Demetrious Johnson winning the first-ever UFC flyweight championship. (Photo courtesy of Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE)

Demetrious Johnson winning the first-ever UFC flyweight championship. (Photo courtesy of Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE)

Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson cemented himself in MMA history at UFC 152, but there was a time when his career was almost a thing of the past.

Johnson (Twitter: @MightyMouseUFC) defeated Joseph Benavidez on Sept. 22 at UFC 152 in Toronto, to become the first-ever UFC flyweight champion.  It was a glorious night for “Mighty Mouse,” winning the title and playing such a big role in such monumental bout, but the evening almost never was.

Mixed martial artists on the come up have a difficult time making ends meet.  Many of the combatants work a full-time day job to pay their bills, and fight on the side as a hobby they wish to turn into an occupation.  A lot of them get to a crossroads where they have to turn in the 4oz gloves for a pair of steel-toed boots.  Johnson encountered that proverbial intersection in life and hadn’t it been for some conversation with a coach, the UFC flyweight champion may have never even become a UFC fighter.

“This is the first time I’ve ever said this to anybody and I don’t think anybody knows except for my wife because she was there when I went through this,” Johnson admitted to Jason Kelly, Bob Badders and guest co-host Joe Rizzo on MMA DieHards Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network. “I was contemplating going to the military.  In the very beginning of my career I was working full-time and also training, but at the same time there was no assurance that you’ll be taking care of for the rest of your life.  I was contemplating going to the army because I felt if you went to the army you would have full benefits and be taken care of.  That’s what you could say that was the low point of my career, but one of my coaches was like, ‘You know, if you go to the army you won’t have the time to fight or train or do anything you want.  Wherever they tell you to go, you’re going to go and you can’t say no other ifs, ands or buts.’  So, I would say that was the lowest point of my life, when I was contemplating giving up mixed martial arts.  I was getting ready to say screw it, because I had to take care of my family.”

Johnson opted to continue working and training in the gym, but one of those pastimes were about to be dropped.

Johnson’s coach, AMC Pankration owner Matt Hume, has only told two fighters in his history of coaching to quit their job and become a full-time fighter because they were champion material.  It just so happens that Johnson was one of them.  “Mighty Mouse” gave his two weeks’ notice and handed in his forklift keys at the recycling plant, though, he was uncertain things would unfold exactly how Hume predicted.

“I’ve always had faith in Matt and his training skills,” Johnson said.  “You just have to go with the flow and just keep on training.  I believed when he said it to me and I’m happy it paid off.  Who knows, I could’ve lost that fight on Saturday against Joseph Benavidez and still be a full-time fighter and be able to provide for myself.  It just so happened, Matt knows what he is talking about when it comes to training and with making a career decision.”

Now that the recycling plant and military are in Johnson’s past, and he’s made MMA history, the UFC flyweight champ can take a moment to reflect.

After a brief minute of trying to comprehend what it means to wear the belt, “Mighty Mouse” envisioned a clear idea of how he wants to represent the UFC flyweight title.

“After the fight was over I was in the back looking at the belt saying, ‘Hmm, what do I do with this now,’” Johnson said.  “It shows that all the hard work paid off and I’m happy to be champion.  I hope to be a great ambassador for the sport and a great champion for the UFC.”

Indeed, greatness is something Johnson exemplifies.  I’m just glad we get to watch his greatness unfold as “Mighty Mouse” on pay-per-view, and not Pvt. Johnson on CNN.

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