Five potential opponents for Demetrious Johnson
The news that Demetrious Johnson had signed with ONE Championship sent shockwaves through the MMA world this week. It is not every day that the UFC agrees to allow one of the top pound for pound fighters on the roster to sign for a direct rival.
DJ’s departure leaves the UFC’s flyweight division in ruins, and could well be the death knell for a weight class the promotion never really seemed to take seriously. But for Mighty Mouse the future looks bright: he’s almost certainly set for a career high pay day with ONE Championship and will finally receive the promotional push befitting of a potential ‘GOAT’.
Johnson has already declared his desire to fight for the ONE Championship flyweight belt. He would be a strong favourite against current champion Geje Eustaquio but that’s not the only intriguing matchup out there for a man who made a record breaking 11 title defences in the UFC.
Here are five fighters who Johnson could face.
Johnson is a training partner of Bibiano Fernandes, the reigning ONE Championship bantamweight title holder. The two men will never fight but Kevin Belingon challenges the Brazilian for his belt on November 9th, and should the Filipino prevail in the rematch it potentially sets up the biggest fight in the promotion’s history.
Belingon has won six straight fights since being submitted by Fernandes. His 19-5 record is comparable to Johnson’s and he possesses the sort of speed and power that could really cause the former UFC flyweight champion serious problems.
Of course Belingon is currently competing in the bantamweight division. But he is only two inches taller than Johnson and if the Filipino were to snap Fernandes’ 14 fight winning streak in Singapore next month this would surely be the matchup to make.
Whether or not he was the best flyweight on the ONE Championship roster prior to Johnson’s arrival is subject to debate. Geje Eustaquio is the champion but he needed a split decision win to claim the belt and Adriano Moraes can count himself a little unfortunate to have lost that fight.
Eustaquio is coming off back to back decision wins against former champions. In fact he has beaten every single fighter to have ever held the ONE flyweight belt and the 29 year old, who trains alongside Kevin Belingon at Team Lakay, is clearly at the top of his game.
If ONE do decide to hand Johnson an immediate title shot – and no one could say he didn’t deserve it – then Eustaquio would be the man standing in his way. He’s beaten the best two fighters in the division, and if the 29-year-old continues to win it’s a question of when, not if, their paths collide.
When an MMA fight goes the distance the margins between success and failure can be razor thin. Johnson, who lost by split decision in his last fight, knows this better than most but no-one has been more unlucky with the judges than former ONE flyweight champion Adriano Moreas.
Moraes holds a 17-3 record but all three of his losses have come by way of split decision. He could, and many believe should, be 20-0 and the Brazilian can stake a serious claim to being the best flyweight on the ONE roster despite not currently being in possession of the belt.
He would be five inches taller than Johnson and holds a BJJ black belt. The only criticism you could mount of Moraes is that he sometimes struggles to finish opponent: five of his 11 ONE bouts have gone the distance. Still, he has the potential to cause Johnson all sorts of problems.
Kairat Akhmetov has a very impressive 22-2 record and has beaten every fighter he has ever faced. Unfortunately the Kazakh has a slightly less impressive sounding 3-2 record with ONE after registering a decision loss and a decision win against both Moraes and Eustaquio.
There’s no question that the 31-year-old remains a top contender, a point he demonstrated emphatically with a decision win over Haobin Ma in his most recent contest. Two losses in his last four fights have definitely derailed Akhmetov’s momentum but he remains a force to be reckoned with in the flyweight division.
If ONE Championship take the view that Johnson needs to beat a top contender or two before fighting for the belt then Akhmetov must be very close to the top of the queue. His wrestling could cause the former UFC champion some problems and his record is on par with all of the American’s recent opponents.
Reece McLaren is a relative newcomer to the flyweight division but has won three fights out of three since dropping down. He’s no stranger to split decisions; many people felt he beat Bibiano Fernandes in 2016 but only one of the three judges agreed.
Fernandes and Johnson aren’t just teammates, they are both fighters of similar strength and stature and having nearly defeated one McLaren might be entitled to feel he could beat the other. At 27 he is the youngest man on the list and the Australian continues to evolve and improve.
McLaren is getting better all the time and if he keeps on winning then a fight with Johnson seems inevitable. Whether it happens sooner or later will depend on the matchmakers, but if ‘Mighty Mouse’ begins his ONE career with a non-title bout this could be the fight to make.