The biggest trade ever in the modern era of mixed martial arts was finalized this week, as former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson left his longtime home in the Octagon for ONE Championship in Southeast Asia. Conversely, ONE’s retired, undefeated welterweight champion Ben Askren is headed to the UFC, where he’ll be able to test himself against many of the top fighters in the world.
It’s really a move that should prove to be a winner all the way around.
Askren has long wanted to silence his critics by fighting the UFC’s best. Johnson hasn’t seemed to be overly happy with the lack of respect and treatment he’s received while fighting for the UFC. And both fight promotions get a fighter in the exchange that fits their mold.
UFC president Dana White seemed to say as much in a recent interview with TMZ Sports when asked about his longtime champion leaving to fight elsewhere.
“The kid broke the record for most title defenses. I feel like he never really got the love and the respect he deserved from the fans,” said White.
“I don’t know if he was always thrilled being here, so hopefully, he’s a lot happier where he’s headed now. His longtime trainer and coach (Matt Hume) is an executive over there. So maybe he’ll be happier over there.”
Truth be told, there was a lot of tension between Johnson and White over the past year or so, as well. While the UFC was working hard to book a superfight where bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw would drop down to challenge Johnson for the flyweight title, Johnson resisted the idea.
Regardless, that friction melts away with the trade freeing Johnson to take advantage of an opportunity for which he seems genuinely happy.
“I leave the UFC with no regrets, on good terms,” Johnson stated on a ONE Championship media call on Monday. “I believe I accomplished everything I could there. I defended the belt 11 times. I won every single way you can possibly think of — knockout, submission that nobody has ever seen before — I’ve done everything I can over there.
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“I think me coming to ONE Championship, there’s a lot of new goals, a lot fresh things, a lot of fresh matchups. This is different. The guys in Asia have been doing it since they were three or four years old, they bring a different style of mixed martial arts to the table.”
Askren, meanwhile, looks forward to showdowns with the likes of Darren Till and Colby Covington, whom he will be able to test on the trash talk front with his vocal acrobatics, just as he should be able to test them in the cage with a skillset that has led him to an undefeated record spanning 19 fights over the past decade.