“I’m looking at this fight as one where I'm definitely improving and
getting better. I’ve had a great, great training camp, and I’m ready to
go out here and get a win." - Michael Johnson
The actors who walk down the red carpet at the Oscars, stopping to tell Ryan Seacrest they’re just happy to be nominated? They’re lying; they want to win. Being nominated is a tremendous accomplishment, but everyone wants to win. That way you don’t have to summon up all your acting chops to make the “I’m so happy for them” face on live television.
Like the nominees who go home without a trophy and every fighter in the world, Michael Johnson doesn’t like losing either.
Last time UFC fans saw the former Ultimate Fighter finalist, he was the latest lightweight to be caught in a submission by British standout Paul Sass. The October defeat sent the 25-year-old known as “The Menace” back to the gym in search of answers, and what he came up with is an outlook that shows that backwards step could produce forward progress, starting as early as this weekend.
“A lot went wrong,” Johnson laughed when asked to assess his last appearance. “He got me in a weird situation that I didn’t really spend a lot of time on. I got a little confused, and I had to tap before he tore my knee out of place. It was just a mistake that I had to go back and work on, and it’s definitely not happening again anytime soon.
“Sometimes losing can be good. The majority of times they’re horrible, but it’s good to have it happen early, as opposed to later on in my career. This way I actually have time to work on it, get better, and not get caught in it again.
“I went back to the drawing board, spent a lot of time with my jiu-jitsu coach and the many black belts we have in our gym down here, and we work on it every day. Next time I do see something like that, I’ll know exactly what to do, and not just sit there and think about it.”
That drawing board is located in Boca Raton, Florida, where Johnson has spent the last year as a part of the Imperial Athletics team more commonly known as “The Blackzilians.”
Training each day alongside the likes of Jorge Santiago, Gesias Cavalcante, Melvin Guillard, and Rashad Evans, Johnson has seen consistent improvement in his skills, and knows the grueling hours he spends in the gym will eventually pay dividends in the cage.
“Being down here for the last year as opposed to just getting in the game, I’ve improved dramatically. My standup has gotten way better working with Henri (Hooft) who has come over from Amsterdam. My jiu-jitsu has gotten better. Working on my wrestling with Mike Van Arsdale, it’s gone through the roof. I see myself being a better fighter every day.”
With the tremendous depth in the lightweight division, many look at this as a must-win fight for Johnson. The St. Louis native has a different way of approaching the contest, one that further shows he’s ready to take a step forward in the UFC’s most talent rich division.
“I think every fight is considered a must-win. If you want to go forward in this sport and you want to make yourself known — if you lose, you take a couple steps back, and if you win, you’re in a completely different frame of the business.
“I’m looking at this fight as one where I'm definitely improving and getting better. I’ve had a great, great training camp, and I’m ready to go out here and get a win. I definitely don’t want to sit here and take two losses in a row. That’s really hard to come back from, and then you kind of want to sit around and second-guess yourself. I would say this is a `must not lose’ as opposed to a must-win.”
Some would say the two are the same, seeing only semantic differences between must-win and must-not-lose. As Johnson explains it, the difference is in how you prepare for the fight and execute your game plan when the cage door closes.
“You’ve got to believe in yourself and your coaches. I’ve had a great training camp; all the hard work is done at this point. I’m just ready to get out here and get a fight.
“I can’t get nervous and put a lot of pressure on myself and say, `I have to win this fight. I have to win this fight.’ Everybody wants to win, it’s just one of those things where I have to take all the pressure off myself, and go out there and fight my fight. If you’ve done all the things that you need to do to this point, the win should be the easy part.”
Winning in the UFC is never easy, and Roller will be determined to bring his two-fight losing streak to a halt and hand Johnson a second consecutive loss in the process.
Johnson is confident that won’t happen, and that his meeting with the WEC veteran will be the start of a breakthrough year in 2012.
“He took this fight on short notice, so I’m really not seeing him having the wind or being in the best shape to go three rounds with me. I’m going to feel him out for the first round, put the pressure on him, and then look to finish him in the early second.
“This is definitely going to be a new start for me. I’ve taken a new approach to training; completely rededicated myself to the game. I’ve done everything necessary to be a champion in the future, and this is definitely going to be my coming out party.”