Last time UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson headlined a Pay Per View card in Canada, his opponent failed a post-fight drug test.
It was roughly ten months ago that Johnson’s one-time foe, Ali Bagautinov, popped for EPO following their tussle at UFC 174. And with the champion making his return to Canada, set to face Kyoji Horiguchi in Saturday’s UFC 186 headliner, Johnson’s hoping that the UFC and athletic commissions will will catch violators before they step into the cage.
“Obviously I hope it works very well, and I hope they catch more people,” offered Johnson in February, just weeks after the UFC unveiled its new, aggressive approach to in and out of competition testing.
Looking back on his 11-fight UFC career, Johnson felt nothing was out of the ordinary heading into his bout with Bagautinov in June 2014. He wasn’t tested for performance enhancing drugs prior to the contest, but that was commonplace until fight night.
Then Bagautinov failed, and a list of “what ifs” entered the conversation.
What if Bagautinov had beaten Johnson and won the flyweight strap? What if Johnson had been hurt during the bout?
Obviously, these questions were moot following the fight. Johnson completely dominated the Russian, sweeping the scorecards 50-45. And if anyone appeared to be hurt during the contest, it was Bagautinov, who took an artful beating from Johnson’s knees in the clinch.
But immediately following UFC 174, and leading up to his main event at UFC 178, Johnson, the UFC’s number-three ranked pound-for-pound fighter, began to see improved testing measures for performance enhancing drugs.
“The first time I’ve actually been tested out of competition and after competition was when I fought Chris Cariaso for UFC 178,” explained Johnson. “They tested me six times, and other than that I’ve never been tested before in my fights.”
Johnson’s fight with Cariaso went as planned for the Washington-based athlete. Submitting Cariaso with a second-round Kimura, Johnson defended the flyweight belt for the fifth consecutive time. And while Cariaso may have not lasted as long as Bagautinov, he fought clean, without PEDs.
However, UFC 178 took place in Las Vegas, at the MGM Grand, and under the supervision of the Nevada Athletic Commission, a state-run agency that, like similar governing bodies in New Jersey and California, are known for advanced testing measures.
States like Texas, however, which hosted UFC 185, have flat out stated that they will not test athletes out of competition or prior to fights, due to costs. And the province of British Columbia, home of UFC 174 and the failed Bagautinov test, has acted similarly in the past.
But what about Quebec, the province hosting the UFC 186 card? Have they followed in the path of their western counterparts? Or has the Quebec Athletic Commission joined the new conversation on increased testing?
Remember, this is the same governing body that allowed a last minute, off the record “Canadian loophole” during the UFC 158 weigh ins, offering headliners Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz the option of weighing in over 170 pounds, so long as they we under 171.
Answers still remain to be seen, but Johnson does applaud the UFC for the promotion’s increased penalties that can range from 2-4 years. Looking back on the Bagautinov fight, Johnson feels like his offending counterpart received a rather light punishment.
“He got banned for a year, and last time I fought was in September,” commented Johnson. “It’s almost been a year since I’m about to fight again, so a year suspension doesn’t really give a slap on the wrist, so hopefully it gets better.”
Johnson, of course, has always been one to stay active. Having never sustained any major injury, he’s already fought 11 times in a little over four years, including seven championship bouts.
But following his December 2013 knockout of Joseph Benavidez in their second matchup, Johnson found his number being called far less often that he had initially hoped.
First came the six month layoff prior to the Bagautinov fight, and currently, it’s been seven months since Johnson’s last fight, representing the champion’s longest absence from active competition during his 8-year, 24-fight career.
There have been few legitimate contenders at flyweight, with Johnson cleaning out the division, and potential challengers Ian McCall and John Lineker never quite getting over the hump. Rival John Dodson has also been sidelined due to injury on multiple occasions, leaving Johnson without sufficient dance partners.
Yet, despite the slower rate of work, Johnson has found positives in these extended breaks. He’s capitalized on his time away from the cage to improve his already vast skill set, and help his body heal in between bouts.
“I don’t like waiting for so long cause I’m only getting older; my body’s only gonna stop recovering as fast,” commented Johnson. “My coaches say like ‘it’s good that you don’t get to fight as much because you’re getting better, you’re taking the time to develop better skills and giving your body a chance to actually heal.’”
“After I fought Chris Cariaso, and I was like ‘I think I’m gonna take some time off.’ And [Matt Hume] goes ‘you’re starting to understand, it’s not always about fighting and winning, it’s about fighting when you’re at your best.’ And that’s what I’m focused on doing on April 25th.”
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