Blackzilians Lightweight powerhouse Michael Johnson is on the eve of a title shot if he can beat former champion Benson Henderson in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 21 Finale, which will likely take place inside American Airlines Arena in Miami, Fla., on July 12, 2015.
The No. 5-ranked Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 155-pound contender has built upon his mixed martial arts (MMA) skills since his runner-up finish on TUF 12. Over the last four years, "The Menace" has transformed from JUCO wrestling standout to esteemed striking tactician with the help of his nationally recognized fight camp, Blackzilians.
Johnson is riding a remarkable four-fight win streak and has defeated the likes of veterans and knockout artists like Gleison Tibau, Melvin Guillard and Edson Barboza, among others. The 28-year-old recently began preparations for his showdown with "Smooth" and MMAmania.com caught up with the surging lightweight to discuss Henderson, his thoughts on the division, what motivates him and more!
Check it out below:
What were your thoughts on Khabib Nurmagomedov pulling out of his UFC 187 fight with Donald Cerrone? Does this make the path to a title shot more difficult?
MJ: It probably does make it a little more difficult just because of the fact that I can't take that fight. It's just not the right time for me. You know, like I said, timing is everything. If I was in a position to take this fight, you would've seen my name come across the screen already. That's how quick. We'll see what happens. It's definitely interesting. It's obviously the fight that I should be taking but if somebody else steps in and beats Cowboy, then it messes everything up for some of the guys. Who knows the timetable for Khabib? It's a fight that I wish I could take.
Is there a tight brotherhood in the Blackzilians camp and could you describe that? What have coaches like Henri and Jake done for you and your career?
MJ: It's always a brotherhood. It's always going to be a brotherhood with the original guys that started the team and even the guys that came after. We've all developed a tight bond and brotherhood. It's a family down here. One of the main reasons we're successful is because we're in the gym making sure we get what we need from each other. It can't be any better. You've got me Rashad [Evans] and Tyrone Spong
, Kamarudeen Usman
-- who's on TUF now -- and you know Anthony [Johnson] and Eddie [Alvarez]. We migrate towards each other to build that bond and help each other.
Then the coaches in there. They're our brothers as well. It's a different kind of brotherhood. You know, these are the leaders of our team and you know that these are the guys we listen to and that will help us succeed more than our training partners. They've just done wonders for my career. I've been working with Jake [Bonacci] for my last four fights and you've seen the product. You see his work and then you've got Henri [Hooft] and Greg Jones and Jorge Santiago. I think we have the best most well-rounded staff possible. We've got one of the best wrestling coaches in the world and the best jiu-jitsu guy. The product shows itself. We've got the best stand-up, striking coach in the world. We're beating everyone on our feet; nobody is outwrestling us. We're not really getting submitted. I think that everything is clicking and firing on all cylinders now.
What weight are you currently at right now?
MJ: I usually start camp around 175-178. Maybe closer to 180 and then I slowly get down throughout training camp.
Do you work with a nutritionist?
MJ: I mean we have a nutritionist and I take their advice on some things, but I've been doing this for so long. I know exactly what I need to eat and how I need to cut down. What my body takes -- I'm not a guy that sits there and counts calories, I can't eat this or eat that -- I just try to eat really clean. Eat chicken, fish, tuna; things like that. A lot of greens and fruit. I try to stay off of the candy and sugar but I can't really help that [laughs]. You've got to have a few cheat meals in there.
You're not ballooning out to 180-190 are you. We're not going to have to start calling you "Bigg Rigg" are we?
MJ: No, no definitely not [laughs]. I don't even think I could that heavy if I wanted to. It would take me a while. It happened before and I think it had to do with me and just getting surgery, being out.
What will it take to beat a guy like Benson, do you see any ways in which you can exploit him?
MJ: My hand speed will definitely be a factor in this fight. Benson is a great fighter. He's just so well-rounded. He can strike, he's a great wrestler and his ground game is phenomenal. He's definitely putting some things together. Like I've said, when you're at this high level, the only thing that really becomes a factor is your mental aspect of the game. Everybody can wrestle, strike and do jiu-jitsu. It's just being well prepared. I think my coaches and team will have me more prepared and my mindset will be better than his going into this fight. I think I'm more hungry of the two.
He's been there and fought for a title. He's had the title. Everybody has seen him fight. It's time to move over a little bit and let some new blood get into the mix.
It'll be the battle of the toothpicks in July.
MJ: [laughs] I'm going to bring one to the weigh-ins.
Do you think Benson would succeed at 170?
MJ: I think he's too small for 170. When you get up higher, with those guys and you look at guys like Tyron Woodley
-- he's huge for 170 -- or Rory MacDonald
; Robbie [Lawler] and of course "Bigg Rigg." He fought very well. He was the quicker fighter. Brandon Thatch
gassed and Benson got him. After we fight, I'll send him up to 170 with a loss and he can stay there if he wants to. He's fought his ass off and he's a warrior. He's shown that he's willing to fight anyone, anywhere and at anytime. His legs are huge so he can compete with some of the top guys in that division but I think they're just too big for him.
Are you concerned about this extra attention at all?
MJ: No, that's what I've been working for and the title. It's always the recognition and people noticing and paying attention to what I'm doing. I love the fact that my name is getting included with the best in the lightweight division and the elite fighters in the UFC because that shows me progression. It tells me that what I'm doing is working. Everything is on schedule. It shows me that my coaches and I are on the same page and we're making progress. I can't be more happier with where I'm at now. The only thing that'll make me more happy is having that title around my waist.
What motivates you to get better at this stage of your career now that you're a veteran?
MJ: It's a little bit of both. You know, it's my team and all these great coaches and fighters. All this experience to help me. They make me want to succeed. It's been a lot of time for me to fight for the title and start making some real money. I've been doing this sport for about seven years now. I've worked my way up to where this is my time to shine. This is my time to start getting all the attention. I'm next in line and I've just got to win these next few fights and get up to a title shot and after that I'm going to keep it and I get everything I want from all my hard work. It's all starting to pay off.
Will the Blackzilians take home two titles at UFC 187?
MJ: Absolutely. We're going to take home two titles. I wish I could fill in and be on that card and end the night 3-0. Definitely man, AJ is just on a whole other level. I mean his intensity that he's had in the gym, his streak and confidence; he's shining right now. If you asked me, he's the hottest thing in the UFC right now. He was obviously a little upset that he wasn't getting Jon [Jones], but at the same time nothing changed. He wasn't really angry about it. He just stayed the path.
I think I saw him that night when it happened or I saw him the day after. Then I saw him right when they said DC [Daniel Cormier
] was stepping in. AJ is just AJ. He's like 'Well, I'll just go in there and fight with a smile on my face.' Nothing bothers him and if it does, he's not the type that shows something bothers him. His mind is focused on fighting and becoming the champion.