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Business as usual for Demetrious Johnson entering TUF 24 Finale

UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson seeks his ninth title defense when he faces Tim Elliott on Saturday. Chris McGrath/Zuffa LLC

LAS VEGAS -- This has been a year of transition in mixed martial arts. Except, of course, in the UFC's flyweight division.

The 125-pound division has been business as usual thanks to its dominant champion, Demetrious Johnson. In the midst of, among other things, a $4 billion UFC sale, a significant increase in free agency and the exchange of nine UFC titles in 2016, Johnson has kept his head down, dominated a former Olympian and will seek his ninth title defense when he faces Tim Elliott on Saturday at "The Ultimate Fighter 24 Finale."

"This is a year of change in our sport, obviously, but I haven't really been impacted by it," said Johnson. "I'm content defending my title. What matters is what I do in the gym and in the Octagon."

That doesn't mean the current longest-reigning UFC champion is disinterested in what has taken place this year.

Johnson, 30, says he has kept himself educated on the various fighters' rights efforts that have been announced in 2016. He specifically mentioned the need for a fighter pension so athletes are taken care of once they hang up their gloves.

His primary focus, however, is the cage. With a win on Saturday, Johnson (24-2-1) will move into a tie with former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre for the second-most consecutive title defenses in UFC history. His streak would trail only that of former middleweight champion Anderson Silva with 10.

When asked to compare his run with what lightweight champion Conor McGregor has achieved this year -- the first to ever hold two UFC titles simultaneously -- Johnson said they are similar.

"Winning a belt is hard," Johnson said. "He knocked out the lightweight champion and he knocked out the featherweight champion. That in itself is a great accomplishment. For me, defending a title eight times, that's an accomplishment, too.

"He might say his is better, because that's kind of his personality. But I'm not going to sit here and measure."

One major difference between the two feats is the level of exposure they received. McGregor was, at one point, scheduled to headline the promotion's landmark UFC 200 event. Although that ultimately didn't happen, the Irish star then showed up on the blockbuster UFC 205 event in New York.

Johnson fought Henry Cejudo at a tough-luck UFC 197 event in April, which lost a marquee main event between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier due to injury. This month, he's fighting Elliott, the TUF flyweight tournament winner who was publicly announced as his opponent only on Wednesday's final episode of Season 24. The event will take place at The Palms.

"It'd be dope to be on a bigger card, UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena [on Dec. 30], but at the same time, my paycheck stays exactly the same either way," Johnson said. "They want me fighting at The Palms and not at a new arena? I'll fight at The Palms. The UFC calls, tells me who I'm fighting and what the location is, and I say, 'Thank you, sounds good.'"

One change Johnson has decided to make going forward is he will agree to fight only twice per year. He was originally booked to defend the title against Wilson Reis at UFC 201 in July but was forced to withdraw due to an injury.

According to Johnson, the injury was the result of overtraining -- just too much consistent wear and tear on his body.

"I had two and a half months between fights and my body was just exhausted -- not from the fight but the training," Johnson said. "That's where most of my effort goes, is into training. It was overuse, I didn't do anything out of the normal. It just popped.

"When that happened I was like, 'F--- it, I'm only fighting twice a year now.' I'm not going to put that stress on my body. It's not worth it."