If it seemed like UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon was a step behind Michael Johnson at every turn in their bout at UFC Fight Night 26, that wasn’t an accident.
Johnson leaned heavily on wrestling coach Kenny Monday and ex-Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez, who was present as a cornerman at the event at Boston’s TD Garden. Both were key parts of Johnson’s camp in Boca Raton, Fla., and they gave him key advice that helped him triumph in a bout in which he wasn’t favored and might have led to his UFC release.
“We definitely did our homework on Joe,” Johnson, who spoiled Massachusetts native Lauzon’s homecoming via unanimous decision, told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio). “We knew he’s not really a counter-shooter, going in taking shots off people’s punches, and we exposed that in the fight. We definitely didn’t have to worry about his takedowns.”
And if you wondered why Johnson wasn’t particularly eager to pick up the pace later in the fight, after it was clear he was the dominant competitor, there was a reason for that, too.
UFC fighters literally are screamed at to finish their fights before they walk to the arena, and other incentives, from performance bonuses to the exhortations of UFC President Dana White, make it clear what the promotion values.
Johnson, though, wanted to take a different path.
“I wanted to finish him, but I didn’t want to finish him early,” Johnson said. “I’m really glad the fight went the way it did. I would have rather finished him in the third, but if I would have knocked him out in the first round, you would have had the critics saying, ‘He got lucky. He threw a lucky punch.’
“But it’s pretty hard to deny a 15-minute performance. It doesn’t leave any doubts in people’s minds.”
One person who had absolutely no doubts was White, who had no criticism for the fight’s length and instead went after Lauzon, calling the fight a one-sided beatdown. And a beatdown it was, because Johnson (13-8 MMA, 5-4 UFC) wouldn’t allow himself a moment’s distraction against Lauzon (22-9 MMA, 9-6 UFC), who hoped to reproduce his domination of Gabe Ruediger three years ago at TD Garden for UFC 118.
For Johnson, to take his eyes off his game plan would be to invite disaster.
“I said ‘I got this’ as soon as the fight was over,” Johnson said. “Joe is dangerous; he could have thrown an ankle lock like he did against Jim Miller, and I’m not as seasoned as Jim on the ground, so I could have slipped up. It was always in the back of my mind to stay focused and to fight 15 minutes. Don’t take any second off.”
Johnson’s reluctance to go to the ground against Lauzon shouldn’t be interpreted as a hard and fast rule, but the fighter said that until he feels comfortable on the mat with the UFC’s best grapplers, he’ll continue to stack the deck in his favor.
“I want to improve there, but at the same time, I don’t need to be a black belt in the UFC,” he said. “I don’t need to be in there submitting guys. I use my advantages on the feet.”
In a fight such as the one with Lauzon, that means, “Defend, defend, defend. Keep the fight moving, and don’t give him a clear path to shooting.”
As for whom he’ll try to confound next, Johnson isn’t in the mood to pick his next fight. When he does, though, he’ll have a meticulous plan for the occasion.
“It’s whoever they want to give me,” he said. “I don’t want anybody that won’t boost me up. I want somebody that’s either in the top 10 or close to. I can’t call anybody out right now. I’ve got to go back and look at some guys and figure out who I want to go after next.”
For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 26, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.
MMAjunkie.com Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at noon ET (9 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, MMAjunkie.com lead staff reporter John Morgan and producer Brian “Goze” Garcia. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.