Demetrious Johnson vs. Rodtang: At The Heart of Martial Arts

So apparently, MMA is moving into the freak fight game. Yesterday, ONE Championship announced that Demetrious Johnson and Rodtang are doing a hybrid fight. While it’s not really new to MMA, fans are for the most part excited about the two round Muay Thai and two round MMA fight. However, mixed martial arts was absolutely born by this freak show event that pits style versus style. The stylistic matchup is still the heart of what MMA is today.

Now we have things like Full Metal Dojo, which is fantastic if you haven’t watched. It takes the zany what if questions that you have and puts it into real life. Think Headbutts Only and literally fighting in a phone booth. This is just a continuation of what MMA was originally about.

The easiest comparison to the early MMA events was UFC 1 and other UFC events. The original card advertised being style versus style matchups. Styles at the first UFC event included savate, sumo, kickboxing, American kenpo karate, Jiu Jitsu, boxing shootfighting and taekwondo. The goal was to see which style was the best. Eventually, the sport became an entire sport of it’s own.

But cross-sport events are old as antiquity itself. Pankration in Ancient Greece was a no holds barred event that combined striking and wrestling. In early China, no holds barred events were held as early as 200 BC.

Of course, there’s the famed Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki. Ali, of course, needs no introduction. The five time heavyweight champion and the lineal heavyweight champion in the sport of boxing took on Japan’s Inoki who was a martial artist and professional wrestler. If you’re wondering how it went, don’t bother. It was a snooze fest. But it was this event that inspired Pancrase and the beloved Pride FC. There’s Vale Tudo and Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. The list goes on and on. Stylistic matchups are at the heart of mixed martial arts even to this day.

Round switching isn’t new. In 2010, JMMA legend, Shinya Aoki, took on K-1’s Yuichiro Nagashima. The fight was alternating kickboxing and MMA each round, like the upcoming ONE event. The first round was rather weird. Aoki jumped on the floor and ran around the ring attempting to bide his time to make it to the MMA round. The fight wouldn’t go as you think. Seconds into the MMA round, Aoki shot a takedown, as you’d likely expect. Nagashima certainly did as he launch a flying knee putting Aoki away just seconds into the second round.

The idea of switching rounds and rule sets permeates even today. After defeating Conor McGregor, Khabib Nurmagomedov offered to fight Floyd Mayweather in a mostly boxing match. The one caveat: round 12 would be MMA. Of course it never happened.

We’ve also previously gone over Jack Dempsey coming out of retirement in 1949 to fight a pro wrestler in Cowboy Luttrell. Dempsey was 45 years old and way past his prime and 13 years retired. It took Dempsey two rounds to put Cowboy away, literally knocking him out the ring.

Another is the crossover of Senegalese Wrestling to MMA in the vein of Reug Reug and Bombadier. Reug Reug competed in ONE Championship and Bombadier was linked to fight Mariusz Pudzianowski in KSW before coming down with appendicitis.

Then there is the entire YouTube boxing phenomenon. Jake and Logan Paul are taking the world by storm. Jake Paul has boxed and defeated Tyron Woodley and Ben Askren, who have held prominent MMA belts. Logan Paul has parlayed his name and recognition to box Floyd Mayweather in an exhibition.

Demetrious Johnson and Rodtang: Stylistic Matchup Mania

Demetrious Johnson and Rodtang are, or were depending on who is asked, the best in their respective sports. Mighty Mouse has the most title defenses in UFC history. Rodtang has over 300 fights professionally, is the ONE champion and has fought in the most prestigious of stadiums in Muay Thai, namely Lumpinee and Rajadamnern.

Thai boxers and kickboxers routinely crossover into each other’s sports all the time. Here, we are simply getting to see Demetrious Johnson go to Muay Thai and Rodtang try out MMA at the same time, barring a quick finish by Rodtang in the first.

Is it a sustainable thing for ONE to do? Probably not. But it does provide a unique challenge for each fighter that will not play a major part in their legacies. Rodtang has over 300 fights to his name and Demetrious Johnson has his MMA legacy. When mentioned, very few, if any, think of the Inoki fight when Muhammad Ali is brought up.

The entire point is that these types of freak show fights are noting new in MMA or combat sports in general. It’s the nature of a martial artist to see how good that not only they are, but how effective their respective art is. The stylistic matchup between Demetrious Johnson and Rodtang is just a not so new spin on the age old question: who would win if…

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