Demetrius Johnson was the flyweight king of the UFC for six years, dominating and outclassing every contender available at the time. But now that he’s fighting for ONE championship in Asia, Mighty Mouse has taken notice of one 125-pound fighter he thinks has the best chance of repeating his feat.
“I really felt like Deiveson Figueiredo was that guy,” Johnson told MMA Fighting ahead of UFC 277. “He’s athletic, he hits hard, he’s good at jiu-jitsu. I think the only thing he lacked was air conditioning, right? It was hard for him to put on that much weight because he’s just a big guy. Brandon Moreno was good, great movement, good footwork. I thought it would be either of those two. Kai Kara-France seems to be doing his job. But other than that you have [Alexandre] “Pantoya”. I think Pantoja is probably the leader.”
Johnson broke the record for the most title defenses in UFC history with 11 consecutive wins, stopping the likes of Henry Cejudo, Kyoji Horiguchi, Joseph Benavidez and Ray Borg between 2012 and 2018. unbeaten streak, but it apparently ended at the hands of Moreno before Figueiredo regained the title with a narrow win at UFC 270.
With Figueiredo still sidelined with a hand injury, Moreno and Cara France are set to face off for an interim championship this Saturday in Dallas at UFC 277. Johnson understands the UFC’s decision to make an interim title fight, but he disagrees that Pantoja will not be included, especially given the fact that Pantoja beat Moreno and Cara France 3-0 on aggregate. Instead, Pantoja should face Alex Perez on the main card of UFC 277.
“Despite [Pantoja] doesn’t get a lot of love from the fans and the organization,” Johnson said. “I think he should be fighting for the interim title right now because he beat Brandon Moreno and I think he beat Kai Cara France. … If I had to pick one of those guys, it would probably be Pantoja. I think he is legal. He has a real stand-up, cool as shit, and amazing land.
“If Pantoja becomes world champion, I think I’ll have to bet – like I said, at the beginning I thought Deiveson Figueiredo would be a guy who would be super dominant and beat everyone, but obviously he just lost. Now if Pantoya becomes champion, I think he will be the most dominant. But at the end of the day, it’s not about winning fights, it’s about staying healthy, gaining weight and preparing for a fight.
“People don’t realize how difficult it is, just this part,” Johnson continued. “When I did that, it took me six years to get 11 consecutive title defenses, so that’s a long time to be consistent and show up and fight a new challenger every time.”
In the latest edition of MMA Fighting free exchangePantoja said he was “honored” to have the UFC legend look at him like that.
“If I could do half of what this guy has already done, that would be amazing for me,” Pantoja said. “I have a lot of respect for this man. Not only his fights – he has the highest fighting IQ, he is a family man and always stands firmly on his feet. Everything he did to get to where he is now is a dude.
“And I agree with him that Daveson would be a great name, but I think he lost himself along the way. I think he had everything to be that guy, but something went wrong for Daveson on his way. I won’t say he had an easy road to the belt, but he may have lost his hunger after becoming a champion.”
Figueiredo also agreed with Johnson when he cited his biggest challenge as “tough time to get to this weight” but still sees himself as the one who will dominate the flyweight division moving forward.
“He’s completely wrong,” the Brazilian champion said of Johnson’s comments on a recent episode of Trocasao Franca. “If I am 100% focused, rest assured, it will not be easy for anyone to take my belt in this division away from me. I just want to keep my weight under control because it always goes up after a fight. With this under control, I will be 100 percent ready to fight anyone and protect what is mine.
“Demetrius Johnson has always kept himself in good shape, he is very short, so it is easy for him to gain 125 pounds. It’s hard for me because I’m bigger than him and I need to gain 125 pounds. I have to focus on cutting weight and always stay lighter, so it’s not a sacrifice.”