Demetrious Johnson – The Latest Quiet Man Of Sport

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As many people reading this will know I, as well as being a superb, world-class mixed martial arts writer, am an avid fan of Manchester United. This week, while writing my preview for UFC 191, those worlds collided as my mind took a strange turn that pretty few people will probably understand. But nevertheless, let me explain.

As a Man United fan, Paul Scholes was always one of my favourite players. He is a recently retired midfield player like nobody else of his generation. He was an unbelievable passer of the ball who could control the game brilliantly and, unlike many midfield players at the time he started, could score goals for fun. For years he was lauded by fans of the sport and fellow players as one of the most truly gifted and talented players to ever lace up a set of boots. That, though, is where the plaudits end.

Off the field, Paul Scholes really isn’t that well known. Most fans couldn’t tell you if he has kids or a wife, what kind of music he likes, if he’s a good or bad guy or what kind of character he is at all. Since he started getting first team football in the mid-nineties, Scholes hid away from the media and turned down interviews on a regular basis. When we did hear from him, he said the bare minimum and never really said anything to get people talking. All we ever knew about Scholes was his skill.

The same, as this stage of his career, could be said about Demetrious Johnson – the headliner of this week’s UFC 191 pay-per-view. Like Scholes, Johnson is a small man in stature but as big as anyone in the world skill-wise. He is quick, smooth and clearly exceptional in everything he does. For those in the know, Johnson is undoubtedly one of the best in the world at his sport and has beaten all-comers at his weight to date. But there’s something missing.

As is the requirement for UFC fighters, unlike their ball-kicking counterparts, Demetrious Johnson does plenty of media. Before and after every fight he gives his thoughts on all things “Mighty Mouse” but the result is constantly remarkable for being unremarkable.

Johnson is a more outgoing person than Scholes but they both have an “Ordinary Guy” aura. You get the feeling during interviews that they’d rather be at home with their families (which may or may not exist) rather than trying to think up some, probably, non-existent story that will make them sound interesting.

For Scholes, that was ok. His pay, and life in general, didn’t change because he was boring. He was still stepping out in front of 70,000+ people each week and was judged on his performance because, honestly, the other stuff didn’t matter that much.

But for Johnson, it’s different. Popularity is the way to success, financially at least, in MMA – whether it be pay-per-view sales going up, sponsorship opportunities coming or the myriad of other ways to make money. We like to say MMA is purely a sport but the unfortunate reality for someone like Johnson is that it’s undoubtedly an entertainment venture in conjunction. Fans of pure skill, like myself and many others, will love what Johnson does inside the cage but that audience simply isn’t big enough to matter all that much because the one that needs an interesting story or an outstanding reason to get hooked in is so much bigger and more important.

For people like Paul Scholes and Demetrious Johnson there isn’t a solution to this. It’s a matter of respecting them for what they are because they cannot, and will not, become interesting or popular or famous at the blink of an eye – despite their exceptional skill.

Ask someone in America to name you a soccer player and David Beckham will be one of the first names they say even though, as most people would agree, Paul Scholes was a far superior player in the same team. For every David Beckham or Ronda Rousey or Conor McGregor we have a Paul Scholes or a Demetrious Johnson who is just as, or even more, talented but isn’t as widely recognized – and never will be. It’s just the reality of life.

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma