Really, it was probably destined for that. The fight only headlined UFC 178 because Jon Jones withdrew from a mega-fight against Daniel Cormier due to injury. Johnson was an absurd 16-to-1 betting favorite over Chris Cariaso, the highest in UFC title fight history. His win over Cariaso felt like a foregone conclusion.
Something very special is happening in the 125-pound division, though. And before we go any further, this isn't one of the many "Why you should pay attention to the flyweight division" articles, of which there have been many since the UFC debuted the weight class in 2012. This article is about Johnson, the quest for perfection in mixed martial arts and how close he already is to claiming it.
Johnson (21-2-1) has now finished three of his last four opponents -- and the one he didn't finish was later found to have been on performance-enhancing drugs. Through five title defenses, he's outlanded his opponents 361-135 in total strikes and finished 18 takedowns, while giving up four. During this stretch, he's won 13 of the 15 rounds judges have filed scores on.
"Any criticism of Demetrious is not valid," said Matt Hume, Johnson's head trainer. "He finished John Moraga with an armbar from his back. Moraga is a collegiate wrestler with a great ground game. Then he fights Joseph Benavidez, a knockout artist, and DJ goes and knocks him out. Then he out-conditions Ali Bagautinov, a guy who was on PEDs for the fight. He wins every round. So, I just don't see any criticisms being valid."
Not that there is much criticism of Johnson these days, but at the same time, there doesn't seem to be a lot of attention on him, either.
At the UFC 178 postfight news conference on Saturday, featherweight contender McGregor fielded dozens of questions, donned in a custom "elephant trunk suit," as only he could put it.
At one point, he spoke about how nice a UFC title would look in front of him. Meanwhile, Johnson sat 10 feet to his right with the belt alongside. He was asked one question, as the card's main event.
Here is the unfortunate truth about Johnson: His greatness might be acknowledged but few seem to want to revel in it. A first-round knockout by Johnson isn't going to set the world on fire. We know it won't. He did it against Benavidez, in Benavidez's hometown, in December -- and there was no fire.
That lack of fire is clearly not affecting Johnson's performances, though. It was obvious he came well-prepared against Cariaso, who, respectfully, was way out of his league. In stark contrast to McGregor's ivory threads, Cariaso wore a suit to fight week that appeared three sizes to big for him. In his prefight video package, where he's supposed to talk about winning the fight, he provided a generic one-liner -- unconvincingly.
Johnson didn't train for Cariaso; he trained to fight a perfect fight. Like McGregor refers to his opponents as basically faceless stepping-stones to something greater, Johnson treats his opponents the same.
"For me, I always try to go out and put on a perfect fight," Johnson said. "That's a challenge in itself. Just because a lot of people didn't give Chris Cariaso recognition, I trained like he was the best fighter in the world. For me, there are always challenges out there, and that's for me to be a perfect mixed martial artist."
Perfection can only go unnoticed for so long. According to Hume, there is a long-term plan for Johnson. It includes an eventual move back to bantamweight (where he once fought for the title) and ends with him being considered the greatest fighter of all time. That's the team's goal, and it realizes it's a long-term one --- which is maybe why it seems OK for now being in the shadow of attractions like McGregor.
"I always have a game plan and goals in the back of my mind," Hume said. "When he got in the UFC, the goal was to make him the best fighter in the history of mixed martial arts. It would have sounded super arrogant to say that back then, but now it doesn't. We want to do some more damage at flyweight and secure that legacy.
"We've got our eyes on Dominick Cruz as he makes his comeback. That's a fight [Johnson] lost and it would be great to see him again. After DJ cements what we want at flyweight, though, we will definitely go for bantamweight and take on whoever is there. Of course, those kinds of things are in the back of our minds. Just like him being where he is now was on the backs of our minds years ago."