ONE on TNT: Demetrious Johnson talks gaining valuable time at home during COVID-19, what ...

Demetrious Johnson is regarded as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time. But it never seemed like the former UFC flyweight champion could garner respect from fans and from his ex-employer. 

In 2018, Johnson was part of the first-ever trade in MMA history when he was sent to ONE Championship for Ben Askren.

With new lease on life in the Asia-based promotion, Johnson has gone 3-0 and won the ONE flyweight grand prix, which netted him an opportunity to challenge current titleholder Adriano Moraes on Wednesday at ONE on TNT from Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore.

Days before he steps into the cage for the first time in 18 months, Johnson talked with DAZN News about the good that's come out of COVID-19, and what ONE capitalized on that the UFC failed to do.

(Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

DAZN: How did COVID-19 affect you and your family?

Demetrious Johnson: I think in a good way. We spent a lot of time with each other, hanging out, and the kids did a little homeschooling this year. It's time I'm never going to be able to get back.  Obviously, yes, I would love to compete, but I love spending time with my family. I never take that for granted.

DAZN: Demetrius Johnson, the school teacher? How did it go?

DJ: (Laughs) It was good. My category was science and animals. I love science and technology. I love that stuff. That's the stuff my wife let me do when it came to language, enunciating words, and spelling. That was all her.

DAZN: Daughter is seven. How does she comprehend dad teaching compared to when she's at school and the teachers teach?

DJ: She understands when we're at home, she's like, okay, it's that time. It's hard because you have to separate it. We're trying to be teachers, but we can't be parents at the same time because it's two different things. But they handled it very well. They were way ahead. The curriculum they were working on was way above with they're going to school for right now. So they got the head start. My middle was reading. We got to school and like she's reading almost at second grade (level). The homeschooling was great. I got the time to see my kids and my middle one, learn how to read, enunciate words and put letters together. It was dope.

DAZN: You didn't fight at all last year. I know you love fighting, but every time we've talked it's always been you care more about your family than fighting. You provide for your family, but your kids are everything to you. Do you feel like you may not have gotten paid, but you gained more valuable time at home than you did being away from them?

DJ: Absolutely. There's one form of currency that you can't replicate, and that's time. Right? You can't buy time at those ages. That time my son was reading, I'll never be able to get that back? Now when my daughter goes through that process again, I might not be here for that because I might be at the gym training. I might be in Asia, who knows. We probably won't be homeschooling them. Me not fighting last year, I found positivity in that. I'm a homebody, so it was waking up, taking a shower, and then be like to my family, 'What do you guys want to do today? Do you want to hang out with dad and play Fortnite?' I think we went on shutdown for like four weeks. It was awesome. I enjoyed it. 

DAZN: What is going to be the reaction from your family when you've been home for so long, and you're going to have to go to the airport and get on the plane and head to Singapore? How do you think your family is going to be reactive to that? 

DJ: I think the wife will be the saddest because her husband's leaving. I think the kids are excited. They're like, 'Once you get back home, you're done training. So we're looking forward to your ass coming home'. 

I talked to my son the other day, and he goes, 'Dude, I can't wait for you to get home'. I was like, 'I hear you'. He goes, 'I'm going to be on spring break when you get home'. When I get home from Singapore, my kids have a whole week off from school. Hopefully, the Lord blesses us with some good weather. As long as my body is healthy, we're going to go have some fun. 

DAZN: I remember we talked in the past before you would headline a pay-per-view or a Fox show, I could tell the times you'd be agitated because the narrative was always this guy can't sell even though he's one of the greatest of all time, and can't sell pay-per-view. You'd always be like, ‘I know how to fight’. It always felt like you weren't catered to the right audience because you look at right now, the gaming audience is thriving, and it's getting bigger. It feels like ONE capitalizes on that with you to where I felt like the UFC failed you in that situation.

DJ: I think so. I think you hit the nail right on the head. I was the greatest fighter when I was in North America. It was like he can fight, but he can't sell. He can fight his ass off, but he can't sell, right? That was probably the biggest thing that always got me agitated because I always hear that every conversation, are ready to defend your belt for the seventh time, and how did you do on pay-per-view sales and the viewership. I'm like, 'I don't fucking know about how many people are tuning in. I'm worried about wanting to defend my belt. That is a huge, big relief off my chest because as an athlete, my coach said from the very beginning, just fight to win and finish people. That's all you got to do keep fighting and winning and finish people, and that's what I've been doing my whole career. With ONE being free on TV, people can tune in or DVR and catch it when they can and enjoy themselves. 

DAZN: You're going into a title fight, and you're the challenger. The last time you went into the challenging role was when you faced then-bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in Washington D.C. in October 2011. Is it weird being the challenger instead of being the one defending the belt? 

DJ: No, not at all. The only difference is I'm walking into the cage first (laughs). Even in all of my title defenses, I have never looked at myself as, 'I'm coming here, I'm the champion, and you got to take it away from me.' I've always looked at, 'I'm going there, and I'm going to take away your opportunity, I'm taking the fight to your doorstep.' That's how I feel with this one. I'll be the first one in the cage. I got my feet touching that canvas. It's been a year-and-a-half since my feet tested the canvas, taking the smell and just taking the vibe. Then once the ref says, 'Let's get it', I'm going to try to get that belt.

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