Demetrious Johnson knows he’s going to be putting himself at a disadvantage in his mixed rules fight on Saturday against Rodtang Jitmuangnon at ONE Championship: X.
Johnson faces the Muay Thai champion in a special attraction that is set for four three-minute rounds, with rounds one and three contested under Muay Thai rules and rounds two and four contested under MMA rules. It’s going to be a wholly new experience for Johnson, and the former UFC flyweight champion didn’t beat around the bush when asked on The MMA Hour whether he expects the fight to be a “mind f***” once the action gets going.
“One thousand percent,” Johnson said recently on The MMA Hour. “Because naturally, for my whole entire career in mixed martial arts [I’ve been doing it one way]. Like, when they first presented this, they were like, ‘Hey, do you want to fight Rodtang for the Muay Thai belt?’ I was, ‘Nah, I don’t care about being Mauy Thai champion.’ I’m like, ‘There’s people out there who dreamed their whole lives to be a Muay Thai champion.’ But I said, ‘I will fight Rodtang.’ I was like, ‘I’ll fight him in Muay Thai. We can do big gloves.’
“Just me personally, I like Muay Thai. When I watch Muay Thai when it’s in Thailand or Lion Fighting or K-1, they have the big gloves. They had the big gloves on, right? So I’m kind of accustomed to seeing that. So I was like, ‘I’ll fight Rodtang, Muay Thai, big gloves. We do three [three-minute rounds], call it good and move on to the next one.’ And they came back with this. But it’s definitely going to be different on my end.”
Johnson, 35, said he’s had one amateur Muay Thai fight in his career. It happened in 2007 — well before his record-setting run of 11 consecutive UFC title defenses — and though he won a decision in that Muay Thai outing, Johnson said he broke a rib in the process.
But “Mighty Mouse” has never been one to shy away from a challenge. He acknowledged that he isn’t even quite sure how the bout is going to be scored — “I don’t really care about that,” Johnson said — but regardless of the hurdles he knows he’s going to face, he plans on giving Rodtang his best shot. Even if it’ll probably be a little awkward in the early going.
“It’s like I’m stopping my natural ability to be fluid and move, right?” Johnson said. “Because I’m a mixed martial artist. I’m not a Muay Thai fighter. And how I fight is that I build upon the rounds, right? The first round, I move in using my footwork, using my elevation change, using my clinching, using my wrestling. That’s one round. Five minutes of that — of my pressure going on and on and on. Second round, same thing. Third round, same thing. Fourth round, same thing. Five round, if they haven’t succumbed or drowned within those first four rounds, in the fifth one I typically do [finish them].
“So, to see that in the first and third round I have to be in a handicapped state and not use my greatest asset, yeah, it’s kind of that mind fog. But at the end of the day, it is what it is, baby. We don’t get paid to sit here and pick fights. We get paid to fight. Remember that.”
Saturday’s bout will mark Johnson’s return to action following a near year-long layoff. The future Hall of Famer hasn’t competed since losing via second-round knockout this past April in his bid to capture the ONE flyweight title against Adriano Moraes.
It was the first knockout loss of Johnson’s career — and his first decisive loss since a 2011 setback at the hands of Dominick Cruz — however revenge isn’t exactly at the forefront of Johnson’s mind. Moraes is currently slated to defend his belt on Saturday against the man Johnson submitted in his own ONE debut — Yuya Wakamatsu — and while Johnson would like to rematch the winner, it’s not going to make or break him if it doesn’t happen.
“Do I want to right that wrong? Absolutely,” Johnson said. “I want to work my way back up to it, right? I’ve got to get through Rodtang first. So when I look at this fight, this fight is to go out there and fight and compete and not use my full skill set. I can use it for six minutes essentially, which is not even two rounds in mixed martial arts. So get out there and let’s take care of Rodtang, let’s see how that fight goes.
“Then, after that, we’ll get back to mixed martial arts, we’ll see the next person who’s in line. Get back to doing what I do best, which is mixing up all of my skill set, which is mixed martial arts. And then work our way back to our title shot. And if I get the title shot and it’s Adriano or Yuya Wakamatsu, we’ll go out there and give it our best shot, and if we come up short again, we come up short. If we win, we win.”
More than anything, Johnson simply wants to be busy again after fighting just once since late 2019. If he’s able to achieve that, he’ll consider 2022 a successful year.
“I think if I can do three [fights], that’d be awesome. But two is in line, right?” Johnson said. “I feel like I fight better when I’m more active. When I fought in the world grand prix, three fights in the year was a lot — like, it was a lot — but it was it was worth it.
“So if I can get three in this year, awesome, but we’re shooting for two.”