Heading into UFC Fight Night 26 a couple of weeks ago, I was on The MMA Corner’s Round Table panel to make predictions for the card. Here was what I had to say about Joe Lauzon vs. Michael Johnson:

“Lauzon is a dangerous fighter no matter where they set up the Octagon, but to give him the show-opening fight in front of his hometown fans is almost guaranteed to set someone up for failure. Unfortunately for Johnson, he’s the unlucky soul who was given this assignment, and he’s going to have to try to play major spoiler here.

There are a lot of things to like about Johnson’s game, but it’s tough to see where he can have success against Lauzon. Johnson’s striking isn’t going to give Lauzon any significant difficulties on the feet, and although “The Menace” has a decent wrestling game, getting into a grappling match with “J-Lau” would be near suicide.

This fight was made for Lauzon to win, and since it’s a Lauzon fight, expect to be very entertained in the process. The Bostonian is going to get things started quickly and violently, locking in a fight-ending triangle choke just minutes into the first round and blowing the roof off of the TD Garden.”


Needless to say, Michael Johnson proved me very wrong on Aug. 17. The former Ultimate Fighter 12 finalist looked as sharp as we’ve ever seen him in the cage against Lauzon, picking apart the hometown favorite for a full 15 minutes and winning what UFC President Dana White called “one of the most lopsided bouts in UFC history.”

From the onset, Johnson was the far superior striker. The Blackzilian product showed up and came right after the aggressive Lauzon, rocking the Bostonian early on and staying in control for the rest of the bout.

Johnson has had a few good wins since entering the Octagon in 2010, but none of them are even close to as impressive as the win over Lauzon. Prior to the win over “J-Lau,” Johnson had a mediocre 4-4 record in the UFC with a few solid victories over respected guys like Tony Ferguson and Danny Castillo. The problem is, he also has three losses to fighters that are no longer with the UFC.

As good as Johnson looked against Lauzon, “The Menace” has been far too up and down throughout his UFC career to make me buy into him has a true high-level lightweight. Lauzon is a very good fighter and Johnson deserves a ton of credit for completely shutting down such a dangerous opponent behind enemy lines, but is it really enough to cancel out almost three full years of inconsistency? Probably not.

The MMA world’s first glimpse of Johnson came on season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter. Immediately, he was considered one of the favorites to win the show, prompting coaches Georges St-Pierre and Josh Koscheck to both mention Johnson as a fighter they wanted for their team. After eventually getting selected to Team St-Pierre, Johnson made his run through the house by taking out a few notable UFC mainstays in Alex Caceres and Nam Phan, securing his spot in the finals against Team GSP teammate Jonathan Brookins.

Johnson came out strong against Brookins, almost winning the TUF trophy in the first round by destroying Brookins with his striking. However, “The Menace” was unable to keep up his onslaught, and Brookins came back to steal the final two rounds and the decision, subsequently sending Johnson into a must-win situation in his next fight.

Johnson followed up the Brookins fight with an impressive win over Edward Faaloloto, scoring a knockout win in the first round, but any momentum he gained was taken away when he was defeated by Paul Sass just four months later. A three-fight winning streak followed the loss to Sass, but just as Johnson started gaining some ground at 155 pounds, he dropped back-to-back fights to Myles Jury and Reza Madadi. The win against Lauzon brings his UFC record over .500, but it’s tough to bank on a new and improved Michael Johnson when we’ve seen him go from fantastic to terrible on a fight to fight basis.

From a technical striking standpoint, the guy who showed up at Fight Night 26 is probably the best Michael Johnson to ever step into the Octagon. Lauzon isn’t exactly a world-class kickboxer, but he’s held his own against a few solid strikers in the past. He’s proven he’s dangerous in his wins over Jens Pulver and Melvin Guillard, both of which started with Lauzon landed a big punch on the feet. However, he had a hard time winning a single exchange against Johnson.

The ground advantage that Lauzon was supposed to have going into the bout was quickly turned into a non-issue for “The Menace,” as he used his striking to keep “J-Lau” on the outside, and from there he just continued to beat up the hometown kid with his boxing. All in all, it was great game plan that Johnson performed to perfection, and it showed off Johnson’s mental game in the process. Heading into enemy territory is tough for a fighter to overcome (see: any fight card in Brazil), but Johnson basically shrugged it off and went to work.

There’s nothing negative to say about Johnson’s performance against Lauzon, but as huge as the win was, it doesn’t mean that Johnson is in line to take the next step in the lightweight division. Lauzon is a tough fighter, but once it became obvious that Johnson’s striking was far superior on that night, “J-Lau” was basically turned into a punching bag that occasionally punched back: still dangerous, but easily beatable.

When competing against the top-level fighters in the division, Johnson is going to have to depend on more than a solid boxing game and some takedown defense. Lauzon may not have been able to close the distance, but it’s doubtful that a strong wrestler like Gray Maynard or Jim Miller would have the same problems. Johnson may have been able to pick apart Lauzon with his boxing, but he would have a much more difficult time getting off those combinations against a striker in the mold of Nate Diaz or Anthony Pettis.

Johnson has gotten to the point where he is very good in a lot of areas, but there isn’t a single part of his game that stands out more than another. “The Menace” has used his wrestling to stifle opponents in the past, but we’ve also seen him get smothered on the ground by a couple of decent grapplers in Brookins and Myles Jury. Even if he does have the wrestling advantage, Johnson hasn’t exhibited the submission defense needed to compete with the best lightweights in the division.

Most of Johnson’s Octagon success has come on the feet, but he’s going to need to be able to adapt once he hits the next level of competition. While he’s proven to have decent boxing skills and solid leg kicks, it’s tough to imagine Johnson having the skills to hang around on the feet against a strong kickboxer or Muay Thai specialist. Against mid-tier competition in the UFC, Johnson may have been able to spam takedowns and eke out a decision win, but against a top-10 striker like Diaz or Donald Cerrone? “The Menace” will likely spend more time trying to get out of submissions than doing any damage from the top.

Taking out Lauzon in front of his hometown crowd was impressive, but I don’t believe in Michael Johnson. He’s just been too inconsistent to take seriously as a threat in the lightweight division at the moment, and to be honest, I don’t know if I ever see him becoming a top-10 fighter at 155. But, if you’re a Michael Johnson fan, I wouldn’t worry too much. He’s already proven me wrong once, and he could definitely do it again.

Photo: Michael Johnson (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.