Johnson stepping into uncharted territory

March, 1, 2012
3/01/12
1:39
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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Demetrious Johnson Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesHeavy lifting: Demetrious Johnson was successful fighting bigger guys at bantamweight.
By most accounts, Ian McCall is the world’s best flyweight.

But despite the difficulties McCall is likely to present Demetrious Johnson on Friday, he isn’t the most pressing issue facing the UFC’s former top bantamweight contender.

Johnson has spent his fighting career competing at 135 pounds. And while he was a smaller bantamweight, Johnson always knew how his body would respond in the cage. Speed and precision technique are his greatest assets. Combined, they allowed him to control the opposition with lightning fast strikes, takedowns and transitions.

But when he enters the Octagon on Friday, the deceptively strong 5-foot-3 Johnson hopes his skills aren’t compromised by the lighter weight.

Competing at 125 pounds for the first time, against the top-ranked fighter in the division won’t be easy for Johnson.

McCall, the Tachi Palace Fights flyweight titleholder, enters the Octagon with an 11-2 professional record. And McCall is no stranger to the Octagon, having fought three times in the WEC.

He was defeated by current UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in a nontitle bout on Jan. 25, 2009. McCall went 1-2 in WEC.

“Ian McCall is a tough guy,” Johnson told ESPN.com. “He’s ranked No. 1 in the world. He’s on a four-fight win streak, he’s fought in this division before and he knows how to make the weight cut.

“This is unfamiliar territory for me in my career at 125. But I am a professional athlete and I am making the adjustments to make sure my body runs at 100 percent in the weight class and I can get after it.”

Thus far, there have been no signs the weight cut has wreaked havoc on Johnson’s body.

If all goes according to plan Friday night, he expects to defeat McCall. Afterward, Johnson (14-2) will turn his attention to the man he wants most to fight for the UFC flyweight title -- Joseph Benavidez.

A showdown with Benavidez is a fight Johnson believes will happen one day; he just doesn’t want to delay the inevitable.

“It would be awesome,” Johnson said. “I think the world wants to see me and Joseph Benavidez fight.

“We will fight eventually, whether it’s me going to his gym and broadcasting it on Skype and we keep the proceeds. He and I will fight eventually before the end of our careers.”

Johnson has it all mapped out. After defeating McCall and Benavidez, he intends to wipe out the flyweight division then turn his attention to some unfinished business.

The ultimate goal for Johnson, 25, is becoming a two-division champion.

“I have not said goodbye to 135 forever,” Johnson said. “Right now, 125 is my home and it’s my goal to get that belt. But hopefully in the future I will fight at both weight classes.

“It’s like Jon Jones. He’s the champion at 205 right now and is beating all the guys and cleaning out the division, and I’m pretty sure he has ambitions to go up heavyweight and do work up there.”

If his body responds positively to the weight cut against McCall, it would be a bad idea to bet against Johnson reaching his primary goal.

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