Michael Johnson wants to make a statement at "The Ultimate Fighter 25” finale, and not just because he’s lost three of his last four bouts.
“The Menace” sees a great opportunity in his headlining showdown with former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Friday night.
“It’s a statement fight for me,” Johnson said during a recent conference call. “I’ve got to come in here, and I’ve just got to get that bad taste out of my mouth from the Khabib [Nurmagomedov] fight [at UFC 205]. I wasn’t comfortable in that fight at all, and I lost myself in there so I’ve got to come out and I’ve got to put in a statement. The way the division is now, I need to go out here and get a dominant win to make a strong case for a title shot because as far as I’m concerned, we don’t have a champion in this division. …My hats off to [Conor McGregor]. That’s a great feat and accomplishment, [but] he’s not an MMA fighter anymore. He’s a boxer now, so we don’t have a chance as far as I’m concerned.”
Johnson, of course, is referring to McGregor’s boxing match against Floyd Mayweather scheduled for Aug. 26. “The Notorious” one hasn’t competed in the Octagon since claiming the 155-pound belt with a second-round stoppage of Eddie Alvarez this past November. For now, the rest of the division is in limbo until McGregor concludes his business with Mayweather. While Johnson isn’t quite at the top of the contender’s list, a win over Gaethje, a highly talented and undefeated talent, could conceivably put him back in the discussion.
Johnson is well aware of his opponent’s resume and penchant for exciting fights but points out that Gaethje is going to be facing an upgrade in competition in his new home.
“Yes, he’s got a lot of experience outside of the UFC. As far as it being significant in the UFC, it’s not because he hasn’t faced the level of competition that the UFC offers,” Johnson said. “He is undefeated for a reason. He’s a tough fighter, but he understands it’s a completely different level when you get under these lights and they shine bright.”
While Gaethje is the fresh face, Johnson doesn’t feel like the UFC is setting him up for failure. After all, “The Ultimate Fighter 12” finalist owns victories over some of the top names in the division including Tony Ferguson, Danny Castillo, Joe Lauzon, Gleison Tibau, Edson Barboza and Dustin Porier. Johnson will be a significant test for Gaethje’s Octagon debut.
“I don’t think I’m overlooked,” Johnson said. “I’m just the guy that was available for him to fight. I’m the guy at the top of the division and they want to test a champion in a former promotion. And as far as I’m concerned, they’re pretty much releasing the dog off the leash and telling them to go and get this newcomer that’s coming on my yard. I feel like they’re behind me 100 percent.”