This Saturday night the first and only flyweight champion in the history of the UFC will face his most formidable challenge to date, a man he defeated two years ago. John “The Magician” Dodson has been Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson’s only resemblance of a challenger since he strapped on the gold three years ago.
Can Anthony Johnson Hurt UFC 191 More than Demetrious Johnson?
The first encounter between these two men was the the very first title defense in UFC flyweight championship history on the sixth UFC on FOX installment. Dodson had some early success in the opening two rounds by dropping Johnson numerous times. Dodson definitely hit Johnson hard and had him in legitimate trouble, but it only took Johnson a few seconds to regain his wits. Demetrious showed his champion resolve and began his onslaught of beautiful, seamless transitions of striking and grappling to regain control of the bout. In the closing round, Johnson used his mastery of the double collar tie clinch to batter Dodson, maneuver him around the cage, and nearly score a TKO finish on the wilting challenger.
The scorecards were read and Bruce Buffer announced that Johnson had retained the title, and since then Johnson has by all accounts, cleaned out his division. The only man near his level was Joseph Benavidez and he got starched by Johnson two years ago. The rematch against Dodson will be his seventh title defense, he’s nipping at the heels of Anderson Silva’s ten title defense record and has been able to do it in only three years time. He’s the most technical fighter in the sport, he pushes the pace, he finishes fights and he’s facing a man who gave him his toughest fight to date and has the power and speed to knock him out with one left hook, yet the MMA world’s reply to this fight has been deafening silence.
It’s no secret that Demetrious Johnson is the worst pay-per-view draw in the UFC’s history. His best pay-per-view thus far was UFC 178 which drew an approximate 200,000 buys which had one of the strongest undercards in recent history. Even then, it was a strange set of circumstances that led him to headline that card. A rematch between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson was originally slotted as the main event, but injuries forced Gustafsson and Jones off the card and had Johnson pulled from his co-main event slot at UFC 177 to headline UFC 178.
Demetrious Johnson is one of the most talented athletes competing in the sport today, he’s a top three pound for pound fighter in the world and as dominant and well-rounded as is conceivably possible. Of course, this does not resonate with fight fans in any demonstrable manner. UFC 191 will be the lowest selling show of the year, if not second to last only behind UFC 186 which was coincidentally also headlined by Demetrious Johnson after another unusual set of circumstances. If the situation wasn’t dire enough, one man on the card can damper the buys even further.
Top light heavyweight contender Anthony “Rumble” Johnson will face British striking specialist Jimi Manuwa. On paper, this promises to be a barnburner, two guys who love to stand and slug it out and have a high percentage of knockout finishes on their record. Unfortunately his recent out of the cage behavior has many people feeling uneasy about seeing him fight. Anthony Johnson is a man who has had multiple accusations of domestic violence thrown his way, most of these incidents were swept under the rug, but his last said incident could not be. Johnson detailed the incident in question on Facebook, for those not familiar with the story, he stated his frustration for a woman who was working out in an inappropriate area of the gym he was at and decided to pull a yoga mat from under her feet and throw it across the room. Aside from the baffling action to do and post this, he pushed it a step further by degrading the woman and insulting her on his post.
Johnson seemed devoid of any remorse for his actions after posting this. The outcry was definitely evident in the MMA community, but the UFC seemed not to think much of it. The UFC did “handle the situation” by speaking to Anthony Johnson and suggesting him to issue an apology, go to counseling, and make a donation to a charity. This was the UFC’s response to a public assault and there is no reason to believe Dana White and company ever considered pulling him from the bout against Manuwa or suspending him. Johnson himself has said that he is still not sure of what type of counseling he will attend, what charity he’s donating to or how much. This was the ultimate attempt to save face by the UFC without risking pay-per-view buys, but this was the most obvious display of short term thinking the UFC has shown in awhile.
There have been reports that anti-domestic violence will protest the event and no matter how big or small this crowd is, it is unequivocally bad for the UFC. There is no doubt that Anthony Johnson has a following and understandably so, he’s a tremendous athlete with exceptional striking abilities and unreal knockout power. He’s very exciting and the probability of a high level of violence during his bouts is at an all-time high, but he’s no Conor McGregor. Although some of the domestic violence reports against him were a bit questionable, the latest yoga mat incident and the volume of domestic violence accusations seems to have taken a toll with some fans.
For the hardcore MMA fan, UFC 191 is solid. There’s a likely contender match between Frank Mir and Andrei Arlovski in the co-main event that’s ten years in the making, rising star Paige Van Zant should show out against Alex Chambers and the main event is the best flyweight title fight booked in two years, but this is not by any means, a “can’t miss” card. The hardcore fans are definitely more than capable of skipping this event. The most intriguing fights with the most likely chance of violence and excitement are Francisco Rivera vs. John Lineker and Paul Felder vs. Ross Pearson and those are being broadcast for free on Fox Sports 1. The hardcore community is taken way too for granted by the UFC but this is one of the few moments where they are absolutely vital to make ends meet. The UFC has taken a strange approach at force feeding Demetrious Johnson as a pay-per-view draw when he clearly isn’t, so every buy counts when he is fighting. The casual fan’s buy is out of the equation because very few people outside the MMA bubble know who “Mighty Mouse” is. The UFC is very likely barely breaking even when Johnson is headlining an event, so this is a very inopportune time for them to have any negative publicity or produce low numbers.
There shouldn’t be any stigma to fans who order the event, this isn’t Demetrious Johnson’s fault he got put in this position, and if you enjoy championship level mixed martial arts involving one of the sport’s pound for pound greats by all means, buy UFC 191 and enjoy, but there should be no questioning anybody who might skip it on moral principles. If a certain segment of hardcore fans feel like it is wrong that Anthony Johnson stayed on the card given his recent history, and don’t want to aid or watch a man with clear sociopathic and misogynistic tendencies, they should not be begrudged in any manner. The UFC’s pockets will definitely feel less than full for this event, so if the buy rate is at an all-time low and word comes out that Anthony Johnson’s presence on the card turned a lot of fans off, maybe it’ll send the message that there are worse things that the UFC can do promotionally than booking a flyweight title pay-per-view headliner.