MMA
Phil Murphy, ESPN Video 68d

How Demetrious Johnson's title run compares to Anderson Silva's

MMA, UFC

Demetrious Johnson (26-2-1) enters UFC 216 needing a win over Ray Borg (11-2) to break Anderson Silva's record of 10 successful title defenses.

It's something of a technicality. Silva's record should stand at 11.

Travis Lutter (10-6) failed to make weight in what was booked as Silva's first defense at UFC 67. Since the title wasn't at stake, Silva's second-round, submission-by-strikes win doesn't count as a defense.

That's not to discredit Mighty Mouse. It's rarefied air being in the same breath as the Spider. With Johnson a 14-to-1 favorite in his 11th attempted defense, it makes sense to compare the historic runs themselves.


Anderson Silva

Goats first.

When MMA was first truly breaking into the mainstream -- at least when it began being palatable for the majority -- Anderson Silva (34-8, 1 NC) was the consensus pound-for-pound king.

In 16 fights from 2006-12, Silva went unbeaten, with a record 14 finishes, 12 of them inside two rounds. It took nine UFC bouts for someone to survive Silva to the scorecards. He won the middleweight title at UFC 77 with a first-round knockout of Rich Franklin (29-7, 1 NC), then went on to defend the belt 10 times -- or 11, depending on your math.

Interspersed in that run were three jaunts to light heavyweight, never more than four months away from a middleweight defense. Silva went 3-0 at 205 pounds, all first-round knockouts, all against opponents who tested positive for a banned substance.

Most fights in that near seven-year reign were counterstriking demolitions. At the time of his loss to Chris Weidman (14-3), Silva's 67.8 percent significant strike accuracy was a UFC record. His promotional marks of 18 knockdowns, 16 consecutive wins and 2,457-day title reign still stand comfortably.

The only real blemish came in his defense against Demian Maia (25-7) at UFC 112, considered one of the least entertaining title fights ever. Silva vacillated somewhere between tactical conservatism and boredom. UFC president Dana White was so angered by the action -- or lack thereof -- that he refused to be in the Octagon to place the belt around Silva's waist after the decision was read.


Demetrious Johnson

If Silva is a cobra, D.J. is a boa constrictor.

The prey stands no greater a chance -- in fact, bettors got better payouts on average for backing Silva. The means of devouring just varies.

That's no critique on Johnson's speed either; Mighty Mouse might be the quickest fighter ever to tape on UFC gloves. He's a flash in double-leg shots, with polished grappling technique and relentless pace. His unending grind left the parade of second-best flyweights without answers.

Johnson's vastly underrated submission game saw him tap the challenger in four of his 10 defenses. His cardio is above reproach -- two of those subs came in the fifth round.

Mighty Mouse has so dominated the flyweight division that its very existence is threatened. Questions on his willingness to challenge for the bantamweight belt often precede any queries about adding to the defense streak -- at least until Silva's record came in range.

The only critique is that there aren't the same highlight-worthy, "wow" moments as there are from other dominant champions like Silva. Aside from his buzzer-beating armbar against Kyoji Horiguchi (20-2) and his one-punch KO of Joey Benavidez (25-4), few moments stand out.

Final verdict

The answer is Silva, but the margin is closer than we reflexively answer. It's comparing a completed body of work to one still in progress.

Johnson is chasing a ghost, and recency bias actually works against someone for once. We remember DJ's first-round struggles to Tim Elliott (14-8-1) rather than the four in which he pulled away. Drama incites recall. We remember Silva-Sonnen I, because it seemed the champion was on the brink. Since Johnson's first four flyweight bouts more than four years ago -- in which he was 3-0-1, by the way -- he's hardly been tested.

Johnson is 31. His otherworldly speed will inevitably fade, but his grappling and jiu-jitsu technique will continue to improve. Take this to its logical end: A 20-fight title defense streak with several more finishes would make his run irrefutably more impressive.

To me the real question isn't whether Borg, or any other worthy opponent, will compromise Mighty Mouse's reign. The debate is whether the division's lifespan will provide enough runaway for a full-bodied verdict.

Thankfully, historical conclusions aren't needed until both points of comparison are history. And the bookmakers -- yet again -- suggest that's unlikely Saturday.

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