It’s very difficult for fighters these days to prolong success, especially under the massive pressure of the UFC’s perennial seesaw.
But alongside healthy training, solidified gameplans, evolved techniques, and an unflappable pursuit of greatness, some fighters are able knock down opponents like bowling pins. So much so, that their ability to win inside of the cage can no longer be overlooked.
Michael Johnson, who has recorded a 7-3 promotional record since the beginning of 2012, is the quintessential frontman for such recognition. The fact that Johnson has done his bidding within the UFC’s unforgiving lightweight division adds a little extra something to his overall body of work.
Like many rising contenders before him, Johnson has experienced a minor hiccup along his path to a title shot. After racking off four straight victories over organizational mainstays like Edson Barboza, Joe Lauzon, Melvin Guillard and Gleison Tibau, “The Menace” unexpectedly dropped a split decision to budding prospect Beneil Dariush back at UFC Fight Night 73.
While the Iranian submission expert sports the world-class grappling and growing striking to test the waters atop the 155-pound division, his efforts opposite Johnson were simply not enough to warrant the victory. With zero takedowns to call his own and having been out-struck by Johnson 84-to-75 through three rounds, Dariush’s victory was deservedly challenged by thousands of booing fans in Nashville, Tennessee.
Unfortunately, these unthinkable outcomes tend to pop up every now and then. Due in part to uneducated judging and an unwillingness on Johnson’s part to go in for the kill, a rising title contender who should have extended his win streak to five was forced back down the divisional ladder. Whether or not the UFC looks at Johnson’s loss as an actual victory is up for debate.
In any case, the 29-year-old has a once-in-a-career opportunity to brush off his recent demise and get back in line for a shot at gold with a win over Nate Diaz this weekend at UFC on FOX 17.
Fighting a guy as experienced and popular as Diaz is never an easy pill to swallow. Some of the best fighters the UFC has to offer have fallen victim to the brash tactics of the Stockton striker. The fact that Diaz’s pressured offense can even make a contender as polished on the feet as Donald Cerrone freeze with hesitation, should provide Johnson with a sense of caution entering Saturday.
Not to mention the 30-year-old Diaz has lost three out of his last four, arguably making him as dangerous as he’s ever been while he searches for a career resurgence.
As for Johnson, who has developed his striking under the tutelage of Henri Hooft at Blackzilians, knocking off a well-known gamer like Diaz will figuratively clear his controversial loss to Dariush from the UFC database. Furthermore, it would be the first time that “The Menace” has defeated a former title contender inside of the Octagon.
But is a victory over Diaz going to be enough for Johnson entering 2016? Where will his stock reside with such a rebound performance?
In all likelihood, beating Diaz at UFC on FOX 17 will put Johnson on a short list of top contenders, especially considering he owns a victory over fellow title hunter Tony Ferguson. But even with that, alongside the fact that undefeated championship frontrunner Khabib Nurmagomedov is transforming into the next injury-ravaged Dominick Cruz, Johnson has to contend with the possibility of UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor moving up to lightweight and putting the divisional pecking order on hold.
It isn’t understandably the greatest scenario for many of the best fighters at 155 pounds, but one that will bring attention in the long run. All Johnson has to do to keep his name in the title discussion entering next year is to beat Diaz and regain the momentum that was stolen from him four months ago.
If he can do that, there’s no telling how far his crisp striking, bewildering movement, and elite wrestling can take him beyond his current status as the No. 6 ranked lightweight in the world.