An interview with Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, UFC Champion and huge video game nerd
Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Chairman Dana White has referred to 125-pound flyweight class World Champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson as the “best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.” The 29-year old Seattle, Washington resident has a record of 26 wins and two losses, and currently has the record for the most successful defenses of the UFC Flyweight Championship.
However, if you really want to talk wins and losses with Demetrious Johnson, get him talking about video games and his status as an avid gamer, and you’ll learn that his fighting career — especially in games like Street Fighter, Tekken and Killer Instinct — is much more voluminous than just 29 professional fights over 11 years.
And Johnson is much more than your regular run-of-the-mill gamer. He’s competed in tournaments, been behind the scenes with Microsoft, and in many cases is as much (or more) pointedly conversant in current goings-on in the gaming industry than he is mixed martial arts.
For Random Nerds, I chewed the fat with Johnson regarding his beloved gaming and other equally niche yet congruent topics like superheroes and movies too.
Random Nerds: What game are you playing the most right now, and what console are you playing that on?
Demetrious Johnson: The game I’m playing the most right now is Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. It came out last year, and I’m playing the PS4 edition.
Great game! So I wanted to hop right in and discuss UFC too. Do you use fighting games in your strategy development for UFC fights?
Absolutely not! (laughs) I do enjoy playing Street Fighter and Killer Instinct, but the only way my fight training helps me with training for mixed martial arts is actually in my MMA training transferring back over into the video games because it makes me more aware of distance and how to get to my opponent [in the game]. But no, playing fighting games does not help me get better at fighting.
I ask only because I know UFC has their line of fighting games, and their controls for striking and submissions are so in-depth, it made me wonder if it had actual fighting applications?
Naaah, I’m a Street Fighter-type gamer. [The UFC game] is a great game, but it’s hard for me to play [games based on real sports like] Madden, or NBA 2K16. If I were to do that shit, I’d [actually rather just] stop and just do that in real life. I don’t need to pretend that I’m [Seattle Seahawks starting quarterback] Russell Wilson on third down. I mean, when somebody asks me to play 2K16, I’m like, “Why don’t we just go outside and play fucking basketball ourselves?”
I like the games I like because I can’t go out there and throw a fucking fireball or fucking do a spin kick like Ryu from Street Fighter.
If there was a character from a video game who you would most compare yourself to as a fighter, who would that be and why?
TJ Combo from Killer Instinct. He’s the closest thing insofar as doing mixed martial arts as far as a video game fighter in my opinion. He does flying knees, he boxes, so I would say him.
I know that there’s actually a small gaming community in UFC. Is there anyone in said community who’s particularly difficult to take on? As well, who haven’t you gotten to fight against as a gamer that you’d like a shot at?
Well, I haven’t taken on Uriah Hall, Rampage Jackson, Scott Jorgenson or any of those guys. Maybe down the road I’ll run into Rampage, because I definitely know he’s into [gaming] as much as I am.
You’ve been to E3 and you’ve played in some tournaments, so I wanted to ask about whether or not you thought there was a future for you in competitive gaming once you finished with UFC?
Yeah, absolutely. I started my own Twitch streaming channel and gaming has always been a part of my life, from playing Super Contra with my mom to going to Street Fighter 4 tournaments. Obviously, I’d love for that to be my next “thing,” to have a presence in the gaming industry. It’s a goal of mine. But right now, I’m focused on fighting. When I’m not fighting, I’ve always played video games in my training camps for fighting. When I have down time between fights, I tell people, “I play fucking video games.” It’s entertaining and it actually relaxes me. Competitive gaming, though? That’s a goal!
“Some of my fondest memories are with my mom, and her yelling at me for grabbing the Spread Gun in Contra when she called dibs on it.”
Have you put any thought into one day also possibly doing behind the scenes creative work on any of these games? Have you ever been contacted or consulted to do so?
I’ve never had that opportunity, actually. I’d like to work with a game like Street Fighter, Tekken, or something like Darkstalkers, which is a game that I think should be redone for a new generation console. Anything, MMOs (massively multi-player online games), first-person shooters, MOBAs (multi-player online battle arena games), I’m open to anything.
