Two months after Anderson Silva defended his middleweight championship for a UFC-record 10th time in July 2012 with a second-round TKO of Chael Sonnen in their big-money rematch, the reign of a new champion began upon the creation of the company's 125-pound division.
Demetrious Johnson, then a respected bantamweight contender whose only UFC loss had come against then-champion Dominick Cruz, defeated Joseph Benavidez by split decision in the flyweight tournament final to be crowned UFC's first champion at that weight class.
It was impossible to know back then, five full years ago, that Silva would never again make a successful defense of the 185-pound championship he made famous. Just two fights later, "The Spider" began a 1-4 stretch (including one no contest) that he has yet to pull his career out of as injury, defeats and a failed drug test conspired to steal a bit of shine from his great legacy.
It was just as impossible to realize that Johnson, then 26, was beginning his own legendary title reign that has him on the verge of history Saturday in Edmonton, Alberta. Johnson (26-2-1) will look to break Silva's UFC record when he seeks his 11th title defense against Ray Borg (11-2) in the main event of UFC 215 at Rogers Place.
The idea of Johnson, 31, being considered the world's pound-for-pound best fighter has been a feasible assessment in recent years depending upon whether you leaned on the all-around dominance of "Mighty Mouse," or instead preferred Jon Jones or even Conor McGregor for the top spot. But the idea of Johnson as the best in MMA history is more of a new concept.
UFC president Dana White really didn't begin echoing such words until April, when Johnson almost effortlessly submitted Wilson Reis to tie Silva's mark (which came two months before). Johnson backed up those sentiments in his post-fight interview.
"[Georges St-Pierre] and Anderson Silva are great champions, but I'm the greatest champion to ever step foot in this Octagon," Johnson said.
Although Johnson wasn't necessarily attempting to make a distinction with those words between "best fighter" and "best champion" of all-time (and to be clear, he believes he's the best ever), he may have been accidentally on to something.
For those who have been slow in committing to the idea of Johnson as the legit G.O.A.T., it would be hard to deny that an 11th title defense, at the very least, makes him the most dominant champion UFC has ever seen. But greatest fighter? Well, for many, that's still up for debate.
Longest title defenses UFC history
Some critics have pointed to Johnson's resume of opponents as not being on the level of a Jon Jones or his ability to produce highlight-reel moments not on the same dynamic level as Silva. Until Johnson moves back up to bantamweight and challenges the top names (something he is open to for the right money), there are those who will continue to be slow in giving him his full due.
But all Johnson has done in the meantime is win, typically in dominant fashion. He has also constantly evolved as a fighter, responding to criticism early in his reign that he wasn't exciting or a finisher by rifling off a string of knockouts and submissions.
Johnson may not have touched the heart of MMA fans in the same manner as Silva, GSP or even Fedor Emelianenko has, which has helped garner them votes for greatest in history, but a victory over Borg, eclipsing Silva's record, would give Johnson an undeniable foothold within the conversation of single greatest. It's an argument that only gets better for Johnson considering the recent drug test failures of Jones,.
"I was always a big fan of Anderson Silva. He was a true martial artist," Johnson said. "I remember when he set this record. I was like, 'Oh my God, he's at 10. No one is ever going to get 10 consecutive title defenses.'
"Here's little old me, the first-ever flyweight champion. I'm the only fighter to ever hold this belt. I've submitted people, I've KOed people, I have won seven bonuses. If I am able to go out there and win this fight, I'll be the longest reigning UFC champion ever in history."
Johnson calls his pursuit of the record "uncharted territory" for any UFC champion and something that means a lot to his legacy, which is one that has been built upon longevity and consistency.
"There are a lot of champions who get the belt and are unbeatable and next thing you know, they get beat," Johnson said. "Every single time you step in the Octagon, you have to be on. You have to be, because you have that target on your back. Everybody is watching and dissecting you to see if they can beat you. Obviously the ultimate goal is to defeat Demetrious Johnson in the flyweight division."
Borg is a model of non-stop aggression and is fresh off a pair of decision victories. But the 24-year-old hasn't yet secured the kind of breakthrough victory that typically lifts a fighter to a title shot -- a clear byproduct of a dominant fighter having cleaned out his own division.
"I think [Borg] is going to be like the last 10 of them," Johnson said. "I'm going to go out there and win this fight impressively and show them that I'm on a whole other level."
Johnson enters Saturday as the longest reigning current champion in UFC and one victory away from tying St-Pierre for the most in UFC title bouts (12). His current 12-fight win streak overall is also tied with GSP for third-most in company history.
Should Johnson exit the Octagon at UFC 215 with a victory, the added title of best fighter in history depends upon whom you ask. But to call any other UFC fighter the greatest champion the promotion has ever seen would become an increasingly difficult task.