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Stay at flyweight or push for a superfight? Demetrious Johnson explains what’s next

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For the past few years, as his wins piled up and his reign atop the UFC flyweight division crossed into legendary territory, Demetrious Johnson has always kept one primary goal: Break Anderson Silva’s all-time record for consecutive UFC title defenses.

At long last, Johnson did exactly that at UFC 216. His masterful fifth-round submission of Ray Borg put Johnson at 11 consecutive defenses of the UFC flyweight belt, surpassing the mark set by Silva in 2012 and making Johnson stand alone as the winningest champion in Octagon history.

So what now? Johnson is only 31 years old and his options appear to be wide open. He could potentially return to bantamweight to challenge the winner of Cody Garbrandt vs. T.J. Dillashaw, or he could stay right where he is at 125 pounds and propel his all-time record into even more unprecedented heights.

On Monday, Johnson appeared on The MMA Hour and talked about those options, as well as what he expects to be his next step.

“Staying at 125,” Johnson revealed on The MMA Hour. “It was the easiest weight cut I ever had (at UFC 216). I mean, I woke up this morning at 138 pounds and I had a delicious chocolate stout, I had a bowl of cereal after. I’m just a small guy. I saw my boy, (UFC bantamweight) ‘Funkmaster’ Aljamain Sterling, he said, ‘Man, I just broke 160 pounds.’ And to me, I’m like, ‘Jesus, you are a big dude, my friend.’ So going up to that weight class, obviously I want to be well compensated.”

That line of thinking hasn’t changed for Johnson. “Mighty Mouse” has long called for the first seven-figure payday of his career to be compensation for abandoning his title run and moving up a division to take on a heavier UFC champion, and it makes sense. Just looking at the disclosed salaries for UFC 216 alone, Johnson was out-earned by two fighters on the card — Tony Ferguson and Fabricio Werdum — despite Johnson’s pursuit of history and his spectacular suplex-to-armbar submission victory over Borg.

Johnson’s success has also come despite him being one of the smaller fighters in the UFC flyweight division, so Johnson is standing firm on needing the UFC to up the ante if the promotion wants the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world to drop everything in order to fight a much larger man like Garbrandt or Dillashaw.

“Make it worth my while,” Johnson said. “Show me the money. These guys are taking concussions. Like I said after the fight, I’m not in the business to get concussions. I do not like getting hit. I can take a hit, but I don’t want to damage my brain if I don’t have to. So obviously there’s fights at 125 that seem appealing. Sergio Pettis is a hot prospect. Henry Cejudo looked good in his last fight. I know Joseph Benavidez is getting healthy again. So I don’t know see why I would leave when I just cemented this legacy. Why not set it to 15 (title defenses)?

“There’s going to come another guy down the road who’s going to be aiming for my record, so my job is to set the bar high. And Joanna Jedrzejczyk, she’s at six. So you know what, she might want to keep on going and try to break my record, and I can’t allow that. So I’ve got to set the bar higher, that why she’s like, ‘F*ck that, I’m not going to go for 20. I’m done. I did eight or nine, I’m done.’”

Garbrandt and Dillashaw are slated to fight for the UFC bantamweight title on Nov. 4 at UFC 217, so Johnson could soon know if a superfight is an option the promotion wants to explore with him. If not, he’s more than happy to continue his rampage across the flyweight ranks as he pushes his record higher.

Either way, in the meantime, Johnson said he’s going to take the final few months of 2017 off to rest his body and enjoy the holidays. And after pulling off what will likely end up being the ‘Submission of the Year’ against Borg, he has plenty of positive vibes to fall back on during his time away.

“Honestly just all the love and respect from the fans, that’s always the biggest thing that puts a smile on my face,” Johnson said. “Everybody was like, ‘Holy sh*t, dude, I’ve been watching mixed martial arts my whole entire life. Pride, DREAM. UFC 1, 5, 8, 20. I’ve never seen a submission like that before. The way you moved from aspects of mixed martial arts, from stand-up to grappling to wrestling is absolutely amazing.’

“So a lot of good things came from this, but I’m just happy I’m healthy. That’s all I care about, is being healthy.”

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