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TUF 25 Finale fight card: Michael Johnson vs Justin Gaethje preview

MMA: UFC 205-Nurmagomedov vs Johnson Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight strikers Michael Johnson and Justin Gaethje will clash TONIGHT (July 7, 2017) at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 25 Finale inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“The Menace” is the baddest dude around who has still lost three of his last four fights. Johnson has dealt with mixed results inside the cage from time-to-time, but he’s also proven that at his best, Johnson can defeat just about any Lightweight on the roster.

Okay, maybe not Khabib Nurmagomedov, but the rest of them!

If you have never seen Justin Gaethje fight before, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise. The former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) Lightweight kingpin is hands-down one of the most exciting fighters to ever compete in mixed martial arts (MMA). Of his 17 victories, all but three ended via knockout.

Let’s take a closer look at this stellar 25 minute scrap:

Michael Johnson
Record: 17-11
Key Wins: Tony Ferguson (UFC on FOX 3), Edson Barboza (UFC Fight Night 61), Dustin Poirier (UFC Fight Night 94), Gleison Tibau (UFC 168)
Key Losses: Khabib Nurmagomedov (UFC 205), Nate Diaz (UFC on FOX 17), Myles Jury (UFC 155)
Keys to Victory: A junior college wrestler, Johnson has developed into one of the finest kickboxers in his division. A Southpaw with great natural speed, power and insane durability, Johnson fights well both working from the outside and while pressuring his opponent.

Being able to pick and choose his strategy will be a big benefit for Johnson, as Gaethje only knows one direction: Forward. Johnson is well-aware that Gaethje will try to walk him down and drag him into a war of attrition, and the question “The Menace” must answer is whether he’s technical enough to avoid that.

On paper, he should be. Also on paper, he could have kept kicking Nate Diaz’s leg instead of trying to box with him.

To defeat Gaethje, Johnson has to circle the outside. While avoiding the brawl, Johnson’s big priorities should be to avoid the low kicks and to land counter punches. Avoiding the low kicks is pivotal, as Gaethje will try to break Johnson down by destroying his legs. If that happens, the fight is over. However, if Johnson focuses on checking or avoiding such kicks, he’s a sharp counter puncher with real knockout power.

Gaethje leaves openings.


Justin Gaethje
Record: 17-0
Key Wins: Luis Palomino (WSOF 19, 23), Melvin Guillard (WSOF 15), Brian Foster (WSOF 29)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Gaethje is the embodiment of pure violence inside the cage. He walks down his opponents with no respect for their offense, slinging wickedly powerful punches, devastating clinch strikes, and those fight-ending low kicks, which have directly earned him three stoppages.

Realistically, Gaethje is going to do what he wants to do: Walk down Johnson and try to take his head and leg off. That’s not a bad strategy in the least, but there are a couple points of refinement that could easily fit into his approach.

Most important, Gaethje would be smart to mix in extra takedowns and clinch work. Johnson tends to either ward off the takedown immediately or succumb to chain wrestling, which admittedly is not Gaethje’s usual game. However, if he can get in on a shot with the intention of landing punches, it could be a significant factor.

Additionally, Gaethje would be smart to remember that he has the full 25 minutes here. Johnson tends to be most dangerous in the first six minutes, so perhaps just a touch of patience would help keep Gaethje conscience and able to employ his usual war of attrition game plan.

Bottom Line: It’s going to be a great fight.

For Johnson, it’s something of a make-or-break fight. It doesn’t matter that he beat Tony Ferguson or Edson Barboza — or even flattened Dustin Poirier in 95 seconds — if he loses another fight here. Regardless of his level of competition, losing four of five is bad news, and it will drop Johnson down the rankings.

That isn’t fair, but Lightweight is a harsh landscape.

Alternatively, upending Gaethje’s unbeaten streak is nothing to scoff at. The Lightweight division is a mess right now, but Johnson has wins over the division’s elite, so he’s never all that far off from the title mix.

The stakes are high for Gaethje as well. Regardless of the big step up in competition, Gaethje has long been a live-and-die-by-the-sword athlete. He’s either going to win dramatically or get knocked cold, but that’s always been true. In this case, that big win immediately injects him into the title picture. Alternatively, Gaethje will have to prove in his next bout that he and his wild style belong in UFC’s Top 10.

At TUF 25 Finale, Michael Johnson and Justin Gaethje will go to war in the main event. Which man will remain standing when the dust settles?

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