When Demetrious Johnson steps into the Octagon on Saturday night at UFC 216, he'll look to cement his legacy as arguably the best mixed martial artist ever. The current flyweight champion, who has not lost in six years, takes on Ray Borg in Las Vegas and a win would be his 11th title defense in a row, surpassing Anderson Silva's record for the most all time.
To get a sense of what it's like to compete against a legend, we spoke with eight of Johnson's former opponents -- seven of which fought for a championship belt and one who handed "Mighty Mouse" his last defeat.
Preparing for a fight
Chris Cariaso (lost by second-round Kimura): "I didn't feel pressure until about five minutes before I walked out. I thought 'oh my god, what did I get myself into.' I remember walking out and hearing Joe Rogan say 'Cariaso needs to fight the fight of his life!' and I was like ,'Oh my god, what am I going to do?' It was during the prefight when they were talking about it. They had it on in the back room and it was playing. And I was like 'oh s---, here we go.'"
Joseph Benavidez (lost first fight by split decision, second by first-round KO due to punches): "When I fought him the first time, you couldn't predict the epic run that he would go on. But when you see him going through other opponents you think, 'Wow, he tears these guys apart and makes them look normal.' "[His speed] is something you can't adjust to. I tried to go with the fastest people I could leading up to the fights with him and you still can't get as fast as him until you get there. It's not like you saw that in the gym or in practice. And fight speed is different, so you add fight speed to the fastest fighter on the planet."
Wilson Reis (lost by third-round armbar): "My game plan going in was to attack him. I like to fight forward. I thought I should pressure him. I felt he attacks the guy so much that he never gets attacked back."
John Moraga (lost by fifth-round armbar): "I didn't really have a game plan. I just felt well-rounded and that I would be able to be OK everywhere. He outsmarted me in that fight. It was pretty dominating."
What went wrong in the fight
Benavidez: "I was that close to finishing someone many consider the best ever [in the first fight]. It's something that goes through my head all the time. Every little thing that I could have done different. I will randomly be driving and get upset. My wife will say 'what's the matter?' and I will say 'nothing.' But sometimes I think about little things like that and if it could have gone another way.
"The second fight he finished me so it wasn't nearly as close as the first. That goes to show that he made adjustments. He knocked me out -- saw a mistake within two minutes -- a person who has never been finished in 30 fights previously, so he's done what no one else has done."
John Dodson (lost two fights by unanimous decision): "The first time he and I fought, I thought there was no way I could drop Demetrious Johnson so easily. I dropped him four times in that fight and he was supposed to be the best at that time and I was just in awe. Those first two knockdowns I knew I had him hurt and the fight won, but I didn't attack him and get the victory. Because I didn't, he made sure to capitalize on making me pay for it.
"The second time we had a go around it was a different fight. He learned so much more from our first encounter that he developed a new game plan, was a lot stronger, faster and knew how to play his strengths versus mine."
Moraga: "He took me down at the end of the first round. He has a good coach, good eyes behind him. So his coach told him right away 'take him down again.' That's what he did. He got me thinking 'I'm going to fight' and then I rushed it thinking there was going to be an exchange. He ducked under and took me down and pretty much did that to me the whole fight. He took me down, laid on top -- he was just ready."
Cariaso: "I threw a kick and slipped. He came up on top. I remember him going for the Kimura earlier. I remember stuffing my hand and hiding and it and then I saw an opening to escape again. That's when he went right to it. He caught my arm and it was too late."
How Johnson differs from other fighters
Benavidez: "It's like playing chess. We all have the same pieces, but he goes out there and executes them better than we do at the right time. I think he has great coaching -- I have to give them credit. His preparation for every fight really sets him apart. Everyone has a formula to get beat. He goes out and pretty much runs that formula on every single person he fights."
Reis: "He has the perfect body, the perfect weight. He's so well-rounded. You can definitely tell he and his coach are on the same page. He has the IQ in every discipline to do any kind of game plan."
Dodson: "He has an awesome ability to go ahead and be creative. He can go in and create something brand new that nobody has ever seen. He literally goes out and does whatever he wants to do. Like when he faced Henry Cejudo, he allowed him to take him down, smiled, got back up and kneed him in the gut and watched him crumble."
Moraga: "His footwork is the best thing about him. He has the best footwork in probably any division. He keeps his range real well, moves in and out and stays moving. He's fast with his footwork and timing."
Ian McCall (first fight ended in a draw; lost second by unanimous decision): "He's Matt Hume's game boy. And Matt Hume -- his coach -- is a genius. [Demetrious] listens so well. I listen most of the time to my coaches, but you can hear that the things [Hume] is saying, he's doing them. He's doing them right when they are said. It's almost like you can hear the things being called and know what they are, but you're waiting for him. Then you are already at a disadvantage."
Dominick Cruz (won by unanimous decision): "When I look at DJ since we fought, the place he's made the most leaps and bounds was in his mind. I think DJ had a lot of early-on doubts about how good he was or could be. As he dropped to this division, where he felt he was at his actual weight class, you saw his confidence change. You saw his words change, the way he promoted the fight change. Everything about him kind of changed. That's just confidence. That's just knowing he's the champion and knowing he's the best in the world at 135 pounds as well. It just changed his mindset."
