Top-ranked Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight contenders Michael Johnson and Beneil Dariush clashed last night (Aug. 8, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 73 inside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
Johnson has looked incredibly lately. On the strength of his recent win streak, Johnson nearly earned a match up with former division champion Benson Henderson, but injury ruined that bout. Instead, Johnson wound up in the cage opposite Dariush.
To his credit, Dariush also entered this bout on an excellent win streak, including big wins over Daron Cruickshank and Jim Miller. Just six fights into his UFC career, Dariush had an opportunity to earn a Top 5 victory and rise up even higher.
Johnson took the center of the Octagon and looked to work from the edge of his range. Faced with a fellow Southpaw, Johnson was very active with his jab, while Dariush looked to land some heavy low kicks.
For most of the round, neither man landed anything too significant or really took control of the bout. With one minute remaining, Johnson cracked his opponent with a nasty cross and rocked him. While Dariush quickly recovered, Johnson was able to land a few more hard punches and the momentum clearly shifted into his corner.
It's also worth mentioning that Dariush never came remotely near landing a takedown.
Johnson continued where he left off to start the second round. The kickboxer's distance control was masterful, as Johnson kept his opponent at the end of his punches and landed sharp shots.
While Dariush hung in there and landed some decent shots, he simply couldn't match his opponent's speed and combinations. Johnson's game was too refined, as he expertly picked his shots and kept enough distance too quickly shut down any attempts to grapple.
Heading into the third round, Dariush seemingly needed a finish.
The third round was more of the same for the first couple minutes. Then, a clean uppercut counter seemed to stun his opponent a bit, as Johnson's output dropped. For another minute or so, Dariush pecked at his opponent with sharp jabs and quick combinations.
Johnson stormed back with about one minute remaining, doubling up on his left hand to score nicely. Whether that made up for the previous couple minutes is up for debate, but it ultimately didn't matter as Johnson had a pair of rounds in the bag.
Or at least, it shouldn't have. Unfortunately, the judges disagreed and gave Dariush the split decision (see controversial scorecard here).
This was another strong performance for "The Menace." Once again, he stuck to his game plan, which was a bit different than his last bout. Opposite Dariush, Johnson made sure to stay at the very end of his range and largely avoided throwing kicks. While it made the striking a closer, it also clearly prevented any takedowns with much issue.
Furthermore, Johnson's volume was incredible. Many of the exchanges were quite even, but Johnson made it clear that he was in control by doubling up on his opponent. Outside of that 1.5 minutes in the third, Johnson was constantly throwing shots and doing work.
This decision is really unfortunate. It should be treated as a win for Johnson -- he clearly deserved it -- but who knows how likely that is. Frankly, decisions like this make it clear why Johnson wanted a top-ranked opponent like Henderson right now.
There's simply too much room for error to try for lengthy win streaks.
Just to reiterate, Dariush didn't win this fight. Still, despite the judges' incompetence, the fighter can never be blamed. Dariush fought intelligently, keeping this fight reasonably close.
Notably, Dariush really worked his jab and kicks, a pair of excellent tools for this match up. Since Johnson chose not to kick, Dariush took the initiative and could utilize more variety than his opponent. In short, the ability to kick really allowed Dariush to compete -- although not win -- with his opponent at range.
Furthermore, the winner of a match up between Southpaws is often the man that is more successful with his jabs. Both men deserve credit for working with their lead hand, as Dariush's flicking jab and Johnson's body jab were both very effective.
All in all, it was an excellent fight between two very talented young fighters. It's a true shame that the judges managed to ruin it.
Last night, Beneil Dariush defeated Michael Johnson in a very questionable decision win. Where does the jiu-jitsu specialist head from here?
For complete UFC Fight Night 73: "Teixeira vs St. Preux" results and play-by-play click HERE!