"I’ve got all the good things in the world to say about him, and I hope
he succeeds in this sport, but he’s standing in my way of succeeding and
getting better, and I’m standing in his way, so I think it’s pretty
easy for both of us to push our friendship aside for 15 minutes.”
Numbers don’t always tell the whole story in the sport of mixed martial arts. Michael Johnson is a prime example. The number one pick of Georges St-Pierre on season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter, the 24-year old from Missouri, Johnson showed the type of raw talent that instantly marked him as a fighter to watch, and after four wins on the Spike TV reality show, he finds himself one victory away from a UFC contract.
Then you look at his 9-4 pro record and wonder how such a talented fighter ended up with such a less than stellar resume. In fact, in May of 2009, that slate stood at 5-4. In boxing, such a record will relegate you to the B-side of undercards for the rest of your career. In MMA, the outlook isn’t much brighter, but there is the potential for more – and Johnson was about to realize that potential.
“I always was a hard worker and did things right down the middle, but I guess the last two years prior to the show was where I really buckled down,” said Johnson. “I took my fourth loss and I was just completely sick of it. I hate that feeling, especially when you’re winning the whole fight and you end up losing at the very end through a submission. That’s a horrible feeling. So over those two years I just really sacrificed a lot, staying in the house, working out three times a day, getting myself stronger and faster, and just trying to mold myself into a better fighter and taking advantage of everything that was around me.”
The most important part of the whole process didn’t take place in the gym though; it was in Johnson’s head, a place where he didn’t allow any doubt to creep in after he was submitted in May of 2009 by Eric Marriott.
“I would take a loss on Saturday and on Monday morning I’d be right back in the gym trying to make myself better and trying not to make that mistake again,” he said. “There were no doubts, it was just me saying that I can’t make these mistakes anymore. I need to train this move and drill over and over again so it won’t happen in another fight.”
“As soon as that last loss, that’s when I stepped my game up to where I can mold myself into this fighter and I said if it was gonna happen, it was gonna happen now,” Johnson continues. “I needed to take advantage of everything and I was blessed and privileged to get to fight to get into the (Ultimate Fighter) house, and at that point there was no looking back for me. I had to work my hardest and leave everything in the cage and in the training room.”
Following the defeat against Marriott, Johnson won three in a row through January of 2010, two by knockout. He went on to try out for The Ultimate Fighter for the third time, and after being accepted, he decisioned Pablo Garza over two rounds to earn a spot in the TUF12 house. From there, it was showing his coaches, his teammates, and the world that he was ready for prime time.
“I thought it was a great experience,” said Johnson. “I loved every minute of it outside of the house. (Laughs) Inside, that was a lot of down time and trying to make it through. I think that was the hardest time through the whole season for me.”
But unlike some previous seasons, there was a lack of over the top antics on a consistent basis, leaving the fighters to concentrate on the ultimate goal of making it to the finals and the shot at a UFC contract.
“We had a couple guys that were all about trying to get their prank in, but I think that as the season progressed and it being season 12 of the show, I think the UFC finally started picking out guys that were more serious about their career and who wanted to actually move forward, rather than just looking at being on TV and getting in front of a camera and trying to being a reality superstar as opposed to being an actual UFC fighter.”
And despite earning his way into the last bout of the season with wins over Aaron Wilkinson, Alex Caceres, and Nam Phan, Johnson realized that the work wasn’t over once the cameras were packed away, and he went right back into training; this time with Greg Jackson and his gang of standouts in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot stronger and a lot faster,” said Johnson. “I went out and joined Greg Jackson for this fight, so I’m having a great time down here and learning a lot of new things. I just see myself progressing every day and getting better and better as a fighter. Having these coaches and the talent that’s in this gym, I’ve never worked as hard as I’ve been working since the end of taping. I haven’t taken a break in two and a half, three years, and I’m not about to stop now.”
The only thing left is to face off against a new friend in Brookins, and if you’ve never heard such niceties thrown between two fighters before a big fight, that’s not surprising given the personalities of the combatants. But when the bell does ring at The Palms on Saturday, that will all be put to the side for 15 minutes or less.
“I think it’s pretty easy for both of us,” said Johnson. “Both of us are adults, both of us understand the fact that this is business, and going into this season we both knew that we were going to make some friends, but along the line we were going to have to fight each other. That’s just the business and how things work. He’s a great guy, I’ve got all the good things in the world to say about him, and I hope he succeeds in this sport, but he’s standing in my way of succeeding and getting better, and I’m standing in his way, so I think it’s pretty easy for both of us to push our friendship aside for 15 minutes.”