Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is the top pound-for-pound mixed martial arts athlete of his era.
The American made 11 successful defenses of the UFC Flyweight World Title, making him the most successful World Champion in his sport’s history, and now he set his sights on ONE Championship in search of a new challenge.
Still in his prime, Johnson has a unique blend of skills, success, and humility – things that make him a perfect fit for the world’s largest martial arts organization – and here is everything you need to know about the American superstar.
Planting The Seeds Of Greatness
Johnson was born in Kentucky in 1986, but grew up in Parkland, Washington. His mother raised her children largely as a single parent, despite being deaf – a fact her children did not realize until later in life, thanks to her determination and can-do attitude.
Johnson did experience some turbulence, which included abuse from his stepfather, who was in the military, but he does not harbor any resentment against him. Instead, he uses his experiences to inform his life and make him a better person.
“I enjoyed my childhood,” he offers. “I didn’t know anything else, that was the life we had.
“I don’t think bad of my step-father now, that was his life and the decisions he made, but it gave me lessons now that I am a father myself.”
Johnson enjoyed school and had academic success, and he also had a great bond with his siblings — an older sister and younger brother – which helped get them through some tough times in a low-income household.
Johnson’s mother backed her children in anything they wanted to do, and for “Mighty Mouse,” that was always sports.
“I was always into sports, I started playing football, but then I did track and cross country, but they were mostly for wrestling, because the season only lasted so long.
“My mother always believed in me and supported anything I wanted to pursue. She raised her children well — she was a very happy, very kind, very sweet woman.”
“Mighty” Through Martial Arts
Johnson got his first taste of martial arts at 13, when the coach suggested he try out for the wrestling team. As soon as he stepped on the mats, he knew it was for him.
“It was just you and the other guy, one on one. That’s what I liked about it,” Johnson recalls.
“When I played football, winning or losing could be down to others, but this was just me and my hard work.”
“Mighty Mouse” wrestled throughout high school, but when he started community college, he stepped away from the mats so he could work to fund his studies.
He needed to do some training to stay active, and in 2005 saw mixed martial artists on a reality TV show that piqued his interest.
“I saw Rashad Evans on there hitting a bag, and the training looked like fun, so I thought I’d try it,” he adds.
He began to work out and try things in the gym. A local competitor spotted his raw talent and suggested he start to train formally.
He found his gym, which was a satellite school of AMC Pankration, where he still trains today. The training center is run by Matt Hume – coach to former ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes – and as soon as they met, they struck up a student-teacher bond that is stronger than almost any other in the sport.
“That was just luck really. I didn’t know who Matt was, or anything like that, but as soon as I got there I loved it,” Johnson says.
Within three months, armed with a wrestling background and raw athleticism, “Mighty Mouse” had started his amateur career. At that time, his goals were merely to enjoy himself and develop his skills, but he was soon on a path to far greater things.
Embracing The Grind
Johnson’s journey to the top was not always easy. He had to work a full-time to make ends meet – right up until his first world title bout in 2011.
“I always worked. I couldn’t see any way of the sport paying the bills every month – the mortgage, the car, and everything else,” he explains.
“The daily grind was tough, but I just did it.”
He had to put food on the table, but having to balance work with training meant he could not reach his full potential. Sometimes, his two worlds clashed, but he had to grit his teeth and keep grinding away.
During one match, the Washington native broke his hand and needed surgery, which required a metal rod to be inserted through his affected appendage. It was painful, but he still had to go to work in a factory.
“It was so cold in there that winter that the rod froze. I could feel it right into the bones in my hand, but I had to be at work to keep my job,” he reveals.
Fortunately, he reached a level in mixed martial arts where his passion could become his career, and the hard work and sacrifices he had made to get to that stage made it even sweeter.
“It just came to a point where fighting was earning me more than what I was earning in my day job. Matt told me, ‘It’s time,’ so I quit and started training full-time from there.”
Success In Sport And Life
Johnson was a phenomenal amateur competitor. He turned pro in 2007, and by 2012, he was a flyweight world champion.
His reign lasted for five years and 11 successful title defenses – an astonishing world record – and he became regarded as the best pound-for-pound athlete in mixed martial arts.
However, Johnson does not measure his success, or validate his years of hard work, through belts or the number of wins on his record. His yardstick is closer to home.
“I first thought I was successful when I could support my family through fighting,” he explains.
“I put money away for my kids for college, for my wife’s and my retirement, and giving them a good life.”
That is not to say “Mighty Mouse” does not care for making history and breaking new ground in his sport. After inking a deal with ONE in October, he is now primed for a new challenge.
He wants to showcase his skills to the fans in Asia, add to his haul of championships, and be recognized for his skill as a martial artist. Already, he feels welcomed and excited to get started.
“So far the response has been fantastic, everybody is excited to see me over there in Asia,” he says.
“The fans are very respectful of the athletes going in there to compete, and that’s a big thing.”