Like many fighters, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) flyweight titleholder and compact bad-ass Demetrious Johnson began wrestling on a mat, prior to beginning his mixed martial arts (MMA) career
The 29-year-old wants you to mind your P's and Q's about his height, but when it comes to the fighting business, he's larger than life. Johnson can attack you from anywhere; at any given moment.
Matt Hume's protege added more weapons to his repertoire over the last eight years and has 13 finishes in 23 professional fights.
With seven title defenses to his credit, "Mighty Mouse" stands alone in the 125-pound class, but he still has naysayers. Just two weeks after his latest title defense, a five-round drubbing of rival John Dodson at the UFC 191 pay-per-view (PPV) last month, Johnson spoke with MMAmania.com about critics, early life and post-fight plans, bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw; and more.
Why do you fight?
DJ: It's a sport and I love to compete. The fighting was something I got into because in wrestling - I've done football, track and all the stuff - but my main sport was football to begin with. I got tired of being blamed, or not blamed, but I hated when we'd go ‘alright guys, we lost as a team.' Well, I was like I didn't f—king play so I had no contribution to this but you play as a team, you lose as a team and you win as a team. Then, the school I came from, the kids would do drugs so one day kids started to do some marijuana in the bathroom and the whole team was down there waiting for them. They came to the field late and the coaches punished every single one of us. I said ‘f—k this, I'm done.' I quit football and I already started wrestling and doing cross country. When I started wrestling, I loved how it was just me and I can work my ass off in the wrestling room and when it came to Friday or Saturday night for the tournaments, I dictated whether I won or lost and I was very successful at wrestling because it was all on me.
I put in the hard work and it paid off so in fighting, when I can bust my ass in the gym, I can put the reps in, in my submission game; my high kicks; my boxing. Making sure when I hit people in the liver, I'm turning the wrist and my elbow is behind to get the power. That's why I love fighting because it's all about me.
Has your passion for fighting changed?
DJ: You realize more that it's a business and your time is valuable. One of my coaches used to always say, ‘I wonder how your aspect or your insight will change in mixed martial arts once you start to get paid and it's what you do for a living?' I still love the day in and day out grind of training and learning, but when it comes to the business aspect, you've got to make sure you take advantage of your likeness and make as much money as you can.
Can you talk about whether you look at yourself as an underdog?
DJ: Even when I was the underdog in my WEC days or my 135 days, I never really looked at the underdog and who's the favorite. That's just how people perceive how the fight is going to go and who they should bet on, which I never cared about. I'm not a gambler. Even now, to this day. I still treat every fight the same - whether it's my eighth title defense or me fighting for the belt. Every fight's the same; I train my butt off and hope everything goes well.
Can you talk about some of the humble beginnings that shaped who you are?
DJ: I've been working since I was 15 and a ½. Every sport I've ever done, or even being a kid and just listening to my mom. I was always respectful. If I didn't, I got my ass beat. That's what we're missing now in this generation - ass whooping's. Even in middle school and high school, I just always worked hard. My friend - they never understood why I liked gardening.
I used to mow my lawn and garden until my wife cut me off, but I loved it because you could look at a garden and you see all these f--king weeds everywhere and then you can spend about an hour and a half and take a step back and be like, ‘Now that looks nice, you can see the hard work I put into the garden.' It looks nice and fresh. The dirt has been flipped and it looks good so that's kind of how I see my workmanship is how many hours I put in the gym.
The humble comes from everybody can be beaten. I've had broken bones; broken hands, ribs and leg. Anything can happen and I'm grateful for everything I've worked for.
What was the main sport, what were kids around you doing growing up in Washington?
DJ: Everyone was doing whatever the hell they wanted to do [laughs]. I did cross country, none of my friends [did it]. You have your childhood friends you grew up with, you know second and third grade. Even now, I still talk to them and I did cross country and you meet those guys. Out of my core friends, none of those guys did cross country, one did wrestling and two did track. You can see each time I played a sport, I went out on my own and made not new friends but kind of. Even in mixed martial arts, when I jumped in, I wasn't like ‘oh, f—k yeah. I'm going to be beating people up.' I was intrigued by the workouts like ‘man, they're in-shape. They can defend themselves in the streets. I think I'm going to give this a try.'
