Demetrious Johnson heads into key trilogy confident age hasn't robbed him of his skills
The end is at hand for Demetrious Johnson, even if it doesn't come in the immediate aftermath of his trilogy bout with Adriano Moraes on Friday in the main event of ONE Fight Night 10, the promotion's U.S. debut, in Broomfield, Colorado.
Johnson is among the greatest fighters in the brief history of mixed martial arts, and though he's 36, he's not hanging on for one more payday. Johnson was knocked out by a knee from Moraes in their first bout in Singapore on April 7, 2021. Johnson used a knee to defeat Moraes in their rematch on Aug. 27, 2022 in Singapore.
It was no surprise that ONE chose Johnson to headline its first card in the U.S., because he remains among the best in the business. He made his name in the UFC as the greatest flyweight champion ever, but will fight Moraes for ONE's 135-pound belt.
Johnson has the physical ability and the knowledge to compete at the highest level for a lot longer if he chose. Though he hasn't made a decision, his time in the sport will be short. But Moraes shouldn't expect to see anything other than the prime version of Johnson we've all gotten used to seeing.
"I don't think I've lost any speed or quickness," Johnson told Yahoo Sports. "If anything, I think I've gotten faster because I have more wisdom. I know where I need to be fast. I know where I need to be more calculated. I think that the biggest difference in me from training over the years is that the body just takes longer to recover. Things will snap, or things will hurt more, or more often, I guess you could say now."
Johnson noted that when he was 24, he fought Nick Pace at WEC 51 on Sept. 30, 2010, and came back to fight Damacio Page at WEC 52 on Nov. 11, 2010.
That's not something he could do now.
"Nah, that's not happening," he said, chuckling.
But there's not much else Johnson has conceded to age. His former rival and current friend, Henry Cejudo, will fight Aljamain Sterling on Saturday in Newark, New Jersey for the UFC bantamweight championship, ending a three-year retirement. Johnson defeated Cejudo in Las Vegas at UFC 197 on April 23, 2016, but Cejudo got revenge and evened the score when he defeated Johnson by split decision at UFC 227 on Aug. 4, 2018.
They have since become buddies and talk often and have trained together. There is no rivalry between them even though there are a lot of parallels in their careers and they each rank among the greatest in the 125- and 135-pound weight classes, as well as of all time.
"The things that Henry Cejudo has accomplished in his career, in mixed martial arts and wrestling, I will probably never achieve what he has," Johnson said. " ... But on the other side of the coin, Henry Cejudo has never submitted anybody. I don't know if he's ever had Knockout of the Night or Fight of the Night, Submission of the Night. I've done some amazing things inside the cage and ... I've had 11 consecutive title defenses. We've both accomplished so much in this sport that there is no rivalry because we'd never be able to accomplish what each other has done."
Johnson was able to return successfully and defeat Moraes after having been knocked out in their previous fight, which doesn't happen often. Johnson said his mixed rules bout he had March 26, 2022, against Rodtang Jitmuangnon, which he won by second-round submission, helped.
When he got back into the cage for the rematch with Moraes, he said he'd already had time with an outstanding striker that helped him prepare physically and mentally.
"After I got knocked out by Adriano and I came back to fight Rodtang, I think that was a good thing for me. I basically went right back into the fire probably fighting one of the best strikers under the banner. Rodtang hits way harder than Adriano. It's just all about the timing."
After his rubber match Friday, Johnson will reconsider his career.
No matter what happens, though, Johnson will forever be remembered as one of the best, if not the best, of his era.