to be one of the greatest fighters in the world. Obviously the goal is to be the champion. But I want to fight as many people as I can in my weight division. You train all your life for this and if you can only fight in your own weight class you should make the best of what you can in the sport.
Demetrious Johnson will challenge for the UFC Bantamweight Title against Champion Dominick Cruz at “UFC Live: Cruz vs. Johnson” on Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
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