Demetrious Johnson’s Mother Gave Him A World Champion’s Work Ethic

American martial arts star Demetrious Johnson gets ready for his ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix semifinal bout

From a young age, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson learned from his mother that he could achieve anything with hard work.

That attitude helped the American become the most dominant World Champion in his sport’s history, and set him up for a starring role at the biggest martial arts event of all time.

On 13 October at ONE: CENTURY PART I, he will face Danny “The King” Kingad in the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix Championship Final, and when he steps into the Circle in Tokyo, Japan, he will remember the mantra that was embedded in his brain as a child.


“My mom definitely influenced me,” the man from Washington reveals. “She always told me, ‘Anything you ever want, just go out there and get it.’”

His mother, Karen, ­raised her children single-handedly after her marriage with Johnson’s abusive stepfather ended. She always made sure not just to espouse the value of hard work, but to live by it.

She was born deaf, but she never used her disability as an excuse – so much so that the AMC Pankration and Evolve athlete did not even know about her lack of hearing, and barely believed it when he found out.

“She always taught me to look her in the face when I spoke to her, that way she could read our lips, but I didn’t realize until my sister told me,” Johnson reveals.

“[My mom] said, ‘Yes, I’m deaf. Why do you think I’ve always had you beat on the ground when you needed something from another room?’”

“She never learned sign language. She watched TV with closed captions. So now I understand looking back [why] we always did certain things. More power to her because it takes a real discipline and skill to focus on just reading lips.

“Obviously, she was brought up through adversity, trying to go through life reading lips instead of learning sign language like every other deaf person. But where she came from in Kentucky, growing up in the 60s and 70s, they probably didn’t have that opportunity.”

Karen showed her son what it meant to work hard, and he never forgot it.

“There’s one thing that’s always stuck with me that my mom said. ‘Just work hard, and you can have whatever you want.’ That’s one of the things I keep in the back of my mind,” he explains.

The 33-year-old picked up his mother’s lesson and ran with it as he won the Flyweight World Title and defended it 11 times to give his family a better future.

Through all his success, “Mighty Mouse” has shown otherworldly skill to defeat challenger after challenger, but he attributes much of his success to the dogged determination he developed as a teenager.

Johnson’s work ethic started with weekend jobs when he was 15 years old and carried over into mixed martial arts in his late teenage years.

For the 12-time Flyweight Mixed Martial Arts World Champion, there were no shortcuts or genetic advantages to his success ­– just his mother’s everlasting lessons. All he knew was the grind, and he consistently showed up to AMC Pankration and gave his all while holding down a job.

“When you have a parent who is not in the best financial situation, you learn quickly that if you want things, you have to go out and get them yourself,” he says.

“I worked pretty much all of my career until I had my first World Title fight. I wanted an apartment, I wanted to have a car, so I’ve worked hard my whole my life.

“I didn’t have anybody paying for me or giving it to me. That set me up to be successful in mixed martial arts.”

Read more: ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix – The Story So Far

Tokyo | ONE: CENTURY | ONE Championship’s 100th Live Event | Tickets: Purchase here

  • Watch PART I in USA on 12 October at 8pm EST and PART II on 13 October at 4am EST
  • Watch PART I in India on 13 October at 5:30am IST and PART II at 1:30pm IST
  • Watch PART I in Indonesia on 13 October at 7am WIB and PART II at 3pm WIB
  • Watch PART I in Singapore on 13 October at 8am SGT and PART II at 4pm SGT
  • Watch PART I in the Philippines on 13 October at 8am PHT and PART II at 4pm PHT
  • Watch PART I in Japan on 13 October at 9am JST and PART II at 5pm JST

ONE: CENTURY is the biggest World Championship martial arts event in history with 28 World Champions featured across various martial arts. No organization has ever promoted two full-scale World Championship events on the same day.

The Home Of Martial Arts will break new ground as it brings multiple World Title bouts, a trio of World Grand Prix Championship Finals, and several World Champion versus World Champion matches to the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan on 13 October.

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