Demetrious Johnson is set to face a former champion next. Kairat Akhmetov extended his winning streak to six at ONE Fight Night 10 last weekend and was immediately handed a shot at the title he last held in 2017.
Johnson is the most dominant flyweight in the history of the sport and one of the greatest pound for pound fighters of all time. There had been a lot of talk about retirement, much of it fueled by the 36 year old himself but he looks set to continue.
After his one sided decision win over Adriano Moraes last weekend it was announced that Johnson would be facing Akhmetov next. It is a challenge that the veteran says he is ‘excited’ for,
“I think Kairat Akhmetov is on a six-fight winning streak (and) I love when people are on winning streaks because I love taking it away from them. Kairat’s an amazing athlete, very, very strong. I saw him and Reece McLaren in the Grand Prix back in 2019, I believe and he’s a good wrestler. I’m excited for a new challenge because he brings something different to the table.”
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Johnson could not put away Moraes but he thinks that referee Herb Dean has to bear some responsibility. The former UFC flyweight champion was constantly going to the body in the clinch only to find the fighters getting separated faster then he would have liked,
“I’m happy with my performance. I beat him up a lot in the clinch and I was hurting him and he did a good job of holding. Herb Dean did a good job of breaking us up, but at the same time, ‘Herb, I’m breaking the body up, give me my opportunity to get his hands down’.”
He landed a spectacular flying knee to the head area. At the time Johnson thought he had landed the knockout blow but only realized after the fight he had missed the head,
“I tried to go airborne and hit him with the knee to the chin, and I was shocked. And I thought that I would knock him out. But when I watched the replay, I hit him in the throat. I was like, ‘Damn it’.”
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With Johnson openly discussing his next opponent there doesn’t seem much prospect of him retiring immediately. But he plans to consult with some former legends before coming to a decision,
“We’ll see. I’m still young. I’m going to reach out to Khabib Nurmagomedov, Urijah Faber. I’m going to talk to these guys (because) those guys could’ve kept on fighting.”
He also name checked Georges St Pierre who retired while at the peak of his powers. Johnson wants to avoid becoming a fading legend who younger fighters can make a name for themselves by beating easily,
“I’m 36 years old, and do I just keep on doing this and give other athletes the opportunity to beat me and add to their legacy, or whatever?’ So, there’s a lot of stuff that I’ve got to muster up.”
With 18 wins from his last 20 fights no flyweight will relish the prospect of being matched with Johnson. While there are a lot of mixed martial artists who have continued to compete well past their prime he is clearly not approaching that territory.
It seems almost certain that Johnson will fight on and Akhmetov is going to have the next opportunity to test him. But the 36 year old knows that he is coming towards the end of what has been a glorious career and looks set to hang up the gloves sooner rather than later.