It was 2018 when news about the UFC’s supposed plan to shut down the men’s flyweight division began to surface. The narrative, at the time, was because 125-pounders weren’t that much of a draw, with the company releasing Jose “Shorty” Torres with two fights remaining in his contract.
That piece of information was squashed a year later by UFC president Dana White himself after Henry Cejudo’s UFC 238 win over Marlon Moraes. But according to former longtime champion Demetrious Johnson, the company was serious about these plans.
In his recent appearance on the MMA Hour, he said it all began when he wanted a super fight with T.J. Dillashaw for $1 million.
“They wanted us to fight T.J. Dillashaw and I said we’ll fight him for $1 million,” Johnson recalled. “Then the thing was, I knew T.J. couldn’t make 125 healthy. I knew that and so did (coach) Matt (Hume). We knew that because he’s already shredded at 135...
“So Matt wanted to put it in the contract saying if T.J. Dillashaw does not make weight at 125, we fight him for his belt, and they said no. ‘We’re not doing that.’ Okay then, well, what’s going to happen and that’s when they were like, ‘We’re going to close the division.’
“So I said I’ll fight T.J. for $1 million. It’s a superfight! Let’s make it happen.’ But they wouldn’t do that and that’s when they were like, ‘We’re going to close the division.’ Well, close the motherf–ng division then!’ They didn’t do it and that’s when I came out with the letter and it was like, what do I have to do?
This happened in 2017 before Johnson scored his highlight reel armbar finish against Ray Borg. For him, he was merely exercising his rights as a UFC champion.
“Everything that a champion — one of the things that I want to have happen when I’m done fighting is I want Matt to be like, ‘Out of all the people I’ve ever worked with and trained, Demetrious was the easiest person I’ve trained. He always showed up on time, never had a problem with cutting weight, no problems.’ I wanted to be the easiest champion, athlete to work with.
“I show up, ‘Who do you want me to fight? I’ll fight the next guy.’ But once they started to murky this stuff — ‘Oh, you’re going to fight this champion.’ Okay, let’s add some more money. Let’s add $1 million. ‘No, that can’t happen.’
“Okay, well then if he doesn’t make weight, let’s fight for his belt. ‘No, can’t do that either.’ Okay, so where do I have leverage here? Where’s my power in being a champion?”
In the same interview, “Mighty Mouse” also revealed getting a rare personal phone call from White, only to be called a “dumbass” for sharing his opinion to a fan via Twitch.
“I’m playing a game — and when I started streaming on Twitch, I started being more vocal — and somebody in the Twitch chat goes, ‘Hey man, did you hear about The Ultimate Fighter? What they’re going to do next?’
“I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ and he goes, ‘They’re going to do The Ultimate Fighter, it’s going to be all the champions and they’re going fight you and the winner gets to fight [for the belt].’
“And I go, ‘Well that’s f–ng stupid.’ And then I was like, ‘What about the guys on a five-fight win streak? What about Joseph Benavidez? They’re just going to skip the line?’ I said that and the next day I got a phone call from Dana White.
“Dana White never called me when I was in the UFC. He called and he goes, ‘You dumbass! You just ruined this whole thing we’re trying to set up for you! Blah, blah, blah.’
“And I was like, ‘Well I just found out online from a random dude on Twitch and I gave him an honest opinion.’ And then he goes, ‘Sean Shelby didn’t call you?’ ‘No, he didn’t call me.’ And he goes, ‘Alright. Bye.’ He hangs up and the next day I get a call from Sean Shelby, ‘Hey, yeah bro —’ Too late! Too late dude.”
Johnson says he was later advised by Hume to “take fault,” which he understandably refused to do.
“I didn’t do anything wrong here. That was my natural reaction to news that was broken to me on the spot, by a fan. I have to hide my feelings?... I’m not in trouble for this. And after that it was kind of like, off she went. Slowly, slowly I just started being more me and that’s where I’m at now.”
Johnson (30-4-1) ended up being involved in a historic trade with ONE Championship in 2018. Along with ex-champion Eddie Alvarez, he was sent to the Singapore-based promotion in exchange for Ben Askren. He last saw action in April 2021 against Adriano Moraes and lost via second-round knockout.