One of my friends came with me to the gym for the first time, who was doing MMA himself, but after two weeks he stopped doing it. I was still there and made new friends.
Are you interested in going back up to 135 and fighting Dillashaw?
DJ: Me and TJ were texting already today and me and him are cool. It's not like we have beef against each other. If the numbers are right and financially it makes business sense then I'll do it, but right now I'm fixated on that record, which is 10. When I first got the belt, I was just out here trying to win as many fights as I can. It's still the same thing, but now as I get closer to the number 10 I'm like holy s—t, I can probably beat it regardless if I have to fight Joseph [Benavidez] again or whoever they put in line.
Would your lifestyle change if you went up to 135 pounds?
DJ: It would stay the same. I'm the type of guy that I don't count calories. I eat whatever I want and whenever I want. A lot of people get in that habit where they have to count calories; don't get me wrong, if you're trying to get in good shape and have a nice body for the beach, you have to count your calories and minimize your carb intake.
When it comes to MMA, your body needs the calories. My body does. Even in high school, before I ran my races in cross country, for lunch I'd have pepperoni pizza with a box of fries. I told my coach ‘it's fucking energy bro.' I'm going to be burning it so I want stuff that's going to burn good. I've done the caveman diet where I only eat chicken, carbs and protein - more of a CrossFit diet. It's f—king horrible for cardio-induced sports.
What are some of your vices?
DJ: Last night, I had a cheeseburger with some fries and a beer. I don't count my calories. I eat what I want to eat. When it's time for a fight, I become a creature of habit. I have the exact same meal in the morning and at night and at dinner. Sometimes I'll go out and have a cheat meal. I typically cut myself off from beer like eight weeks out.
Beer, white powdered donuts - hostess. I don't like coffee, it's a waste of time for me. I'm a stout/porter guy. I like darker beers.
You seem like a pretty interesting guy...
DJ: We're sitting down and having a f—king conversation, but I can't have a conversation with 15,000 people in the arena. One of the things I tell people is that when it comes to fighting and it's fight week, I'm there for one purpose and that's the fight and get the hell out of dodge. A lot of people misunderstood me, when it's fight time - people will go like, ‘man, you should fight in Japan.' You're not going to like me when I fight in Japan because number one; I don't want to talk to you; number two, I'm dieting and I'm not having the calories in my body. I'm not here for you, I'm here to fight. I'm here to fight for your entertainment, but I'm not here to take you out to lunch and hold your hand. I'll sign autographs, I don't mind doing it but I'm not going to be happy because I'm focused on fighting.
A lot of people might see that as boring or I'm not a character, but when you're at work let me come to your f—king job and go ‘hey, hey buddy. How're you doing? Can you sign this for me?' I'm like dude, ‘you're fucking breaking my concentration.' That's how I see things.
Do you have a plan for post-fight life?
DJ: I think about it. I was sitting there and one of the things I wanted to do was help people stay in-shape and fit. It doesn't matter what age, just showing people that you can live a healthy lifestyle eating whatever you want. For example, I always tell people you can have whatever you want. You can have your eggs. When I'm dieting for my fights, my favorite meal of the day during fight week is breakfast because I can have eggs, fruit and oatmeal. I can get my carbs and do whatever I want.
When it comes to mid-day, then I'll have my chicken and a little bit of carbs and some greens. Then at night time, I'll also have chicken and greens. Then, a lot of water intake. I want to try and push that on people who say, ‘hell food is disgusting.' I'm like, "hey bro, try this.' Here's a chicken breast, we can do a little tablespoon of whatever sauce you like and do a type of green like broccoli, spinach or asparagus. There's so many different things you do and just sit there and basically have dinner with the person and find something good for them. Almost like a nutritionist.
But then I went on a trip and saw someone eating like a fat slob and though there's no point in helping you if you don't have the motivation. Wrong career path, DJ. There's no need for me to walk you through something and it's going to take a lot of effort. I have a very short temper. That's how I think.
My wife's like, ‘how're you motivated?' This is how I make my fucking money and pay my bills. People are like, ‘we have to hype this fight up' and I'm like, ‘no, I need to train my ass off so I can win this fight.'
For the first excerpt of my interview with Johnson, click here.