Split decisions. How is the losing fighter supposed to react?
To further the point, what if every major MMA media outlet scored the scrap for the fighter who two judges said lost? And what if that same fighter statistically outstruck his opponent and stuffed all seven of their takedown attempts?
That’s the exact predicament number six-ranked UFC lightweight Michael “The Menace” Johnson found himself in after his 15 minutes with Beneil Dariush in August.
“To me, personally, inside - that’s a win,” Johnson said. “Regardless of whatever they say on paper, everyone saw it. I went back and talked to my coaches and we said we didn’t do anything wrong in that fight. It’s pretty hard to come back and be like ‘we need to work on this’ because we won that fight. You try to take positives away from every fight and a huge positive I take away from it is - I’m pretty hard to take down (laughs). That’s a huge positive for me. Beneil does have excellent grappling and he’s good at takedowns. I think what I can take from that fight is that I can be even more active on my feet and not worry so much about the takedowns. I kind of sensed I was about to get screwed. It just didn’t feel right. When I heard it, I was like, ‘how the hell is this a split?’ I controlled the whole fight, I was moving forward the whole fight and the only thing he landed was a jab. At the same time, I just can’t allow that to happen anymore.”
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The 29-year-old Missouri native was far from happy with how the final decision played out, but Johnson is not letting his spirit get taken down just like he doesn’t allow himself to get taken down inside the Octagon. At UFC Fight Night: Teixeira vs. Saint Preux, Johnson and Dariush went toe-to-toe in the co-main event for three rounds, with the entirety of the action taking place on the feet, just where Johnson wanted it. All three judges believed Johnson took the first five minutes and Dariush took the last five minutes, and the true discrepancy was their opinions on who won the second stanza.
“Believe it or not, I feel like I won all three rounds,” Johnson said. “I can see how they would give him the third round because it did seem like I took my foot off the pedal a little bit, but that wasn’t the case. I was waiting for him to get a little reckless because I was confident he was losing. I’ll never make that mistake again. I rewatched the fight and I don’t know how they would give him the second round. At all. I pressured constantly. I defended all of his takedowns. It comes to the point that they award the takedowns so much, it needs to be the same for defending the takedowns. Something needs to happen because a lot of guys have fallen victim to bad judges. We go in there and do our job and they need to do their job right. I think I came into the fight and stuck to my game plan and executed very well over the 15 minutes. The judges got it wrong. Plain and simple.”
As far as official records go, the loss snapped Johnson’s impressive four-fight win streak, which boasted names like Edson Barboza and Gleison Tibau. Considering most thought The Ultimate Fighter 12 finalist won the bout, the controversial loss did not really affect his spot on the rankings. So it’s not at all surprising that Johnson is heading into an even higher profile fight on an even larger event than before. Up next, The Menace is set to collide with the always exciting and dangerous Nate Diaz at UFC on FOX: dos Anjos vs. Cerrone.
“I got word [Diaz] was ready to come back and fight a little after my fight and I was like this is the fight I want and need to bounce back from this BS decision loss,” Johnson said. “I know he’s not high in the rankings, but he’s still one of the best guys in the world. Hands down. It’s a tough fight. I don’t think his heart is in it as much anymore, but at the same time it’s great to fight an opponent like him. He’s got a huge name and he’s been at the top of the list for years. He’s very skilled and he’s got great boxing, but I’m going to go into this fight and do the same thing I’ve done. My game plan doesn’t change much.”
This Saturday in Orlando, the Blackzilians’ rising star is set to scrap in his adopted home state against Diaz, who will be returning to the Octagon for the first time since the UFC on FOX card last December. The TUF 5 winner has been 1-2 in UFC competition since challenging for the lightweight belt back in 2012. Shades of Diaz’s greatness were certainly on display with his Knockout of the Night win over Gray Maynard at the TUF 18 Finale, but he has been fairly inactive since. For Johnson, tangling with a known slugger like Diaz is a perfect opportunity to a highlight his always improving striking.
“I’m looking forward to a stand-up matchup,” Johnson said. “I really don’t think he has the wrestling to get me down. He’s a great stand-up guy. He doesn’t really move. He likes to stand in there and throw punches. I’m completely okay with that as well. It’s going to be a great stand-up fight, it’s going to be a great war. I definitely know I’m the fastest guy in this division and he’s going to have a huge problem with that. I think my movement really throws guys off and they get hit when they’re not expecting to get hit. I think I’m a very sneaky power puncher. I catch guys at weird angles. That’s one thing that me and my striking coach Henri [Hooft] have worked tremendously hard on. It’s been four years in the making and the style is being perfected. I definitely think my movement has opened up my striking a lot. I think that’s what sets me apart from everyone else in this division.”
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