For the first time in UFC history, a name other than Demetrious Johnson will be attached to the flyweight title. Henry Cejudo, the former Olympic gold medalist wrestler, did something historic at UFC 227 in dethroning the pound-for-pound king. Yet when the smoke cleared, all anyone could talk about was what’s next for Cejudo rather than what’s to become of Johnson.
An iconic feat came crashing back down to Earth in the form of Johnson’s 11 consecutive title defenses, and it was about as emotional as someone losing a balloon in the air.
Cejudo hopped on the microphone in the aftermath and challenged the winner of the main event bantamweight title fight between T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt. Never mind the fact that his win over Johnson came with controversy—a split decision that teetered on a few takedowns.
A mere mention of moving up in weight, and the MMA world was ready to close the book on Johnson.
It’s ironic considering it’s one of the thickest books ever written in the UFC. Johnson won the inaugural flyweight title, breezed through a murderer’s row of contenders, surpassed Anderson Silva’s legendary record for most consecutive UFC title defenses and ascended to the top of the pound-for-pound ranks. He did all of that while setting himself apart as the most complete fighter to ever step foot in the Octagon.
There was never any uproar for an immediate rematch—no vehement backlash for a losing scorecard that had him outlanding Cejudo in total strikes 121-80, according to Fightmetric.
It was a distinct difference from when Silva lost the UFC middleweight title to Chris Weidman over five years ago.
After being knocked out cold in the second round, MMA fans rallied to Silva’s defense and demanded an immediate rematch. There were no discussions of other contenders or moving up in weight for a super fight. Silva, who was widely regarded as the greatest fighter in MMA history at the time, had accomplished enough over the course of his illustrious career to warrant the first crack at the new champ.
Imagine the reaction if that opportunity was somehow glossed over for a champion vs. champion fight between Weidman and Jon Jones, the reigning light heavyweight champion at the time.
Armageddon would have been at the UFC’s doorsteps.
And yet a legend like Johnson, who surpassed Silva as the greatest champion in UFC history, can lose his belt by the closest margin and still be treated like a one-and-done champion.
It’s inevitable that some will wrongly pontificate how Johnson wasn’t necessarily the most exciting champion and how the lack of finishes was a detriment to the flyweight division. Some fans will do so while ignoring the fact that the rematch between Johnson and Cejudo was one of the greatest championship fights in UFC history.
They’ll do so while forgetting Johnson came into that fight having finished seven of his last 10 opponents by knockout or submission.
That pontification is a copout for the fact that greatness isn’t always appreciated in combat sports. There are fighters more revered than Johnson with half as many accomplishments. It’s like imagining a world where Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky and Roger Federer were treated as ordinary champions.
But the combat sports world didn’t have to imagine at UFC 227.
There was no fuss from a graciously humble Johnson, who disappeared behind the curtain a contender on Saturday night for the first time since 2012, and none from the thousands of nonplussed fans eager to turn the page.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 8/6/2018.