It's not too often that The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) mixed martial arts (MMA) "reality television" franchise for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) produces a legitimate prospect these days, but after season 12, Michael Johnson looked to be every bit the real deal.
Despite losing to Jonathan Brookins in TUF 12 Finale, Johnson appeared well rounded, looking as though he was making marked MMA improvements.
Five fights later, "The Menace" was 4-1 against some tough opposition -- Anthony Ferguson and Danny Castillo, among other -- and appeared to be on the fast-track to Lightweight contender status. With a three-fight win streak under his belt, Johnson was booked to battle Myles Jury, who was fresh off a victory at TUF 15 Finale, in a 155-pound bout at UFC 155 in Dec. 2012.
Naturally, Johnson was favored to defeat "Fury;" however, the fight didn't pan out as most thought it would, with Jury putting Johnson through the wringer for three straight rounds en route to an upset unanimous decision win. For a fighter who appeared to be improving and moving up the ranks rapidly, it was certainly odd to see Johnson come out so flat.
Make no mistake, Johnson has improved by leaps and bounds since his stint on TUF. His defensive wrestling, while good before, seemed to be getting better, while his striking had become fluid and technical, something that appeared a long way off. Indeed, Johnson seemed like he would be one of the few recent TUF success stories, but then the Blackzilians-trained product put forward the aforementioned puzzling performance against Jury.
Under normal circumstances, Johnson -- who returns to action this afternoon (April 6, 2013) at UFC on Fuel TV 9 against Reza Madadi in Stockholm, Sweden -- would probably not be the "Fighter to Watch." But, UFC on FUEL TV 9, a mind-numbingly weak card, is far from normal.
Indeed, there really is not much to look forward to now that the highly-anticipated Light Heavyweight main event between Alexander Gustafsson vs. Gegard Mousasi was scrapped when "The Mauler" was forced to withdraw because of an 'enth hour cut sustained in training.
Sure, Conor McGregor or Marcus Brimage -- a match up that could earn UFC on Fuel TV 9 "Fight of the Night" honors -- may emerge as an interesting Featherweight prospect, but there really is not much more to that outcome.
In Madadi, Johnson will face an opponent who may very well be able to punish him for his mistakes. Johnson's striking has improved significantly, but he isn't impervious to getting caught. And Madadi's wild swings could catch him if he's not careful. Meanwhile, if Johnson gets tangled up with him on the ground, Madadi could very well pull off a submission, which is his bread and butter strength.
Ultimately, the idea here is that Johnson's future may hinge on the outcome of this fight. Is "The Menace" a true contender with the ability to make Lightweight waves who just had an off night his last time out, or is he a pretender who was exposed as nothing more than a middle-of-the-road inconsistent talent?
Johnson may not be facing the chopping block with a loss later today, but if that's the end result it will more than likely cloud what seemed to be a bright UFC future. He has to deliver an impressive performance because if he doesn't, it more than likely signals the near-term end of Johnson being a formidable up-and-coming force in one of the promotion's most talent-laden division's.
And that's the reason Michael Johnson, who will take on Madadi on the "Prelims" portion of the under card that streams on Facebook.com, is UFC on Fuel TV 9's "Fighter to Watch."