Natural ability was never in question with Michael Johnson. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
The Ultimate Fighting Championship will set up shop in the state of Minnesota for the first time since 2008 on Friday, when the Las Vegas-based promotion hosts UFC on FX 5 “Browne vs. Bigfoot” at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Offering up a heavyweight headliner between former EliteXC champion Antonio Silva and undefeated Hawaiian prospect Travis Browne, the main draw airs live on the FX network.
Immediately prior to the featured broadcast, a horde of not-yet-ready-for-primetime players will look to steal the show on Fuel TV and Facebook. Here are five reasons to tune in to the undercard:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC on FX 5 Free Fan Pick’Em
Michael Johnson may have this fighting thing figured out.
A talented but green-as-grass prospect that cut his UFC teeth during the 12th season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Johnson’s initial skill set appeared to be nothing we had not seen before. He could wrestle and he could hit pretty darn hard, but the finesse game appeared to elude the Missourian -- until recently.
After finding himself heel hooked by British submission specialist Paul Sass to close out 2011, “The Menace” has looked like a new man this year, displaying a much more diverse striking game to best Shane Roller in January and then repeating that maneuver against “The Ultimate Fighter 13” winner Tony Ferguson at UFC on Fox 3 five months later.
If Johnson continues to evolve and improve, he could quickly become a person of interest in the UFC’s ultra-deep 155-pound talent pool.
Castillo Closing In
Attempting to stop Johnson from ascending to the division’s next echelon will be Danny Castillo, who rides a three-fight winning streak of his own heading into the pivotal lightweight showdown. If Castillo can snatch a win, it seems logical that he would earn a shot at an opponent near the Top 10.
A World Extreme Cagefighting veteran with legit power in his right hand, “Last Call” has acquitted himself well since joining the UFC in 2011. After suffering his lone Octagon setback against smothering wrestler Jacob Volkmann one year ago, the Team Alpha Male standout earned a pair of victories over Shamar Bailey and Anthony Njokuani to finish the year strong.
Like his upcoming opponent, Castillo also competed at UFC on Fox 3, where he doused a little cold water on the hype train of prospect John Cholish. Can Castillo pull off a similar trick against Johnson and pick up his fourth straight win?
Waitin’ for a ‘Superman’
Dennis Hallman may have his flaws as a fighter and he may also be well on the wrong side of 30, but he is going to be a big, nasty opponent for many UFC lightweights if he can figure out his cut to 155 pounds.
We saw a glimpse of how dominant a size and strength advantage can be for “Superman” when he straight punked kickboxing specialist John Makdessi at UFC 140 in December. The catch: Hallman tipped the scales the day prior at a dense 158.5 pounds. Not good.
The Washingtonian rightfully tempered his excitement following the win. While an exciting talent, Makdessi is also one of the division’s smaller competitors and was woefully ill-equipped to deal with a serious grappler like Hallman once the fight hit the mat. Shortly after the victory, Hallman promised he would never again miss weight, revealing that he underestimated how difficult his return to lightweight would be 10 years after his last trip to 155 pounds.
Will ‘Superman’ hit his mark and come in sharp against Thiago Tavares, another potent submission fighter riding back-to-back wins?
There is not a lot one can say about Aaron Simpson and Mike Pierce that you probably do not already know.
Both guys go as hard as they can for 15 minutes, hoping to break the spirit of the other man in the cage. Both can box. Both can wrestle. Simpson has been finished just once in 15 professional appearances, while Pierce has yet to be stopped in 19 outings. For some reason, this baby ended up on the Facebook stream, while Volkmann-Roller made the FX broadcast. Really?
Those griping about the fact that this fight will almost certainly see a decision, calm down. I like a good finishing blow as much as the next hopelessly insecure Internet columnist, but can we not strive to appreciate the sincere competitiveness of two guys swinging and scrambling for three rounds without one of them ending up unconscious?
‘Billy’ and ‘BC’
Can you guys stop booing for a second so I can tell you about these flyweights? Yes, I know they are small and they move so fast that it is hard to pick up on everything they are doing. However, that does not mean they deserved to be booed. Those who fail to check in on Phil Harris’ Octagon debut against Darren Uyenoyama are doing themselves a disservice.
Stepping in for an injured Louis Gaudinot, Harris makes his first UFC appearance in just his third career fight at 125 pounds. Formerly a stocky featherweight, the Brit holds 13 submission victories to his credit, though he has been known to give up the positional advantage on the floor from time to time -- a quality Uyenoyama should look to exploit. “BC” should hold the technical advantage in this contest, but I believe Harris will prove to be the more powerful of the two, especially if he ends up on top with an opportunity to drop some ground-and-pound.
Nearly 11 months after taking a successful first step in the UFC against Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, can Uyenoyama extend his winning streak to three fights and spoil the North American debut of “Billy” Harris?