Demetrious Johnson hasn’t been shy about his pursuit of the UFC record books.
The flyweight champion, who is on the short list of top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, wants to surpass former middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva’s mark of 10 successful title defenses. Entering his UFC 197 co-main event showdown with unbeaten challenger Henry Cejudo, Mighty Mouse has defended his title seven consecutive times.
The way things are going, Johnson might get there within a year. But in the world of MMA, anything can happen in the cage.
Read on for more on the finest fighters in the UFC’s 125-pound division. For convenience, they have been separated into descending tiers.
Demetrious Johnson (23-2-1, 11-1-1 UFC)
Mighty Mouse was an accomplished bantamweight before the UFC added the 125-pound division four years ago. In his last fight at 135, he lost a decision to 135-pound champion Dominick Cruz.
Johnson hasn’t lost since, laying waste to the elite of the division. He has two wins over Joseph Benavidez, two more over John Dodson, plus victories against Kyoji Horiguchi, John Moraga, Ali Bagautinov and Ian McCall. Most of the top fighters he hasn’t faced tend to lose to the guys he already has defeated. Mighty Mouse is in a league of his own.
Joseph Benavidez (24-4, 11-2)
Make that contender, singular. With Dodson’s return to bantamweight, Benavidez is in a tier all his own, for better or worse.
In his 28-fight career, only two men have beaten Benavidez: Johnson and Cruz. At 125 pounds, he can boast of wins over Moraga, Jussier Formiga, Bagautinov, McCall, Zach Makovsky and Dustin Ortiz. That resume is nearly as impressive as Johnson’s.
Benavidez may just be the greatest UFC fighter to never win the title, a bittersweet distinction to be sure.
Henry Cejudo (10-0, 4-0), Jussier Formiga (18-4, 4-3), Kyoji Horiguchi (16-2, 5-1), John Moraga (16-4, 5-3)
Cejudo’s MMA resume isn’t the most stacked. The 29-year-old’s only win over a fighter mentioned in this piece is against Formiga, via split decision in November. That’s a nice feather, but his status as the youngest-ever U.S. Olympic gold medalist in wrestling is his greatest feat to date.
Horiguchi, like Cejudo, has youth on his side. He’s only 25, so it’s likely the hard-hitting Japanese fighter will one day work his way back to a second title shot.
The aforementioned Formiga and Moraga are elite gatekeepers. Both are tough outs that separate the men from the boys at 125.
Ali Bagautinov (13-4, 3-2), Zach Makovsky (19-7, 3-3), Ian McCall (13-5-1, 2-3-1), Dustin Ortiz (15-5, 4-3), Wilson Reis (20-6, 4-2), Louis Smolka (10-1, 4-1)
Bagautinov has lost two in a row, but they were to Johnson and Benavidez. His win over current bantamweight John Lineker is a solid accomplishment, but the rest of his ledger is less impressive.
McCall was considered the top flyweight in the world before the UFC conglomerated the division. Uncle Creepy, as he is known, has struggled since a draw against Johnson in the inaugural flyweight tournament semifinals. He lost his last bout against an overweight Lineker in January 2015.
Reis impressed in a decision victory against Ortiz in January, but neither looks like a candidate to one day dethrone Johnson.
Smolka, on the other hand, has could be going places. At just 24 years old, the well-rounded Hawaiian may be less than a year away from a title shot if he can pick up a win over a top 10 opponent.
Best of the Rest
Ryan Benoit (8-4, 1-2), Ray Borg (9-2, 3-2), Chris Kelades (9-2, 2-1), Ben Nguyen (14-5, 2-0), Sergio Pettis (13-2, 4-2), Justin Scoggins (11-2, 4-2)
Flyweight is still developing as a division, so most in this group are prospects.
Borg, Scoggins and Pettis are the blue chippers. Each is 22 or 23, and they represent the future of the division when Johnson will be spoken of as a retired Hall of Famer.
Nguyen and Benoit are in their mid 20s, but they’re worth monitoring. Benoit TKO’d Pettis last year, and Nguyen submitted Benoit in November for his eighth win in a row.
Kelades, 35, is the elder statesmen here. He’s the classic low-level gatekeeper all divisions need.
Outside the Octagon
Tim Elliott (13-6-1, 2-4)
Now the Titan FC champion, he’s 13-4 since a three-fight winless start to his career. The four losses are to Benavidez, Dodson, Bagautinov and Makovsky.
Clearly, Elliott hit his ceiling during a six-fight UFC tenure, but his floor is less clear. Could he compete with the Best of the Rest? Quite possibly. He’s a worthy gatekeeper.
Expected upcoming bouts
- Johnson vs. Cejudo (Saturday, UFC 197)
- Kelades vs. Pettis (Saturday, UFC 197)
- Horiguchi vs. Neil Seery (May 8, UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Arlovski)
- Smolka vs. Nguyen (July 13, UFC Fight Night)