A Mighty Conundrum: Selling Demetrious Johnson to the Masses

The greatest fault of comic book hero Superman has is that he is super. By all intents and purposes he is indestructible. Over the years many writers have tried to put the Man of Steel in situations that made it look like he may actually fail to save the day but readers always knew Superman would save the day and defeat the villain because, well, he is Superman. After a while the material becomes stale and predictable. No matter what the situation is there is no drama because Superman could use his strength, his x-ray vision, his flying ability, and whatever else is in his arsenal to come out on top. There is no drama in Superman and when there is no drama there is no story to tell and when there is no story to tell there are no reasons for people to pay attention. UFC Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson is running into the same problem.

The greatest fault of Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is that he is mighty. On Saturday night at UFC 186, Johnson put on a clinic on how a true mixed martial artist should perform. He was well on his way to earning a unanimous decision victory over Kyoji Horiguchi until he saw an opening and secured an armbar submission with literally one second left in the fight. It was Johnson’s sixth consecutive title defense and pushed his win streak to eight in a row. He is the only flyweight champion the UFC has ever known and reign has been nothing less than dominant.

The fight game is funny and is often filled with contradictions. Fighters like Mike Tyson are praised for being so dominant while others like Floyd Mayweather are criticized for winning, but not being exciting. In mixed martial arts Ronda Rousey is a huge star because she defeats her opponents in record fashion and makes them look like amateurs. On the other hand Demetrious Johnson has been equally as dominant yet he is often criticized as boring and unmarketable. A win is never just a win in combat sports. It is how you win and whom you beat that defines your legacy.

On paper Johnson is already putting together a Hall of Fame career. He holds a professional record of 22-2. He is currently on an eight-fight win streak, has successfully defended his flyweight championship six times, and has been part of nine UFC main events. He has never lost two consecutive fights, he has never been finished in a fight, and his last loss came to Dominick Cruz back in 2011. So why is he not in those Metro PCS commercials? Where was the news on his individual deal with Reebok? Can it be that “Mighty Mouse” is just too mighty to market?

One of the early criticisms of Johnson was that he was a point fighter who would play for the decision than try to finish a fight but in his last five wins, four have come by either submission or knockout. If you cannot beat him on the ground and you cannot beat him standing up then what chance do any of his opponents have? One consistent remark that kept coming up in post fight analysis was that Johnson was just too much for Horiguchi to handle. Looking back that was the same thing that was said for Chris Cariaso, John Moraga, Ali Bagautinov, and pretty much everyone else he as beaten. It goes back to Superman, people will lose interest when there is no drama in the story. It is certainty not Johnson’s fault for people not being interested when he fights. He has one job, to win fights, and he has done a damn fine job doing that. His job is to train and show up ready to fight once the cage door is locked behind him. Yes and champion he is obligated to do the media rounds and sell his fights but it is the UFC’s job to place a formable opponent in front of him.

The UFC is in charge of putting together a story. Every card, every bout, every main event has a story behind. They have all these pre event specials like “Embedded”, “Countdown”, and “Road to the Octagon” to help convey to the audience what the story leading up to at fight is. But sometimes there is not a story to be told or it is the same story as before. There are only so many times you can reword the dominance of a particular fighter before the audience starts to lose interest.

Sports are the ultimate reality television. It is unpredictable and gives the audience the chance to witness raw human emotion and effort. Sport is filled with drama. Unfortunately there is just is not any drama in a Demetrious Johnson fight.

Johnson has been so great and so ahead of the rest of the flyweight division that there is no way of selling a fight of his to the MMA audience. Dominick Cruz stated on the post fight show that Johnson so good that people do not understand why he does what he does inside the octagon. UFC president Dana White was asked his thoughts on why Johnson has a tough time connecting with audiences and his answer was somewhere along the lines of, well if you do not like him then you do not understand MMA and are missing out. Talking down to the audiences and telling them they just do not understand or appreciate a fighter’s work is not exactly the best way to gain their affection.

People like an underdog story, they like seeing others overcome adversity and those are two positions that Johnson has never been in. No matter whom they put in front of him and no matter how they try to sell the fight, the audience is not going to believe that Johnson will be in any real trouble. He will use is speed, strength, grappling, striking, and submission skills to neutralize any attack from his opponent. There seems to be no scenario that the Mighty Demetrious Johnson cannot overcome inside the octagon. Until there is drama inside the octagon when Johnson is inside it, the audience will continue to looks somewhere else to find it.

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