'Mighty mouse' may leave UFC for one

Demetrious Johnson trying to fend off Henry Cejudo in the fourth round of the flyweight title bout at UFC 227 in Los Angeles' Staples Centre on Aug 4. Johnson's loss came in his 12th title defence.
Demetrious Johnson trying to fend off Henry Cejudo in the fourth round of the flyweight title bout at UFC 227 in Los Angeles' Staples Centre on Aug 4. Johnson's loss came in his 12th title defence.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MMA flyweight star Johnson could swop places with fellow American fighter Askren

Mixed martial arts (MMA) star Demetrious Johnson has dropped a big hint on his future, as rumours swirled yesterday over the 32-year-old's imminent move to the Singapore-based One Championship.

"Just so every one knows I am pumped and excited for the future. Stay tuned! #newadventure," the American, who is signed to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), tweeted yesterday.

The 1.60m, 57kg Johnson, nicknamed the "Mighty Mouse", is regarded by many as one of the greatest MMA fighters.

He held the UFC flyweight title for 2,142 days from September 2012 to August - the second-longest reign in UFC history behind Anderson Silva's 2,457 days as middleweight (up to 84kg) champion.

His rule came to an end when he lost to fellow American Henry Cejudo at UFC 227 on Aug 4, but his 11 successful title defences are nevertheless a record in the UFC.

Johnson, who has 834,000 Instagram followers, has also achieved many firsts in UFC, such as:

•Longest average fight time: 18min 37sec

•Total fight time: 4hr 39min 12sec

•Total strikes landed: 1,678

Asked about the speculation, One founder and chairman Chatri Sityodtong told The Straits Times his organisation was on the cusp of making more "major signings".

He added: "Demetrious Johnson is the No. 1, pound-for-pound, greatest martial artist in history, and his extraordinary achievements speak for themselves.

"But what I'm most impressed by him is his character, values and life story."

Signing Johnson will be One's second coup in recent times, following the capture of free agent Eddie Alvarez last Thursday.

The former UFC lightweight (up to 70kg) champion told ST in an exclusive interview yesterday: "I've learnt over time that if you learn about a rumour in MMA, it's actually true. It would be my honour if Demetrious Johnson and I are the first two (big-name) guys to go to One (from the UFC)."

"I've always looked up to him, and I've always thought he was one of the greatest guys, if not the greatest, in the sport of MMA," added the 34-year-old American.

Media outlets in the United States have reported that Johnson's move to One will see welterweight (up to 77kg) fighter Ben Askren move in the opposite direction.

Askren, 34, retired in November last year after One's Immortal Pursuit event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, but has since hinted at a return to action.

On Tuesday, he tweeted that he was "98 per cent" likely to fight in the UFC, when asked by a fan.

If it goes through, the swop will be the first of its kind to feature two world-class MMA fighters between major organisations.

But Chatri reiterated that One will continue to groom Asian stars in the sport. He said: "One Championship is Asian born-and-bred, and I'm 100 per cent focused on Asia, but we are also focused on getting the best martial artists in the world, irrespective of geography."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2018, with the headline ''Mighty mouse' may leave UFC for one'. Print Edition | Subscribe