After a competitive first round against the young, hungry, athletic and strong Yuya Wakamatsu, Johnson’s grappling prowess and ability to adapt took control. Johnson secured a guillotine choke that forced the motivated Japanese warrior to tap out under Mighty Mouse’s squeeze.
The win, which is the first of what could be a line of memorable moments for him with ONE Championship, pushed Johnson into the semifinals of the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix.
This wasn’t the only time Johnson has shown mixed martial arts fans how special he can be. Here are nine other times in the past where we witnessed his greatness.
Defeating a Japanese Legend
Back in 2011, Johnson faced off with Norifumi Yamamoto, aka Kid Yamamoto, one of the most influential Japanese combat sports athletes in history. Still, relatively early in his career, Johnson was only slightly favored to win the bout. He used his speed and grappling ability to control Yamamoto and earn a unanimous-decision victory. The match took place at bantamweight, but Johnson proved he could compete with and beat the top-level competition.
Winning the First-Ever Men’s Flyweight Championship
When the first-ever flyweight title was created, Johnson stood front and center. He battled the outstanding Joseph Benavidez in an epic match to win the title, beginning what is widely considered the most dominant title reign in mixed martial arts history. He held onto the belt for almost six years.
His First Late Submission
Johnson has made a habit of securing late-bout submission victories. The first time he did, it was in 2013 when he used a tricky armbar and forced the tough John Moraga to submit in the final two minutes of their five-round battle. Johnson was seemingly headed for a decision win, but the champion wasn’t satisfied and looked for the finish.
Mighty Mouse Proves He Can Punch
Johnson is known more of a grappler than a striker for much of his career. But he reminded everyone he can be dangerous with his hands when he smashed Benavidez in a rematch in 2013. A mighty right hand floored Benavidez in the very first round, then strikes that followed after led to the stoppage win. It was a successful title defense and a more significant appreciation for Johnson’s overall skills.
Another Late Finish of a World Champion
Johnson’s penchant for late finishes continued in 2015 when he scored yet another fifth-round submission victory over current two-organization champion Kyoji Horiguchi. Johnson completely subdued the powerful and athletic Japanese martial artist. Johnson could have coasted to a victory by decision, but he instead elected for another statement-making win. At this point in his career, many were wondering if there was anyone capable of defeating “Mighty Mouse.”
Destroying a Two-Division World Champion
In 2016, Johnson not only defeated Olympic Gold Medalist and current two-division champion Henry Cejudo, but he also destroyed him inside of one round. Johnson put on one of the best performances of his career as his superior striking and grappling defense overcame Cejudo’s wrestling prowess. The win over Cejudo meant he’d all but cleaned out his division.
Dismantling a BJJ Black Belt
Wilson Reis waited a long time for his shot at Johnson in 2017, but when he finally got it, he showed how unready he was for “Mighty Mouse.” Over nearly three punishing rounds, Johnson out-wrestled, out-struck and outclassed Reis. At the end of the third round, Johnson’s relentless assault and persistent attack from top position forced the stoppage and earned him another win. What Johnson did was impressive considering Reis’ pedigree as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist.
The Greatest Submission in History
We’ve seen a lot of amazing submissions in the sport, but Johnson’s Mouse Trap finish against Ray Borg in 2017 is still the best anyone has ever seen in the cage. Johnson went from a back body lock to a throw and then transitioned into an armbar — all before Borg’s body hit the mat.
If there was ever any doubt about Johnson’s all-time greatness, this finish, which came in the fifth and final round, should have put all of the critics to rest.
Losing With Grace
Even a warrior as great as Johnson will sometimes come out on the short end of the stick. Johnson lost his rematch with Cejudo via controversial split decision in 2018. Many scored the bout in favor of Johnson, but two of the three official judges scored it for Cejudo.
While Johnson clearly felt he won the belt, he never misbehaved or had a meltdown fueled by frustration. Johnson had already been perhaps the most under-appreciated martial artist in the world, and that he’d strung together such a historic win streak, so the defeat had to sting. However, he handled it like a champion, and that self-control is just as important as all of the wins he has compiled.