One of the reasons John Dodson believes he didn’t take Demetrious Johnson’s Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight belt the first time they fought in 2013 is that he showed the champion too much respect.
That shouldn’t be a problem in the rematch Saturday in the main event of UFC 191 at the MGM Grand Garden.
Dodson believes the 125-pound weight class needs life breathed into it because Johnson, the champion since the division was created in 2012, has grown stale.
“I’m not impressed with his performance,” Dodson said, mimicking the voice and famous line of former UFC champion Georges St. Pierre. “Of course (it’s time for fresh blood). Everyone likes my face anyway. They already say I’m the greatest of all time, so why not?
“They already forgot about DJ.”
Dodson, who briefly returned home to Albuquerque, N.M., from Las Vegas on Monday to witness the birth of his daughter, Delilah, thought he had ended Johnson’s reign once before. He knocked the champion down twice early in the fight but failed to capitalize. Johnson eventually settled in and won a unanimous decision.
Dodson blames only himself.
“The first time I was a fan of his,” he said. “I respected him way too much because of what he had accomplished. I missed the opportunity of knocking his head off. I messed up with a few shots that I missed on, but I dropped him and I should have capitalized on it.
“Everyone saw me with a vicious intent and killer instinct when I knocked out T.J. Dillashaw, Darrell Montague and everyone else I put down. I didn’t show that same type of intensity or level of killer instinct against Demetrious Johnson. I had way too much respect for him in that fight, and the one coming up I want to make sure that I see Demetrious as just another fighter and not as the champion.”
Dodson will need more than a change in mindset to beat Johnson, perhaps the UFC’s most well-rounded fighter.
Johnson’s coach, Matt Hume, has spent a great deal of time breaking down the first fight against Dodson. They believe the early problems can be attributed to Johnson chasing Dodson, a powerful counter-striker, around too much.
“You have two men in a 25-foot octagon who weigh 125 pounds and we’re both 5 feet 3,” Johnson said. “You don’t get called for backing up, so if one person goes forward and the other person backs up, it’s going to take a long time for that person to get the other person. He likes to use movement and wait for his opponent to overextend, which I end up doing in the first fight, and eventually, once he got tired and stopped running as much, I was able to get my wrestling and clinch game and get to him.”
While Dodson thinks both fighters have grown and improved, they still largely employ the same style. He believes it will come down to which fighter better executes his game plan and imposes his will.
“I want to make sure my rock crushes his scissors,” Dodson said.
If Johnson is scissors, everyone else in the division has been paper. He continues to dispatch contender after contender.
Johnson wouldn’t be surprised to see Dodson again after Saturday.
“I plan on being in the sport for a long time, and I believe John Dodson will be in the sport for a long time as well,” he said. “So I think our paths will cross again whether I win this fight or not. We’re the top fighters in the world, and we keep beating all the people who are below us, so I think our paths will cross again regardless of who is champ.”
Dodson doesn’t think Johnson truly remembers the first fight so analytically. He thinks the two big shots he landed to drop Johnson are still in his head and could be a factor Saturday.
“I mean, I punched him in the face and he hit the ground,” Dodson said. “I’m the biggest threat to him. He knows that first fight between us was so close. I should have been able to walk away with the title. I wasn’t able to do that, and that’s my fault, but this time around I’m going to make sure that happens.”
Dodson, a skilled orator with one of the sport’s loudest personalities, thinks he has won the battle over Johnson even outside the cage.
“He’s been beat down verbally by me,” Dodson said. “He needs someone to hold him and embrace him and tell him it’s OK to pick on the bully that’s been bullying him the whole time.”
If Johnson is bothered by the talk, it doesn’t show.
“I wouldn’t call it bad blood or emotional. It’s almost like any other fight,” Johnson said. “Regardless if I win or lose, I keep it moving and go on to the next one. So that’s how I look at all my fights, and that’s how I look at this one.”
Dodson would argue it’s time for a different perspective in the division, and he’s the one who can make it happen.
“Everyone wants to sit there and cheer for a character,” he said. “We’re in the business of entertaining, not just being a good fighter.”
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.