September 21, 2016

UFC Fight Night 94: Michael Johnson Re-Emerges As Title Contender At UFC Hidalgo

By Adam Martin

It took just 95 seconds for Michael Johnson to knock out Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC Fight Night 94, and that quick knockout earned Johnson not only a $50,000 bonus check for Performance of the Night, but also helped to re-establish the Blackzilian as a title contender in the stacked lightweight division.

During fight week, I wrote a piece focused on the other half of the main event, Poirier, and how he needed to beat Johnson to keep pace with the rest of the title contenders at 155 lbs. While focusing on Poirier and his four-fight win streak, though, I failed to give Johnson his fair due, and with the benefit of retrospect, the article really should have been about how either fighter needed an impressive victory to keep pace at 155 lbs, not just Poirier alone. (I also jinxed Poirier, which, if you know me, isn’t surprising in the slightest.)

With Johnson's huge victory, the TUF 12 runner-up now moves to 9-6 overall in the UFC, including a 5-2 record in his last seven fights (that really should be 6-1, since most observers thought he should have gotten the decision nod in his fight with Beneil Dariush last summer). If Johnson had been on the right end of that split decision, his only loss in over three years would be to Nate Diaz, who is obviously one of the top fighters in the lightweight division himself. Included in Johnson's recent stretch of victories is a notable victory over Edson Barboza, who is ranked above Johnson in the UFC's official rankings, despite Johnson cleanly beating him in early 2015. Victories over Joe Lauzon and Gleison Tibau, two solid gatekeepers who are extremely tough to beat, plus a win over Melvin Guillard and the latest victory over Poirier puts Johnson in elite company, and if he had gotten that nod over Dariush his record would be near-elite.

Looking back even further, it's easy to forget that Johnson is the only man to beat top-ranked contender Tony Ferguson in the Octagon, but in early 2012 Johnson did it. At the time, it was just a decent win, but looking back it's a huge win, as Ferguson is 11-1 overall in the UFC with that lone blemish coming to Johnson. Given Ferguson's current eight-fight win streak, it's justifiable that he's ranked above Johnson in the official rankings, but at the same time, we shouldn't forget that Johnson does hold that huge win.

Earlier in Johnson's career, the knock against him was his poor ground game. After all, he was submitted by Paul Sass in one of his earliest UFC fights, and even Reza Madadi was able to tap him out. But after moving to the Blackzilians camp, where he's improved not only his incredible boxing but also his takedown defense and submission defense, Johnson is now one of the most well-rounded fighters in the division. With his iron chin -- Johnson has never been knocked out -- plus his improvements in the grappling department, Johnson is now incredibly tough to finish, and that's a trait that can help get him back to the title picture at 155 lbs.

Many of us were too quick to write off Johnson after the Diaz fight. After all, that was a competitive fight, with Diaz winning two rounds to one. And we forget Johnson was a healthy 5-to-1 favorite to win that fight. But with this latest victory over Poirier, no one is going to be sleeping on Johnson anymore, and when we talk about the top contenders for Eddie Alvarez' lightweight championship belt, Johnson has to be mentioned.

"The Menace" is still behind guys like Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and UFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor when it comes to getting a lightweight title shot against Alvarez, but the win over Poirier elevated him back into the top 10 of his weight class, and in the deepest and most stacked division in all of MMA, that's damn impressive. Going forward, don't sleep on Johnson, and when discussing the best lightweights in the world, don't be foolish like I did and forget about him, because he really is that damn good, and the win over Poirier proved it.


UFC Fight Night 94: Johnson vs. Poirier took place on September 17, 2016 at State Farm Arena in Hildalgo, Texas.

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