Healthy, happy and hungry.
For the first time in a long time, No. 10-ranked UFC lightweight Michael Johnson is all three of the aforementioned, which “The Menace” believes will spell a long and difficult night in Texas this Saturday for his No.7-ranked opponent, Dustin Poirier.
“I’m extremely hungry, like ‘Hungry Hippos’ times a thousand,” Johnson said. “I’ve been extremely hungry ever since the night of December the 19th, the night I lost to Nate Diaz. That should tell you how hungry I am that I remember that exact date. I got my surgery, I was little down in the dumps, but I got healthy. Ever since, my mindset has been in an extremely great place.
“I’ve put so many hours into this gym,” he continues. “I’m punching with full power, I’m wrestling with full power. Everything is just clicking. The last time I had a surgery and a long layoff, I had a big win over Edson Barboza. This one is going to be incredible. I can’t leave anything in the hands of the judges. I’ve learned my lesson in the last two fights. I’m just in a different mindset. I’m looking to make the doubters and naysayers disappear. It’s going to be a tough night for Dustin.”
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The 30-year-old from St. Louis is returning to the Octagon after a nearly ten-month layoff. Originally, Johnson was set for a rematch with Tony Ferguson in March after The Menace won their first bout by unanimous decision in 2012. Unfortunately, Johnson’s doctor discovered he had a torn labrum, as well as a previously undiagnosed issue with his rotator cuff, both of which required shoulder surgery. While sitting out three quarters of 2016 was not ideal, it did help refocus Johnson and it did shed light on his need to take care of his body better, especially in the lead-up to the first five round fight in his UFC career.
“The one thing I have changed, dramatically, is body maintenance,” he said. “I think that’s one thing that has helped with me coming back from these injuries, how important it is to rest my body and to make it to this fight as close to one hundred percent as I can. I always say that if a fighter goes into a fight at one hundred percent, then he didn’t train hard enough for that fight. So the big change has been body maintenance. I get a lot of stretches in and I’m taking care of my shoulders. I’m warming up correctly, stretching after practice, my nutrition is on point. I’m just looking at this fight like I’m a new Michael Johnson. Michael Johnson 2.0, 2.8, 3.0 - however you want to call it. That’s the guy who is going to show up on Saturday night.”
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Up next, Johnson is ready to rumble with Poirier in the UFC Fight Night main event on Saturday in Hidalgo, Texas. After a successful 8-3 run as a UFC featherweight, Louisiana’s Poirier moved up to lightweight and has been rattling heads ever since with four consecutive wins, including three first round knockouts. In an interesting twist in the rankings, Poirier is ranked ahead of Johnson, but the Floridian will be the highest ranked lightweight “The Diamond” will have faced.
“Dustin is a great opponent,” Johnson said. “He’s got great boxing, he’s got great wrestling. His D’Arce choke and his jiu-jitsu game is very well rounded. I have nothing bad to say about Dustin at all. He can get a little emotional. Hey, we all get a little emotional when we go out there and fight. That’s the name of the game. He’s definitely one of the better opponents I’m going to face and I’ve made it a point to keep extremely sharp every day because Dustin is a fighter who, if you give him an inch, he’ll take two or three.”
Aiming to fix that perception problem with the critics by scoring a big win, Johnson has been busy training with his South Florida team the Blackzilians, who just so happen to be rivals with Poirier’s American Top Team. Under the watchful eye of coaches like Henri Hooft, Greg Jones and Jake Bonacci, Johnson battles to get better with everyone from young bucks like Jason Jackson and Desmond Green to grown gladiators like Kamaru Usman and, even, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. All that’s left is the fight.
“We’re going to meet in the middle and we’re going to trade some punches,” Johnson said. “Whoever takes one on the chin first and can’t handle it, they’re going to go down and go down fast. Dustin’s going to realize that he might not want to trade punches with me and he’s going to try and wrestle me. I’ve fought a lot of guys in this division like Gleison Tibau and Joe Lauzon who have wanted to get me down after striking with me and it went fairly well for me against those guys. As long as I’m on top of my game, there’s no beating me. The fans can expect a great high-paced fight. I’m a fast starter, I’m going to start fast on him and I’m going to look to break him early. He’s been around for a while, but he’s never fought anyone that moves like me or is as fast as me. He’s going to have his hands full with me.”