Demetrious Johnson has beaten up on an awful lot of punching bags during his six-year career in mixed martial arts. But as of late, most of the jabs he has taken have come outside the octagon. In some ways, the world flyweight champion has found respect to be a delicacy leading up to a title encounter with contender John Moraga.
The bout is one of 11 UFC fights on Saturday’s card at KeyArena. With the flyweight belt on the line, local hero Johnson will be a hot commodity for Seattle’s UFC following.
Washingtonians have a soft spot for “Mighty Mouse,” who grew up in Parkland, but the champion has been a human punching bag during the months leading up to a fight he contends is the “biggest of my life.”
First, it was the banter that surrounded Johnson’s heavily criticized flyweight division. UFC fans haven’t swarmed to their TV sets to watch the 125-pounders.
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Second, Moraga has been a critic of Johnson’s style.
“He is boring. If they ask me my opinion, that’s my opinion,” said Moraga, who contends that — contrary to his own style — Johnson doesn’t try to finish off opponents. “There’s a lack of effort in what he does and that’s the difference between me and him.”
Johnson prefers to let his work in the octagon, where he is 17-2-1 in his last 20 fights, speak for itself.
“The last guys who have fought me, they all say the same thing, where all he does is bounce around and he can’t deal with it,” Johnson said. “I look at it as he doesn’t know how to deal with it and he’s making fun of it.”
A third line of disapproval has come from those questioning his decision to have a child while at the top of his field. Johnson’s wife, Destiny, gave birth eight days ago — a son he has referred to as the “Mighty Baby.”
“I know a lot of fighters who are like, ‘I’m not going to have kids while I’m fighting.’ For me, this is part of my life,” Johnson said. “I don’t want my wife’s life to stop and to be on hold just because I’m fighting…”
Johnson is eager to provide a happy life for his family. His experience was filled with adversity. He has never seen his biological father and his mother has been through multiple divorces.
Jake Ellenberger brings an inspirational tale to KeyArena, where many observers believe a victory against Rory MacDonald could lead to a shot at the welterweight belt.
The 28-year-old from Omaha, Neb., learned the ropes of MMA through twin brother Joe, now his cornerman. Joe Ellenberger, once a premier fighter, was diagnosed in 2009 with paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria — a rare blood disease.
To survive, Joe requires a prescription drug priced at $440,000 per year.
“For me to succeed in this sport is just as gratifying for him as it is for me, he says … He really got behind me and supported me and wanted me to continue to fight,” Jake Ellenberger said.
Theo Lawson: firstname.lastname@example.org.