MMA: Change is the only constant for Demetrious Johnson ahead of One C'ship title rematch

Demetrious Johnson at the OCBC Square at Sports Hub on March 24, during the open workout ahead of One Championship X. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Inside the cage, he is known for his frenetic pace and innovation. So perhaps it is not a surprise that even at 36, and with 15 years, 35 professional fights and 106 rounds worth of experience behind him, mixed martial arts (MMA) star Demetrious Johnson does not sit still out of it either.

Considered by many to be one of the greatest athletes in the sport, the American will challenge Adriano Moraes for the Brazilian's One Championship world flyweight title at the One on Prime Video 1 event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Saturday (Aug 27) morning.

The event is being beamed on prime time in the United States.

The clash is a rematch from April 2021, when Moraes stunned Johnson with a brutal grounded knee knock-out. It was the first time the long-reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champion had been finished in a fight.

In a bid to avenge that defeat, Johnson switched up his training and spent part of his camp at Fight Ready in Arizona, with former UFC foe Henry Cejudo.

In an interview with The Straits Times just hours after he landed in Singapore on Monday morning (Aug 23), Johnson reflected: "For my whole career I've never gone outside of AMC (the MMA gym in his home state of Washington) to train.

"Now... I have a house out in Arizona, it's more convenient for me to train with (Cejudo). And it was good.

"We got to see how we're different, and got a different perspective on what other gyms think of my skillset, just vibe out and train. I think the training I did with him is going to help out a lot in this next fight."

Johnson was the UFC flyweight world champion for 2,142 days until he was dethroned by Cejudo in August 2018. He decided to join One two months later in a milestone trade, with Ben Askren going the other way.

Four years after leaving the UFC, he still holds the organisation's record for most title defences in a single reign (11) as well as most submissions in one (four). Throughout his time there, he also carved out a reputation as one of the greatest pound-for-pound MMA fighters, with an inventive grappling style and formidable striking.

Despite his lofty status in the sport, Johnson felt he learnt "a lot" from sparring with Cejudo. "Because when you step out of your comfort zone... and experiment, it's always good, as long as you're in a good atmosphere and around great people," he said.

Also unfamiliar for the 1.60m, 61kg star - nicknamed Mighty Mouse after the cartoon superhero - is having to prepare for a fight coming off a knock-out loss.

Johnson insisted, though, that he does not sweat on the unprecedented KO - "honestly, I watched the video back and just laughed" - and quipped he has also had his lights turned out in a snowboarding accident before.

He is known for being a champion but Johnson said he knows how to lose as well.

"At the end of the day, it's a sport, and I lose in the gym too. My coach beats me up. I have hard days... so I lose all the time," he said.

"Anyway, you can't go six years undefeated as a champion and give out all these a** whoopings and then when it's your butt whipped, you cry about it."

Adriano Mores (left) dominating Demetrious Johnson at the One on TNT I event at the Singapore indoor Stadium in April last year. PHOTO: ONE CHAMPIONSHIP

Johnson is thrilled to be back in Singapore to fight, noting that the loosened Covid-19 restrictions mean he will not be confined to a tightly-controlled itinerary and housed in a five-star "luxury prison", unlike in the lead-up to the last Moraes fight.

Besides his familiarity with the Brazilian, he hopes that having the fight scheduled according to US time will help him finally claim the top prize in One.

"This time it's different mentally," he said. "We've fought each other before so I've seen that opponent across the cage from me and I experienced that.

"He's obviously a bigger guy, (has) longer (limbs) and he has a certain style... but for me, it's about just going out there and fighting, and we'll see what happens."

For Johnson, the chase - be it for a title or simply to get better - never gets old.

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