Former long-time UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson is about embark on a new chapter in his career with Asian mixed martial arts powerhouse ONE Championship.
After over eight years under the WEC/UFC umbrella, which saw him become the inaugural UFC Flyweight Champion and defend the title for a promotion-record eleven times, Johnson was involved in the first-ever 'trade' in MMA history, which sent the flyweight star over to ONE in exchange for ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren.
"I’m very honored and grateful to be able to be a ONE athlete, it’s a huge move on my part and for my career, I’m looking to go into Asia and I’m looking to test my skills in ONE Championship against the best in the flyweight division," Johnson said in the official introductory conference call, Monday morning.
"I know those guys are animals, I know Geje [Eustaquio], [Adriano] Moraes, all the other guys are beasts and I’m looking to get in the ring with those guys and see who I fare out there," he added.
Johnson is coming off his first loss since 2011, a split decision defeat to Henry Cejudo back in August. It marked the end of his near-six year reign as UFC's flyweight king.
Of course, one of the biggest questions is why Johnson would decide to leave the one of the biggest MMA promotions in the world.
"At the end of the day, I felt that I’m pretty young in my career and I wanted to try something different," he responded. "I’ve always wanted to travel the world and compete, and actually grew up watching Asian mixed martial arts, with PRIDE mostly, and to have the opportunity to travel over Asia to compete in a totally different weight class was something I couldn’t pass up, so obviously I had talked to Malki [Kawa] and First Round Management after my last fight, I was like 'You know what, do you think this is something that could be possible?' and he goes 'Anything is possible, man!' and so Malki was able to get it done and here we are now, and I’m grateful that everything fell in the right place and now I’m a ONE Athlete and I’m looking forward to see what happens."
When asked if it had anything to do with the percieved souring of his relationship with the UFC, Johnson said that there was no such thing.
"No, not at all, it did not. It was something I wanted to do, and I brought it to my management, and we were able to make it happen, and here we are."
With regards to the 'trade' which, in essence, was simply releasing both fighters from their current contracts to allow them to sign with their desired promotions, ONE Championship chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong mentioned that it was Johnson's manager Malki Kawa of First Round management who came up with the idea.
"The talks began, as DJ mentioned, when DJ reached out to Malki and Malki took the lead and coordinated everything. He came up with the idea with Ben Askren and the whole trade, and that’s how it happened."
Johnson, who's still recovering from an injury, is expected to make his ONE debut in 2019.
He is expected to attend ONE's Heart of the Lion event in Singapore to support his teammate and coach, reigning ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano Fernandes, who will be facing reigning ONE Interim Bantamweight World Champion Kevin Belingon in a title-unification bout.