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Three of UFC’s most dominant champions are black — why it’s worth noting

Daniel Cormier, Tyron Woodley and Demetrious Johnson are doing their part to grow the sport among African-Americans

In the Ultimate Fighting Championship organization’s 25 years of existence, there have been nine African-American world champions.

Daniel “DC” Cormier, Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley and Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson are all reigning UFC world champions, with Cormier’s and Johnson’s names often being tossed around in the conversation of the greatest of all time in mixed martial arts. MMA is a sport in which most of the fighters and fans are white, which makes it significant to have three African-Americans dominate at the same time.

This weekend, light heavyweight champion Cormier has a huge opportunity to stake his claim as the greatest of all time in MMA as he’ll take on UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic in the main event of UFC 226 in Las Vegas. A win by Cormier would make him only the second fighter in UFC history, along with Conor McGregor, to hold two title belts simultaneously. Not bad for a guy who turns 40 next year.

Tyron Woodley (right) moves in with a hit against Demian Maia (left) during UFC 214 on July 29, 2017, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

“It’s very fulfilling to be in this position, because anybody that starts a sport wants to be remembered and go down as one of the best to do it,” Cormier said while preparing for his megafight. “As a result, I’m fighting to win this weekend to ensure that I will always be remembered for all of my accomplishments within mixed martial arts.”

The trio has held their title belts simultaneously the past 705 consecutive days and have combined to hold their world titles for 3,956 days in their careers, with Cormier (1,139) and Johnson (2,112) each holding the belt for more than 1,000 days. Jon Jones knocked out Cormier at UFC 214 in July 2017, but Jones tested positive for an anabolic steroid and the bout was turned into a no contest. Cormier was reinstated as champion, which kept his belt-holding streak intact, according to UFC. Since 2012, Cormier, Woodley and Johnson have defended their belts a combined 17 times, with a UFC-record 11 of those title defenses coming from flyweight champion Johnson.

“I’ve been doing my best to grab what I call the ‘barbershop demographic,’ which often argues about NBA playoff games, NFL games and boxing on a consistent basis.” – Tyron Woodley

Each fighter is a household name in MMA circles, but their names have failed to register in the African-American community because youths have been more focused on becoming the next LeBron James, Dak Prescott or Floyd Mayweather Jr. rather than the next UFC superstar.

“I feel it is all three of our responsibilities to help grow the sport and show kids in the inner city there are different avenues to being successful, because kids today think they only have drugs, gangs, basketball, football and boxing to get a life,” said the 36-year-old Woodley. “I’ve been doing my best to grab what I call the ‘barbershop demographic,’ which often argues about NBA playoff games, NFL games and boxing on a consistent basis. Because I feel if I can grasp that demographic and other demographics myself, it can show those young inner-city kids and kids everywhere that mixed martial arts are a positive way to help you change your situation.”

Woodley’s sentiments are co-signed by Cormier, who plans on retiring next March to coach wrestling while continuing to help grow MMA.

“I’d love to be an ambassador for MMA and help the sport reach the kids in the inner city, because there is so much talent in these areas which need to be exposed to the sport,” Cormier said. “I know myself and Tyron are from the inner city, where there are a lot of hard-nosed kids who are willing to fight and all they need is an opportunity to be introduced to the sport we are selling them.”

Cormier and Woodley plan on talking to kids at inner-city high schools to bring more awareness toward MMA.

The fight to grow MMA with African-American audiences hasn’t come without challenges for the championship fighting trio. Woodley has had a public disagreement with UFC regarding the way African-American fighters are promoted.

“I’d love to be an ambassador for MMA and help the sport reach the kids in the inner city, because there is so much talent in these areas which need to be exposed to the sport.” – Daniel Cormier

Although growing the sport in the African-American community isn’t as high on Johnson’s priority list as it is for Cormier and Woodley, Johnson is an example of how an African-American can become a star in a sport that is not necessarily set up for African-Americans to become stars. By being one of the UFC’s most dominant champions and the only man to hold the flyweight championship in the organization’s history, Johnson is often well-received by UFC’s predominantly white fan base, which has slowly allowed him to become a superstar.

On the other hand, Cormier and Woodley have received mixed reactions from fans throughout their stellar careers.

Demetrious Johnson celebrates after defeating Wilson Reis during UFC Fight Night at Sprint Center on April 15, 2017, in Kansas City, Missouri. Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

Just this week, Johnson was named the cover athlete of EA SPORTS UFC 3 Icon Edition, becoming the first African-American mixed martial artist on the cover of a video game.

“It’s awesome to be considered one of the best of all time and on video games, but it’s not something that weighs on my mind, because all I do is go to the gym every day and work my butt off, and what people perceive me as is what it is,” Johnson said. “I got into MMA because I love the sport and love to learn. It’s fantastic to be on the cover of a video game, because I’m a huge gamer, but all that is a result of me working hard in the gym to provide the best life I can for my family.”

If all three champions defend their belts in their next fights, they could end 2018 each being ranked in the top three in UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings.

A Cormier victory this weekend would solidify him in the top two, while Johnson would remain ranked No. 1 if he’s able to beat Henry Cejudo again in a rematch at UFC 227 in August. Woodley could round out the group if he’s able to beat Colby Covington later this year and T.J. Dillashaw loses to Cody Garbrandt at UFC 227, as he would pass Georges St.-Pierre and McGregor because of their inactivity and UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway, who is injured.

Who would have thought that was possible in MMA even five years ago?

Kendrick Johnson writes for a weekly newspaper and is an independent print journalist and sports television reporter who has covered the NBA Finals, NFL, NCAA football, MLB, NHL, championship boxing and UFC. He's done interviews with Kobe Bryant, Floyd Mayweather, Magic Johnson and some of the biggest names and personalities in sports