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Johnson, Rousey and Aldo on the Spectrum of UFC Greatness

Fightland Blog

By Tom Taylor

Photo by Chris McGrath/Zuffa LLC

With his UFC 191 title defense against John Dodson just around the corner, a lot is being made of Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson’s dominance—and for good reason. Since becoming the UFC’s first-ever flyweight champion, the 22-2 Matt Hume protégé has dispatched of challengers in the way that a cow swats away flies with its tail. He’s bested every fighter put in front of him, and he’s made it look fairly easy.

To recount: his first defense came against Dodson back in 2013, in an affair that was just competitive enough to warrant their looming rematch. His next was against John Moraga, who he put away with a beautiful, fifth-round armbar. Next he landed a blistering first-round knockout on perennial contender Joseph Benavidez, and soundly outfought Ali Bagautinov, who was revealed to have been using PEDs at the time. And finally, in the last year, he’s submitted both Chris Cariaso and Kyoji Horiguchi—the latter with a record-breaking one second left in the fight.

This historic, six-fight reign establishes Mighty Mouse as one of the most commanding champions in UFC history, past or present, as he has already bested the championship streaks of Tito Ortiz, Pat Miletich, Chuck Liddell and BJ Penn. And alongside Ronda Rousey and Jose Aldo, who have defended 6 and 7 times respectively, it also makes him one of the three most dominant active UFC champs (Jon Jones’ future remains uncertain).

As a result of this status, it’s easy to lump Mighty Mouse, Rousey and Aldo in among the truly great champions of UFC history. And though doing so is not entirely unfounded, let’s not jump the gun. While all three are on incredible runs, they have yet to reach the cosmic heights of Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva.  

Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

This comes down to numbers, first and foremost. While the long UFC reigns of Mighty Mouse, Rousey and Aldo are certainly impressive, they still fall short of those amassed by GSP and Silva. GSP, after all, vacated his title with a whopping 9 consecutive defenses to his name. Silva had even more, with 10. The figures are clear as day; Mighty Mouse, Rousey and Aldo all have several grueling title defenses to go before even touching GSP and Silva’s statistics. And of course, MMA is more than just a numbers game.

Silva and St. Pierre also dispatched nearly all of their opponents with ease. Granted, they did it in very different ways, with Silva scoring highlight-reel finishes, and St. Pierre favoring a more conservative approach, but until the latter stages of their reigns, neither man was ever in any real trouble.  Mighty Mouse and Aldo, meanwhile, have both seen their share of close shaves. Mighty Mouse nearly had his block knocked off by Dodson in his first defense, while Aldo has had harrowing moments against Chad Mendes and surprisingly, against Mark Hominick. Of course, Rousey has seen no such adversity—but that brings us squarely to our next point.

The legitimacy of Rousey’s competition has been vehemently questioned by her naysayers, and while it is a stretch to disparage the talent or drive of women like Miesha Tate, Sara McMann or Cat Zingano, it’s true that, as challengers, they don’t pack quite the same wallop as many of GSP and Silva’s opponents. The same can be said of some of Mighty Mouse’s opponents: Cariaso was not the most deserving challenger, and despite being a truly promising talent, Horiguchi may have been rushed to the shot a little too soon. Even Aldo’s defenses against Hominick and the Korean Zombie can be viewed in this light. And though Silva and GSP did have the odd undeserving challenger, for the most part, they thwarted the very best opposition their divisions had to offer.

And then there are the other accomplishments of GSP and Silva; those feats that separate them from the UFC’s other great champions and have earned them places on the most dog-eared and highlighted pages of the MMA history books. GSP avenged both of the losses on his record, one of them twice. During his reign as middleweight king, Silva made not one, not two, but three forays up to light heavyweight for superfights; one against a former 205-pound champion. And so, while both former champions have points against them—GSP for his conservative style and long layoffs, and Silva for his in-cage temper tantrums and failed drug test earlier this year—the fact is that they still stand a head and shoulders above the most dominant champs of this era.

But this is where things get interesting. While John Dodson represents a dangerous test for Mighty Mouse, the flyweight king shows no signs of slowing down. And while Ronda Rousey has a few dangerous challengers circling in Holly Holm, Miesha Tate, Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg, she also appears unlikely to surrender her crown. And finally, while Aldo has the fight of his life coming up against interim champion Conor McGregor, he’s not lost for a decade and is going to hell-bent on keeping it that way. Yes, any one of this era’s dominant champions could, in the not too distant future, catch up to and even surpass the historic reigns of GSP and Anderson Silva. Mighty Mouse will take his next step to that end tomorrow night, as he looks make his seventh title defense and continue to build on what could one day become the greatest title reign in UFC history. 

 

Check out these related stories:

Can John Dodson Kill the King?

Jack Slack: The Tao of Demetrious Johnson

Demetrious Johnson Cleaned Out His Division

 

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