Demetrious Johnson, Misunderstood (Mixed Martial) Artist, More Van Gogh Than Rockwell on Canvas

UFC 186: Johnson v Horiguchi

Painters are not the only artists who complain that the public just does not understand their work on the canvas.

Mixed-martial-artist Demetrious Johnson, a regular Picasso of Pain, takes offense at fans not understanding his art. “It’s only the fans and uneducated fools out there who say, “Oh, you’re boring,’” the UFC flyweight champion explained on the UFC 191 conference call. “I’m like, ‘Okay, if you say so. But you just don’t understand what I’m doing.’”

What he’s doing is winning. The 22-2 mixed-martial-artist’s eight-fight winning streak includes triumphs over Joseph Benavidez, John Moraga, Ian “Uncle Creepy” McCall, and the man he faces on September 5, John Dodson. Johnson wins fights but fans don’t watch them. The last three pay-per views he headlined generated, according to Dave Meltzer, 125,000, 205,000, and 115,000 buys. Ronda Rousey, who calls Johnson her favorite fighter to watch (which prompts Johnson to call her “educated”), drew 900,000 subscriptions for UFC 190. Maybe she can lobby some of her followers to watch DJ.

Demetrious Johnson endures the slings and arrows from press row and the predictable projectiles from the peanut gallery just like other great artists. Edouard Manet wounded Louis Duranty in a sword duel after the critic applied ugly words to his beautiful paintings. Ryan Adams left an angry voice mail for reviewer Jim DeRogatis (“Somebody sent me your stupid f—ing  bull— review of my show. I’m finally home getting over the flu. And, like, what is your problem?“). After Roger Ebert called The Brown Bunny the worst film ever screened at Cannes, Vincent Gallo called the late Chicago Sun-Times writer a “fat pig with the physique of a slave trader.”

Johnson’s critics, lurking anonymously in the furthest recesses of the internet, prove harder to reach than Duranty, DeRogatis, and Ebert. But he’s looking neither to reach them nor teach them. If they don’t appreciate his artistry, that’s on them. Catharsis comes for the man in the arena by punching John Dodson, not the critics who don’t count.

“I try not to focus on that,” Johnson told Breitbart Sports about critics on the UFC 191 conference call, “because at one point in time in my career, it was like, ‘Oh, he never finishes nobody,’ and then the next you know I’m breaking people’s arms and making them tap out and knocking them out. And the next thing you know, ‘Oh, I don’t like his stuff now.’ Okay. If you don’t like who I am, I can’t help you there buddy.”

His opponent at the September 5 pay-per view event doesn’t hesitate to answer whether the division becomes more marketable with him wearing the belt. “Of course,” the short and smiley Dodson tells Breitbart Sports. “Everyone wants to sit there and cheer for a character. We’re in the business of entertaining, not only of being good fighters. There’s a million good fighters out there.”

The inference? One must win fights and fans.

Johnson isn’t a good fighter like those million guys referred to by Dodson. He’s a great fighter, a mixed-martial artist other competitors watch in awe. But spectators still watch and yawn. “I can strike, grapple, submit, clinch,” Johnson tells Breitbart Sports “You look in the encyclopedia and ask, ‘What fighter can do any type of martial arts at a high-caliber level?’ My picture will show up.”

But exciting fights in cages, not dry articles in encyclopedias, captivate fans. Whether because of Mighty Mouse’s small stature, his high ratio of decisions (41 percent), his refusal to trash talk, a lack of charisma outside the cage, or his lack of competition inside of it, the crowds get small at the smaller man’s shows. Call him the anti-Conor McGregor.

And the advice of the 17th-century Jonson seems lost on the 21st-century Johnson:

The drama’s laws/the drama’s patrons give/For we that live to please/must please to live

Mighty Mouse performs in a cage, not on a stage. An acquired taste for refined tastes, he refuses to play to the cheap seats. The unanimated man with a cartoon character’s nickname who fights a human cartoon character at UFC 191 just doesn’t like the drama.

“I’m not focused on trying to get the fan’s notoriety and get them rallying behind me,” Johnson admitted Thursday. “If you want to see great mixed-martial arts, tune in when I fight. If you want drama, you guys can go watch Bachelors in Paradise.”