Demetrious Johnson responds to rumors Joe Rogan helped facilitate trade from UFC to ONE Championship

Demetrious Johnson knows there were a lot of moving parts involved in his move to ONE Championship, but it doesn’t sound like Joe Rogan was one of them.

Following the news that Johnson was traded for Ben Askren in a historic October 2018 deal that sent “Mighty Mouse” from the UFC to ONE, rumors emerged that Rogan had a hand in convincing then-UFC president Dana White to make the deal. During an appearance on the JAXXON podcast, Johnson was asked about the rumor and he clarified the situation after having spoken with Rogan.

“See, I talked to Joe Rogan and Joe Rogan said, ‘Naw, I had nothing to do with it,’” Johnson said. “When I heard that Joe Rogan convinced Dana White to do it, it was [that Rogan said] ‘Dude, just why not? Just get Ben Askren to see what’s going to happen. If you plan on getting rid of the division, do it.’ Even though Joe Rogan’s one of my biggest fans and he believes in my skill set, I think at the time that it was Dana White—sometimes when I go back and I look at videos of Dana White promoting me, I felt like he did a good job. He was like, ‘This guy’s amazing.’ And there were some videos of him s****** on me as well, I think he’s s*** on everybody.

“At the same time, I just wasn’t selling in the States. I just think the flyweight division wasn’t as popular as it is today, but you look at why is it popular today, you have social media, Instagram, all that stuff just blows up, it goes viral. Can you imagine in 2023 I throw a motherf***** up and armbar him right now? When I blasted Adriano [Moraes] the second time with the knee, stock went through the roof. When I did the Rodtang [Jitmuangnon] fight, stock went through the roof. My brand has never been, my skill set when I fight has never been, ‘Oh, this guy’s garbage.’ I’ve always shown up and fought I just think at the time when I fought [in the UFC] it just wasn’t ready for the viewership.”

The trade arguably worked out for both sides. Johnson has become one of the faces of ONE, coming out on top in a memorable championship trilogy with Adriano Moraes and winning a mixed rules clash with Muay Thai star Rodtang. Askren, a former ONE and Bellator champion, wasn’t as successful in the UFC, with his lone win being a controversial submission of Robbie Lawler, but in a roundabout way he bolstered the UFC’s fortunes when he lost to Jorge Masvidal via five-second flying knee knockout — a highlight that elevated Masvidal’s drawing power to new heights.

If Johnson stayed with the UFC, it’s unclear what more the parties could have accomplished together. Johnson built an unimpeachable resume at 125 pounds, racking up 11 straight title defenses, and scoring wins over Henry Cejudo, Joseph Benavidez, Kyoji Horiguchi, and several other notable names.

However, Johnson never emerged as a top draw for the UFC and it benefited both sides to go their separate ways.

“When I was going into that final fight with Henry Cejudo, the time where the UFC was at with the flyweight division, I’ve already defeated everybody,” Johnson said. “I just did my 11 consecutive title defenses and I was going to fight Henry Cejudo. So it’s another rematch. I had a rematch with John Dodson, a rematch with Joseph Benavidez, now it’s coming to the rematch with Henry Cejudo. So I’ve already gone through the whole division and now I’m about to fight Henry Cejudo the second time. … They would never let a flyweight at my time make $500,000. That was like the standard pay for a mixed martial artist, for the champion. If you became champion, it was like, you got that five bills plus pay-per-view points.

“For me, they would never give that to me and when I lost to Henry Cejudo [my then-management and I] were talking and we were like, ‘What are you going to do, bro?’ I was like, ‘You know, I want to see if they’re going to let me go.’ Because at the time they were talking about getting rid of that division, ‘I’m going to scrap it, it don’t make no money.’ So I was like, ‘Alright, let me see if I can get out of my contract.’ They were able to make it happen and they traded me for Ben Askren and I think it was the best division that I ever did in my mixed martial arts career.”

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