Are your kids into gaming yet?
Well, not playing, because they’re too young. But my two-year old loves watching me play. Here’s a funny story. I was streaming Dark Souls 2 and there’s this huge spider boss. My son loves spiders and even watches spider movies before he goes to bed. So the huge spider boss drops down and my son sees it, screams, runs behind me and says to me “Kill the spider, kill the spider, uh oh, uh oh.” He knows that I play video games, and his mom plays (first person shooter) Destiny, but he hasn’t picked up a controller yet.
Virtual reality gaming’s picked up a bit as of late, so I was wondering if you’ve gotten into any of the advancements there?
I think about virtual reality in terms of the Oculus, and the Microsoft Hololens. I like the idea of putting on a headset and being in the game itself. When I talked to Microsoft they said that the Oculus will allow you to be immersed in the virtual reality world. I’ve seen stuff behind the scenes where you put it on and you’re actually shooting stuff and it looks cool. I think that’s going to be pretty awesome and represents a progression in where video games are headed. However, I still prefer games on PCs, PS4s and the XBox One. I like the console and having my hand on the controller.
Moving on, let’s talk about superheroes. Between Black Panther and Creed, I think there’s an emerging space for African-American superheroes and/or fighting heroes, too. Thoughts about that?
I have not seen Creed. I love watching superhero movies, though, like Marvel’s The Avengers and Captain America. Sports movies are hard for me to watch because they don’t feel realistic. I like the storyline for Creed, though. It’s awesome. Sylvester Stallone training Apollo Creed’s son. That’s awesome. At some point, I’d like to be in movies in my career, so I’m glad that there’s more black stars doing sports movies.
Of course, there’s the Black Panther character being written into Marvel’s Civil War, which really makes me happy. That’s the funny thing. Growing up, I didn’t have a father, so when it came to superheroes, I didn’t find out about him until I got older and I started hanging out with other nerds and I was introduced to Black Panther. My friends said he was black, and I was like, “What?!?!?” One day I’d definitely like to be one of those black athletes who could be a star in a superhero movie.
”I mean, when somebody asks me to play 2K16, I’m like, “Why don’t we just go outside and play fucking basketball ourselves?” I like the games I like because I can’t go out there and throw a fucking fireball or fucking do a spin kick like Ryu from Street Fighter.”
OK. So, let’s rewind that for a second. I absolutely have to ask, which one was more exciting: when Dana White said you were the best pound-for-pound fighter in UFC, or talking with Microsoft about next generation video game hardware? They’re both equally impressive!
(Laughs) I mean, they’re both impressive in their own aspects. I have two loves for things. Mixed martial arts is something that I love and that I have been doing for eleven years, but I’ve also been playing fucking video games since I was a kid with my mom! Some of my fondest memories are with my mom, and her yelling at me for grabbing the Spread Gun in Contra when she called dibs on it. Those memories go waaay back.
Fighting’s cool, you know. Right now, Dana White believes I’m the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Who knows what he’ll say two years from now? Two years from now, I’ll still have my love for video games, though.
Speaking of gaming with your mom, have you ever beaten her in head-to-head competition in a video game?
When it comes to competitive gaming, I have not. We used to play Pac-Man, and she knocked the breaks off my ass! I haven’t beaten my wife at like, Tetris, either! She’s the Tetris queen. She beats the breaks off me, too. Even when [my wife and I] go away on trips and we’re packing, she’s like, “You don’t understand, let me fucking pack. I’m the Tetris queen, remember?” But if we play Street Fighter, I win. There’s no competition whatsoever.
What’s next for you fight-wise right now, and what games are you looking forward to in 2016?
I have nothing scheduled for my fighting, so I’m staying healthy, working out and making sure my skills evolve as much as possible. On the video game side I’m really looking forward to Dark Souls 3 and Street Fighter 5 for PS4. There’s so many games coming out, and now that I’m streaming, I’m keeping up with MOBA games like League of Legends.
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