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Demetrious Johnson calls for a Unified Rules change

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Demetrious Johnson

Inaugural UFC flyweight champion and current ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix champion Demetrious Johnson spoke recently with Mike Heck for MMA Fighting, about the disqualification of Petr Yan for kneeing a downed Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259 on March 6. Sterling became the UFC bantamweight champion, the first fighter in UFC history to win a title by DQ. 

There will be an immediate rematch, but Sterling is not impressed.

“Any other sport when you do something intentionally illegal you get suspended, you get fined, you get ejected from the game. This guy is getting rewarded with a rematch, which I get is a big fight,” said Sterling recently, as transcribed by “But, it is like, we can just break the rules and nothing is ever going to happen to us. I can just jump the Octagon and nothing is going to happen, I can go and fight another corner or push him after the bell and nothing is ever going to happen. It’s like, I feel like when you have rules for a reason and you have to enforce them or otherwise let’s just run it up. … I feel like his ass should have been suspended or something. Pay me some money for an illegal foul that might take years off my career.”

Johnson has another take on the incident - he argues that the rule on kneeing a downed fighter should be changed. That stance is fueled in part by a parallel experience of his own vs. John Dodson eight years ago.

“Obviously rules are put into place to keep the athletes safe and what not,” said Johnson on the What the Heck podcast. “I dealt with the exact same thing in 2013 in Chicago, UFC on FOX 6 against John Dodson. I had him against the cage, he put his hand on the ground, I did not take the time to see his hand on the ground and it’s not my job to look and see if his hand is on the ground. In my opinion, he was in a knowledgable position that he could defend himself.

“I blast him in his face, John McCarthy stopped the fight and said, ‘Hey, dude. He was a downed opponent.’ I said, ‘What the f*** do you mean he’s down? His finger is touching the ground. He’s not down.’ So I’ve gone through this before in the UFC.

“To see the same thing happen with Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan, first off, I’m a big fan of Aljamain Sterling. I have nothing against the guy, but each time I give my personal opinion—which you just asked for—I like to do so as a neutral person. If I had friends over my house and they ask why he got DQ’d, well it’s a rule that he was a downed opponent, that he was on the ground. Yeah, he’s down, but he can currently defend himself.”

“Do I think it’s a rule that needs to be changed? I think so. I think it’s gonna help the fight progress, it’s gonna help keep people moving. The biggest thing that my coach tells me is, ‘Why should an athlete go to his knees to touch the ground to dictate what I can and can’t do?’ Think about that. When my coach trains me and tells me to have that mindset, it makes sense. If I’m getting beat up in a fight, and I put my hands and knees on the ground, you have to stop your onslaught. You have to rethink trying to proceed with the fight.

“That’s where my mindset was at when I was watching that fight because the fight was starting to go in Yan’s favor. Petr Yan was starting to pick him apart. Sterling got some good shots in there, but once he went down on his knees, and he was holding his hands on his knees like he was praying, and he got blasted. When it happened, I was like, ‘Petr Yan, you f***in’ idiot. You’re finally winning the fight and you throw this knee and get disqualified.’ Then I’m like, it’s just like back in the wrestling days when you get pinned and your coach says, ‘You shouldn’t have been there in the first place.’

“So that was my opinion. Aljamain, you’re way better than that. Why are you putting yourself in that position? But yeah, I think the rule should be changed. It’ll be good for the sport, it will open up a lot more things, and I think people won’t use that position as a safety. Like, I’m gonna use this because I’m safe. And those aren’t my words. Those are his words. He said, ‘I knew I was in a safe position.’ When he said that, I was like, you’re in a f***in’ fight, you’re never in a safe position. You should never think that I’m safe here.”

Another point of contention is who should determine whether a fighter can continue. At present the decision is made by the referee, often in consultation with the cageside doctor. Johnson argues it should be left to the fighter.

“I think you should let the athlete dictate that,” said Johnson. “Only the athlete knows best. Think about that, that knee, imagine if he hit him with a flying knee and he was able to recover. Let’s say he got blasted flush, he shoots for a takedown and eats a couple of strikes, and he’s able to recover and continue to fight, but he gets blasted with a knee on the ground, then he gets five minutes to drink some water, how are you feeling? Are you okay? Can you shake it off? You feel like you can still continue? Because, don’t get me wrong, that guy got a concussion, but f***, when do we not get concussions when we fight?

“This is just my opinion. If I was in a fight and I got blasted, I would want to be asked, ‘How do you feel? Do you think you can continue to fight?’ They might say you shouldn’t give the athlete the option to continue because he could be concussed and he can get further brain damage, but we’re already signing up for that. It’s a double-edged sword. You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. It’s a hard thing. A lot of of people might see this and say you can’t ask a fighter if he can continue or not. I don’t know, I’m just rambling on.”

Johnson also offered advice for Sterling in the rematch.

“I just think, go back to the drawing board,” said Johnson. “He had the recipe to beat him. Petr Yan has a very interesting and unique way he goes about his fights, and I’m a big fan of the way he goes about it. He’s willing to absorb punches and shots in order to give his. If you go back and watch that fight, Aljamain is doing a good job just peppering him, but Petr Yan is like, ‘None of that s*** hurts.’ He covers his face in a different way, so there was a couple of times where if he just sat down, loaded up on a body shot, that could’ve paid dividends and made Petr Yan do something different.

“But I think he should go back and watch the tape, be ready to have a fight and don’t rely on that one takedown to get him down because it’s not gonna be as easy as he thought it would’ve been. I thought it was gonna be hard as s***.

“Go out there, stay healthy, and just enjoy it.”

Johnson fight ONE Championship flyweight titleholder Adriano Moraes in the main event of ONE on TNT 1 on April 7.