UFC on Fox 8: Demetrious Johnson Staying Focused in a Hectic Environment
It would be understandable if Demetrious Johnson were feeling a bit on edge these days.
The UFC flyweight champion is under two weeks away from making the second defense of his 125-pound strap in front of a passionate crowd in his hometown and headlining the UFC's eighth offering on the Fox television network.
While those circumstances undoubtedly create some form of added pressure, "Mighty Mouse" and his wife Destiny are days away from welcoming their first child into the world, and it seems as if the 26-year-old champion is preparing to handle everything in one fell swoop.
Dealing with major events in both the personal and professional realms could bump any fighter off course. But Johnson is as cool as they come heading into the oncoming storm.
He has an excitable disposition by nature. Handling the stimulation overload which comes with having his first child and stepping out to defend his title on the sport's biggest stage has Johnson charged up and ready for everything.
For the former bantamweight title challenger and current flyweight champion, everything he is about to face will only further define who he is as a man and a fighter. Johnson has no intention of failing to hit his mark.
He is a proud champion and soon to be a proud father, and those elements will provide tremendous motivation when he steps out to face John Moraga at UFC on Fox 8 in Seattle.
"The baby is still coming; we are just waiting for him," Johnson told Bleacher Report. "It's absolutely exciting and hasn't created any distractions. Luckily, I have been blessed with a very supportive and strong wife. It's been a long camp because of my surgery and we wanted to make sure my shoulder was good.
"I am ready to go all 25 minutes if I need it. Nothing really changed at all, and the fight is going to be right up the street, so I don't have to do any traveling whatsoever.
"Not at all," Johnson answered when asked if his wife's pregnancy cravings have made the weight cut difficult. "My wife is a vegetarian, and she eats very healthy... She is pretty healthy and she still cooks all of my meals for me. She cooks my asparagus and chicken at night. I'm pretty focused when it comes to stuff like this because I want to make sure I'm not one of those champions who doesn't make weight.
"I don't think there has been a champion in the past who has missed a weight cut and I certainly don't want to be one of the first."
When the AMC-trained fighter steps into the Octagon at the Key Arena to face Moraga next Saturday night, it will be Johnson's first time competing in front of his hometown crowd in nearly four years.
The last time the Kirkland native fought in Washington, he was fighting his way through the states' regional circuit. In the years that have passed since, he's become a contender in the little blue cage of the WEC and eventually a champion under the UFC banner.
While an injury forced Johnson out of his originally scheduled tilt with Moraga at the TUF 17 Finale in Las Vegas back in April, the champion will now have the opportunity to defend his crown on his home turf.
"I think it's a great fight," Johnson said. "John Moraga has two great victories in the UFC over Ulysses Gomez and Chris Cariaso and I'm looking to get in there and mix it up with him.
"It's awesome," he added about the fight taking place in Seattle. "I never wanted to fight in front of my hometown crowd in the past because I was always worried that I would lose and everyone would boo me and say I suck. I didn't want to deal with all that pressure.
"But I'm at the point now in my career where I really don't care about what happens. I'm going to go out there and do my best to come away with the victory and to put on a great show.
"But I'm still young. I'm 26 and I have a lot of fighting left to do. I'm at the point in my career where I think it is awesome to be fighting in my hometown and not having to do any traveling. Let's see how it works. If things go sour, it's not the end of the world."
When the Washington-based fighter defeated Joseph Benavidez to become the first UFC flyweight champion at UFC 152 back in September of 2012, he suddenly found himself in a unique position.
The rest of his peers in the champions' tier in the UFC have years of divisional history and heated title races to keep their divisions on the minds of the MMA fanbase. Johnson has become the face of a weight class to which fans are still adapting.
The 125-pound weight class is slightly north of a year old. Johnson has been the biggest factor in the division's push to succeed. His main event bout at UFC on Fox 8 will mark the second time flyweights have headlined an event.
With both coming on the large platform Fox presents, it is a strong indication the UFC has big plans for the division.
Earlier this month at UFC 162, the promotion adorned the press conference room at the Mandalay Bay with huge wall-length photos of each of its divisional champions. On the wall next to superstars like Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones was a picture of the flyweight champion.
While he wasn't aware of the banner, it is an honor he isn't taking lightly.
"That's awesome," Johnson said. "I didn't know they had a big picture of me posted up at UFC 162. That's fantastic and I wish I had gotten a picture of that.
"Second of all, it's awesome with me trying to build my title reign, it is also building my profile as a world-class fighter and athlete. The better I do at defending my title will only lead to more exposure, and hopefully more doors will open for me to do a lot more things for my life and career.
"I just stay focused. At the end of the day, it's always about training hard and staying humble because anything can be short-lived. I could be defeated July 27 and all of this talk and billboard stuff will all go away. That's just the reality of things. But I make sure I stay focused in the gym and train hard every single day, and hopefully when I go out there on July 27 I come out with the 'W.'"
With the title fight approaching and a packed media schedule filled with phone and video interviews, Johnson has locked down his focus for the bout and remained on his toes throughout the process. A great example of the latter came in the final question for this particular interview. He took the opportunity to flip the question and serve it back.
"What do you think fans can expect when I get in the Octagon on July 27 against John Moraga?" he volleyed. "Let me ask you that question. What do you think?"
"I think they are expecting excitement," this reporter offered in return. "I saw you fight live for the first time against Dodson at UFC on Fox 6, and that fight was pretty amazing back-and-forth, sir.
"Well, there you go. You put that down right there."
Whether it is Johnson's words or mine in light of the moment, fans will enter the Key Arena next weekend expecting to see excitement from a champion who has consistently proven to be exactly that.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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