TORONTO - There’s no denying the merger between the UFC and WEC rosters has already yielded some great fights for the world’s largest MMA organization.
But most of the former WEC fighters have a long way to go before they’re easily recognized by casual fans.
Bantamweight Demetrious Johnson admits he’s not exactly a household name yet, even after his dominant decision win over Japanese sensation Norifumi (Kid) Yamamoto at February’s UFC 126 in a fight that was streamed on Facebook.
Though fans do approach him, they don’t always know who he is.
“I get stopped more because people think I look like DaMarques Johnson and he gets the same thing,” Johnson said in an interview with QMI Agency. “Other than that, I’m still working my way up the ladder.
“The more I fight and the more exposure I get … the more the world is going to know me.”
The case of mistaken identity is an odd one to say the least. DaMarques Johnson is nine inches taller, competes in the heavier welterweight division, sports far more tattoos and has hair. The two look nothing alike.
On Saturday, Demetrious Johnson gets another opportunity to raise his profile when he faces former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres at UFC 130 in Las Vegas. The bout will air on Rogers Sportsnet prior to the pay-per-view portion of the card.
“I feel honoured; he was the face of the WEC,” Johnson said. “He was the tyrant of the bantamweight class and it’s an honour to fight him. I can’t wait to see how I do. It’s going to be an exciting fight. I look forward to it.
“It’s the biggest fight of my career so far. This determines if I keep climbing up the mountain or if I fall back down and have to make my way back up again.”
Less than two years ago, Torres was considered one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world. An aggressive striker with a stellar submission game, Torres was more than happy to let opponents take him to the mat. If they did so, they were entering his world.
“His old style, he was very aggressive and people couldn’t deal with it,” Johnson said. “People were meeting his aggression with aggression.”
However, Torres’ momentum was derailed when he suffered a knockout loss to Brian Bowles and was then submitted by Joseph Benavidez. Soon after he began training under Firas Zahabi, who coaches UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre.
Since changing camps, Torres has been noticeably more cautious and patient in his last two outings. His debut against Antonio Banuelos at UFC 126 earned the scorn of fans and critics alike due to his tentative approach.
“It’s all about winning now and fighting smart,” Johnson said of Torres’ new style. “It’s not about going out there and going balls-to-the-wall because if you do, you might get caught and lose. Then you don’t get your full purse, you don’t get the same sponsors; now you suck and nobody cares about you anymore. They always say you’re only as good as your last fight.
“He played a really good game — not like his old self, where he would go out there to finish fights. But he’s got to be smart now because he would get in trouble when he was all crazy. He got the ‘W’; it doesn’t matter what I think. As long as he gets that ‘W’, that’s all that matters.”
The criticism against Torres is similar to that of his teammate St. Pierre, who was slammed for his recent performance against Jake Shields in Toronto last month. Though he respects the Montreal native, Johnson said the remarks are deserved.
“The fans make it so we are able to fight and get paid to do it,” Johnson began. “If the fans are bored of the fight, then they’re bored of the fight. The truth is the truth. It’s not Dana White’s fault or the UFC’s fault, it’s just the way that the cards are played. GSP plays a very smart game and he keeps on winning. If he keeps on winning, why does he have to change his style or game plan?”
Johnson isn’t sure what to expect come fight night, but said he can’t afford to get impatient if Torres slows the pace.
“Yeah, that’s probably how he wants me to react (in that situation),” Johnson said. “I don’t let that bother me because I’m always a pressure guy. I’m always moving forward. You get points for moving forward. If I’m coming forward and he’s backing up, looking for that jab and I’m moving out of the way and securing my takedowns, I’m more active than he is. I think the judges will favour me because I’m trying to push the action; I’m trying to make this fight happen. If he backs up, he’s not trying to make this fight happen.
“That’s how I see it right now, but you never know. I could come forward and get the hell jabbed out of me and he could win the fight by just jabbing me to death like he did to Antonio Banuelos.”