Demetrious Johnson says Dana White threatened to shut down flyweight division

Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson has long kept to himself the full extent of his displeasure with the way he has been handled and promoted by UFC. 

Those days are apparently over. 

Johnson (26-2-1), who is one victory away from breaking the UFC record for consecutive title defenses, aired the entirety of his beef Monday, first through a statement he released exclusively to MMAFighting.com, and during a subsequent interview on "The MMA Hour." 

"For years, I have been a company man and kept quiet, accepting fights, doing as they asked, and always remaining humble and grateful for the opportunities provided to me through mixed martial arts," Johnson's statement said. "This is how I was raised through the sport. Unfortunately, UFC's mistreatment and bullying has finally forced me to speak out. 

"I've decided to speak out now as I feel like my values and character as a person and a fighter are being tarnished by an organization I've done nothing but sweat and bleed for over the last seven years of my life. If it takes me speaking up and encouraging other fighters to ban together to start getting fair treatment, then so be it."

Johnson, 30, recognized by most as the sport's pound-for-pound king (and by some as its greatest fighter in history), said he signed a new contract last December. But things became sour in recent months, providing a tipping point for years of bottled up anger as Johnson said he felt he wasn't being rewarded for his commitment. 

While attending the UFC Fighter Retreat in May, the first time fighters had the chance to meet with new management since UFC was sold to WME-IMG for $4 billion last summer, Johnson began to see things more clearly. He held his ground during an argument with UFC president Dana White about his next fight (and the financials surrounding it) and experienced an epiphany of sorts soon after. 

"I was at the UFC Fighter Retreat and having Michael Strahan, Kobe Bryant and Brandon Marshall come out there and talk to us about the sport and finding your purpose, sticking to your principles and don't back down from what you believe in," Johnson said. "Seeing these big sports figures preach to us about that. A lot of people took different things from the fighter retreat and some people were just there to party in Vegas. 

"But for me, I sat down after listening to every one of their stories about how they took their career by their hand and made the right choices for themselves because ain't nobody looking out for the career of Demetrious Johnson other than myself."

Johnson's disagreement with White came in the aftermath of bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt pulling out of his UFC 213 title defense in July against TJ Dillashaw. Johnson said he had already accepted a title defense against Ray Borg, yet suddenly found himself being pressured by White publicly to accept a fight against Dillashaw, which he vehemently disagreed with. 

"First, TJ has never fought at flyweight and is unlikely to make the weight, which would then eliminate the possibility of breaking the title defense record," Johnson said. "Second, they have already told me that a fight between Cody and I wouldn't be sellable, so fighting TJ would have no monetary upside. 

"Third, TJ is not a flyweight or a current champion in another weight class and was KO'ed by the flyweight whom I beat twice already. Last, Ray Borg and I already agreed to the fight, which UFC tyrannically demanded, while denying me any future PPV points."

Johnson claims he was further bullied to accept the fight by White, who told him to either fight Dillashaw or have the entire flyweight division eliminated by UFC. After Johnson said no, White went public announcing a Johnson-Dillashaw fight, which Johnson felt was "an honest attempt to bully me in the media and tarnish my reputation."

That's when Johnson first decided to go public, bringing to light news he had already signed to face Borg. As discussions continued to fall apart, Johnson decided to go the route of Monday's reveal, exposing what he believes is a history of UFC's lack of interest in marketing both him or the division. 

"I said close the m-----f------ division then," Johnson said. "I said if someone is willing to do that, it just shows they have no interest whatsoever in working with the champion. I've never missed weight, I always showed up on time, done all my interviews leading up to fight week, traveled to Australia and coached. I've done a lot. 

"For them to say that, it just shows me that, OK, this is your form of tactic to try and call my bluff and you threaten to close the flyweight division. Then f------ close it. You are saying that we don't bring excitement to the UFC, our division is not making money. I would like to disagree. I think our division is making money and bringing excitement."

Dillashaw responded in kind on Monday to Johnson's claims, using his nickname against him.

"Mini Mouse or Mighty Mouse? Don't be scared! This is the fight game, I've taking title fights on 24-hour notice. I'm already waking up at 143 pounds, on my way down to put a squash to this hype. You want to call yourself the Goat then what do you have to be afraid of?!"

In the end, Johnson said he hopes his speaking out helps other fighters in his same spot. In a year which has featured an almost record-breaking amount of fighters turning down fights and speaking ill publicly of UFC, Johnson said he's simply sick of finding out news about himself through the media and not directly from the mouth of his employers.  

"It's not like I'm a bad guy," Johnson said. "I'm just f------ keeping it real." 

CBS Sports Insider

Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories