How the mighty have risen.
It wasn't too long ago, this column put Demetrious Johnson in high praise after his destruction over Joseph Benavidez at UFC on FOX 9. Talking about his opponents and future endeavors was somewhat tough, because "Mighty Mouse" had already emphatically defeated the toughest opponents in a small group of fighters called the flyweight division, and it didn't seem as if there was going to be another 125-pound combatant who was going to rise from the ashes and pose any problems for him.
After dominating Ali Bagautinov last night (Sat., June 14, 2014) at UFC 174 in Vancouver, we're dealing with a situation that is eerily similar to the one in December.
Maybe the Canadian crowd started to scatter out of Rogers Arena before witnessing Johnson's hand being raised, yet he's hardly to blame for that. Instead, those "fans" couldn't treasure one of the sport's most underappreciated technicians, who shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
"Puncher King" was a solid opponent, but like others who fell before him, couldn't solve the puzzle. Johnson was lightning-quick, stringing together combinations easy as A-B-C, and wasn't shy to get creative in the Octagon as well. It's a little cliché to say one of the best fighters in the world gets better every time we see them compete, or more so that their most recent performance was the best one of their career; however, Johnson's 25-minute spectacle last night was nothing short of astonishing. He did succumb to a few takedowns, but it's not like he wasn't back up on his feet in no time, punching his way to victory while being comfortable enough to get flashy when he needed to.
So, we must ask ourselves, what could possibly be next for the champion, after defending his belt for the fourth time?
The truth is whomever the Kentucky-born champion has to overcome next will be a victim who has fallen overboard before.
It would be silly to assume Benavidez gets another crack at the flyweight belt any time soon, since Johnson shut his lights off last December. A trilogy bout could be in the cards one day, yet it's not going to happen before the Team Alpha Male product cleans out the relatively thin division first.
In fact, Johnson is eyeing the winner of Ian McCall vs. Brad Pickett, which takes place in Dublin in approximately one month's time. "Mighty Mouse" could face "Uncle Creepy" for the third time if the former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) combatant gets past "One Punch," which would be a fun scrap to watch again. McCall was arguably a judging call away from defeating Johnson the first time they met (and vice versa), but the champion left no doubt in anyone's mind when they traded blows a second time.
Still, it would be a tad strange if either of those fighters got a chance at gold, since McCall would have just his second victory in the past five contests, while the Englishman would be 3-2 in his last five.
Former Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky is making a claim to be next in line, mustering up a four-fight winning streak since splitting up with Bellator, which includes winning the Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA) flyweight belt. The proposed contest would certainly be enjoyable, but it may not be that enticing just yet.
It seems as if all fingers point to John Dodson, who was victorious last weekend at UFC Fight Night 42, improving his record to 7-1 since late 2009. The only loss he's suffered in UFC was at the hands of Johnson at UFC on FOX 6, despite rocking the champion early and almost pulling off the upset.
The two have exchanged words in the media as of late, and it should be noted that the champion isn't too keen on awarding him a rematch. Nevertheless, it seems like the matchmakers would be steering in the right direction if they booked a tussle between these two again, since it's the scrap that makes the most sense seeing how things are in the division.
Rematches aren't exactly the best way to go, and there has to be life outside the same old contests we've witnessed before. In terms of Johnson and his flyweight counterparts, the champion has literally wiped out a division in two years, and leaves no more options apart from the foes he's already toppled.
Until the promotion bulks up the flyweight contingent, we're looking at a throne holder who seems nearly invincible at the moment, planted in his chair with the crown on and making the observers run around in circles when trying to determine who the best fighter on the planet is.
Pound-for-pound rankings are a touchy subject, and it's obvious Johnson was going to pencil his name in top position after winning last night. But, as writers, pundits or fans, we don't have to assess his positioning on a ranking scheme, or anyone else's for that matter every time a champion steps inside the cage. Sometimes, we simply have to sit back and be thankful for a fighter of such caliber, since they don't come around too often.
As is the case with Johnson, who's been tearing through the opposition and making it look so simple in doing so.
Long live the king!
For extensive coverage of UFC 174: "Johnson vs. Bagautinov," including video highlights, post-fight recaps, and more, click here.