Demetrious Johnson may not be the ONE flyweight champion currently, but his former training partner Gary Mangat believes that if given the chance, “Mighty Mouse” will capture the belt.
Johnson got his first piece of hardware in October when he defeated Danny Kingad to win the ONE Flyweight Grand Prix. The flyweight title belt itself is still owned by Adriano Moraes, and no booking has been made at this point in time, but Johnson challenging for the belt appears to be the next logical step to most, including Mangat.
And when that time comes, Mangat expects Johnson to be ready.
“DJ is just so well versed,” Mangat told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock. “He’s just so well made, and they always figure it out — him and Matt [Hume] always figure it out. They figured it out all through the UFC and they’ll figure it out all through ONE. So I never really go against that coach and student relationship that they have.”
Johnson made his ONE debut in March. At the time, whether or not he and his coach would be able to “figure it out” was still up in the air.
Johnson moved up to the 135-pound flyweight division due to ONE’s weight cutting protocol, and a difference was visible when he squared off with Yuya Wakamatsu at ONE: A New Era.
“Demetrious is used to cutting to 125,” Mangat said. “Now the 125 cut no longer happens, so all of his opponents are coming in bigger than I think what he’s used to.”
“Mighty Mouse” has still been able to defeat everyone put across from him in ONE, which is why Mangat believes he will do the same against a long, lanky fighter like Moraes. Mangat isn’t expecting it to be a simple task, though.
“I think now the ONE Championship fighters have kind of proven to a certain point that, listen, they’re not walk-overs,” Mangat said. “Just because this isn’t the UFC doesn’t make ONE Championship fighters any less. Like, they bring a competitive edge, they bring something.
“I almost think the flyweight fights [in ONE] are more exciting than the ones you see in the UFC — more action, they don’t get tired. And preparing for these guys is wild too, man. So it’s a whole different atmosphere over there.”
Gary Mangat vs. Reece McLaren
Preparing for a flyweight fight has been the task at hand for Mangat in recent months. After winning his fifth-straight professional fight and his second in a row since joining ONE Championship in 2019, Mangat is now set to return to competition against Reece McLaren.
Before jumping into training camp, Mangat fit some free time in following his win over Abro Fernandes in July.
“I did take a little bit of a break,” Mangat said. “Me and my wife, we went to Italy.”
After a short breather, it was back to work for the flyweight contender, a pattern that his wife and family has gotten used to.
“When camp’s on, she’s in, I’m in and everything is fully focused,” Mangat said.
Mangat has put an emphasis on his ground game leading up to his bout with the crafty McLaren. Mangat, a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, believes that the bout against the strong grappler will allow him to show off his ground game for the first time as a ONE fighter.
“I try to be a full mixed martial artist,” Mangat said. “I don’t want anybody to think that this fight can’t to the ground and I can’t dominate him on the ground either.”
It will also be a chance to prove himself against a mainstay of ONE’s flyweight division. The bout with Mangat will be McLaren’s 10th under the ONE banner, and Mangat is grateful to have a valuable name to add to his resume.
“I always kinda have a quote through my training camp. It’s like, ‘Work so hard that your idols become your rivals,’ and that’s kind of what this is at this point,” Mangat said. “I’m not going to say was — I am a fan of this guy. I have been watching him for years and I’ve liked his style. I like that little whole mannerism he brings and stuff.
“But now that same guy is going to be staring at me across the cage and now it just doesn’t matter at this point. I have a totally, completely different mindset towards him at this point.”
What’s next for Gary Mangat?
Although his former teammate is within reach of a flyweight title shot, Mangat has dreams of his own that he wants to accomplish.
A win over McLaren would be his third as a ONE fighter. It could be enough to thrust him into the title picture as well.
But that’s not something Mangat is concerning himself with before the bout.
“At the end of the day, I’m just taking it fight by fight,” Mangat said. “I don’t know what’s next, and you got to remember that ONE’s the one bringing me these offers. If they brought me Reece, they believe that I can crack the top five, then they put the opportunity in front of me.”
Titles are one thing, but Mangat concerns himself with representing his Indian heritage about all else.
If Mangat keeps winning, he hopes to use his influence to get the chance to fight live in front of the people he represents each time he competes.
“2020 is going to be a big year regardless, cause I’m just — I’m ready to crack it,” Mangat said. “I’m ready to take ONE Championship to India. Once I win this, I don’t see why we wouldn’t.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.