The UFC is once again involved in a historic milestone in MMA. Over the weekend, the company finalized its “trade” with Asia’s ONE Championship, sending former 125-pound titleholder Demetrious Johnson to compete in the Far East. Meanwhile, ONE’s welterweight champion Ben Askren heads to the UFC to make his Octagon debut.
This would be a new phase in Johnson’s storied career, an opportunity that he says was difficult to pass up.
“At the end of the day, I felt that I’m pretty young in my career and I wanted to try something different,” “Mighty Mouse” said on a conference call on Sunday (transcript via MMA Fighting). “I’ve always wanted to travel the world and compete and actually grew up watching Asian mixed martial arts with Pride, mostly. To be able to have the opportunity to travel over to Asia in a whole new weight class, it’s something I couldn’t pass up.
“So obviously I had to leave, and First Round Management, with (Johnson’s manager) Malki (Kawa), after my last fight I was like, ‘You know what? You think this is possible?’ He goes, ‘Anything’s possible, man.” And so Malki was able to get it done and here we are now. I’m grateful that everything fell to the right place, now I’m a ONE athlete, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”
Johnson is also thrilled about the new approach that ONE brings to the table, which for him is a breath of fresh air.
“ONE Championship, they are about bringing up heroes,” he said. “And the first time I watched ‘The Burmese Python’ fight in the last event in Yangon, I could see how the crowd would react to him when he stepped into the cage to fight and after he won and how the whole crowd was saying his name. I can see that his countrymen, his people really see him as a hero, not as an athlete who’s going to go to a bar after this and beat somebody in the face, they honestly are the home of martial arts and it’s not just mixed martial arts.
“It’s kickboxing, boxing, Muay Thai, submission grappling, and for me that just intrigued me about it. They’re focused on promoting true martial artists, humble, discipline, integrity, and humility, and that’s all that I stand for, so absolutely I am 100 percent on board with that.”
After a six-year title reign that was built through 11 successful defenses, Johnson dropped the title via a split decision loss to Henry Cejudo at UFC 227 last August.