Kyoji Horiguchi (lost by fifth-round armbar): "It's not just speed -- he has better speed than ordinary fighters -- but it's the response. He expected what the opponent has coming. DJ can adjust his game plan and can manage whoever he's facing in the Octagon."
Cariaso: "He's just so well-rounded. He's able to fight from the outside, fight from the inside. His grappling was also on point as well. That was my main thing. Everywhere we went he kind of had an answer for."
Johnson deserves more credit for ...
McCall: "It's the way he puts everything together. He's not flawless -- no one is flawless -- but he's as close as flawless as possible. It's how seamless he makes his technique. That's the big thing, that's what people don't get."
Benavidez: "You've seen him have great success in the clinch, and no one can really do anything in the clinch. He's really safe there. That's where you really feel his strength. I don't know if that's strength or how well he uses his leverage and technique. But when you're in the clinch, you think 'I can't do anything to this guy. I'm tied up.' I think he's won multiple fights just by clinching -- Cejudo, (Ali) Bagautinov, Dodson. The fights were close and he got them in the clinch and just destroyed them."
Dodson: "There was nothing that DJ did that I hadn't already trained for already. The only thing I couldn't account for was his cardio. His cardio was way better than mine and he pushed a faster pace than I could. In the fifth round it looks like he's still playing around, playing a video game."
Moraga: "His timing and footwork. Being in the right place at the right time, he does that very well and I don't think most people realize that."
What Mighty Mouse's dominance means for the flyweight division:
Reis: "It's good to have someone who dominates because that creates the hunger so people like myself want to get better and evolve. As a fighter and UFC fan, it's definitely good because he has the belt and we want to go and take it. He's the king of the division. We want to go and be the king. "
Dodson: "He's putting the division into a dark corner. I'm not saying it's a super bad thing, but it's like how Jose Aldo was the most dominant fighter in the featherweight division and then it fell off because everyone knew that Jose was going to win. And then Conor McGregor came and decided to run the sport and brought some new life to the sport and into that division. We just need someone who can rival that and be as good as a fighter and as a talker to do the same thing to DJ."
Cariaso: I've been dealing with that my whole career -- being the smaller guy and getting people to appreciate it. Hopefully he goes out there and gets a big win, whether it's a submission or a good domination. Hopefully that will put the flyweight division on notice. That's what we've been hoping for since the flyweight division was started -- to get noticed. "
Cruz: "Americans naturally throughout history have always gone towards the bigger, stronger, more mutant-looking type of human. We just always want something that looks out of this world that can also beat you up. When you look at a 125-pound man you don't necessarily think that right off the bat. You think, 'no way' when you look at someone like Demetrious Johnson. What they don't get is he actually is that good and is a real threat just as much as these big guys are. It's just hard to visualize it.
"I think it's been nothing but good for the division to have Demetrious Johnson there because he's raising the bar for the division. If you raise the bar for the division they either catch up and gain momentum and get better, or they stay behind and he stays on top. It's just that simple. That's all that matters. He's doing his job and winning."
Where Johnson ranks among all-time greats
Benavidez: "I put him right up there on the Mount Rushmore of the three or four. It's hard to say because he's active. I don't think people appreciate and can acknowledge just how good he is or his legacy because he's still going. For others we've seen everything they've done and now it's over. It's hard to put your finger on that because he's still going through that."
McCall: "By far [pound-for-pound's best]. I think that we don't have to talk about Jon Jones anymore. I think he is the most physically gifted person on the planet, but we can finally stop talking about him. Demetrious is the best all time. He doesn't transcend the sport like Anderson [Silva] or GSP, but from a technical standpoint, yes he is the best."
Dodson: "I think he's the pound-for-pound best in the world. And not only that, he's one of the best all-around MMA fighters. He's working to cement his place in history right now."
Reis: "I think he's the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He has proven that. The second best fighter would definitely be Anderson Silva. But [Demetrious] would be the first. He's the best pound-for-pound fighter in history. For the amount of times he's defended the belt, and for how long -- since the weight class was created -- he's been winning in the weight class. "
Horiguchi: "He's a great fighter. He has many good skills. Some great fighters may be more exciting, so people remember the excitement. But DJ's case is more as a professional fighter. He has great response to any type of opponent."
Cariaso: "I would have to wait and see where he ends up and where he decides to go after this title defense. I'm excited for him to break this record. I'm pushing for him to get it because of what he's done in the cage. You got to go out there and respect that he's defended his title 11 times. Anderson Silva is the only other one to do that, and Demetrious being the first flyweight champion, it's a pretty cool thing. I'm rooting for him to set that legacy. "
Moraga: "He's one of the best ever. To do what he's done, for as long as he's done it -- he's even done it at the next weight class up in the past -- he's got to be one of the best ever. They are watching greatness right now."