For UFC on ESPN 2 – Philadelphia, a main card bout between Josh Emmett & Michael Johnson is not on everyone’s mind. But it should be. Nothing about this fight should be underestimated as both combatants possess top-level striking and grappling with elite athleticism.
Whilst the card as a whole should provide some incredible contests (no need to mention the main event in the slightest here), I have full belief that this particular fight should be getting more attention than it has been due to the type of combatants these two featherweights are. Whatever the outcome, there’s a lot on the line for these two. I see this as the last hurrah for a push at the contender spot in their search for featherweight glory with both fighters in their 30’s, Emmett may look to retire should he fall victim to a consecutive knockout loss. Johnson may stick around for a few more years, but will likely end up becoming a preliminary fighter against new talent.
When you think of elite fighters, Emmett could well be near the bottom of your list. He’s not had to face opposition at the level Johnson has, but do not allow that to deter you from rooting for him. Emmett is no joke. Whilst coming off a career-halting knockout at the hands of Jeremy ‘Lil Heathen’ Stephens, Emmett boasts a brutal KO win over well-respected veteran Ricardo Lamas. Neither fight however has truly shown us what Emmett can do – though he has looked sharp, athletic, and mature in his previous outings.
Emmett doesn’t possess a certain skill-set that stands out from the rest, but what he has is a very well-rounded game. His striking can be clean, sharp and accurate. Can be. Against Felipe Arantes, Josh was powerful and accurate enough to be able to drop Arantes through his guard to go on to win the fight via decision. Something I’ve always enjoyed about Josh is his ability to close the distance, but that’s not his only ability at managing distance and striking; in the Lamas and Stephens fights, he circled, circled, circled and would explode with a combination of hooks, jabs and uppercuts. He’s an explosive fighter. This naturally, however, shows exploits within his game. When Emmett opens up, he’s been extremely hittable to such both Stephens and Desmond Green took severe advantage of leading to a KO loss to Stephens and decision loss to Green.
With just over a year since his loss to Lil’ Heathen, one begs to wonder how will Emmett’s mind be? The biggest factor coming into this fight is not the skills of either fighter as such, but how Josh will be feeling after his brutal KO loss. If he can avoid dwelling on the potential of being knocked out again, then this becomes a game of skill to which I don’t see happening. For the most part, I think the fear of being tagged and bagged again will be sitting strong in his head. For some, it’s motivation. For others? It’s their downfall.
We’ll find out on Saturday night.
It’s never been easy to talk Michael Johnson to anyone. How am I to explain to a casual fan that a fighter with a 19-13-0 record could’ve beaten the current lightweight champion, or that he should be considered a top-tier fighter? ‘The Menace’ holds wins over notable opposition such as Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier, Joe Lauzon and Edson Barboza and losses over current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, Nate Diaz, Justin Gaethje and Myles Jury. I don’t think there’s been a fighter in the UFC with such a bizarre record. The talent is there for Johnson, but the skills just seem to never match up, which is a shame because if Michael gets flowing he can be an elite striker.
A big issue with Johnson was his mental ability to ‘keep on pushing’ through adversity, to which he never adjusted in the octagon when the game plan was out the window. He struggled with gassing too quickly, leaving him wide open for the taking. Both of which ‘The Menace’ has claimed to fixed, with that becoming a big issue for the featherweight division. If Michael can get on track, string some wins together then we could very well be looking at an absolute killer for the division. But how much of his word do I currently believe?
Against Andre Fili and Artem Lobov, he seems to be correct in his statement finally stringing two wins together for the first time since 2013 (4 win streak). Johnson looked smart, mature and much to my surprise, he didn’t gas out. Cast your minds back to February 22, 2015 in which Johnson faced Edson Barboza in what I believe was the perfect fight execution for ‘The Menace’. The way he handled Barboza’s kicking game and general striking was extremely well done, utilizing his boxing skillset with his footwork and counter striking. Every time Barboza would try and circle away and gain some space, Johnson was there to halt his progression.
We’re yet to see this Johnson again, but one could argue that he’s regained this smart style of fighting again, not dropping his guard and hoping for a KO, or searching for a wild takedown attempt and getting clipped in the process.
It’s going to be tough to pick a winner for this fight. Despite Johnson’s record, he certainly is no joke but neither is Emmett. Both have strong striking, but in different ways. Emmett borderlines brawler whereas ‘The Menace’ has more of a boxing style of striking. If the fight is taken to the ground I can’t see anything past a submission victory for Josh Emmett, though Johnson holds a rather high takedown defense rate.
Should the fight stay on the feet, it’ll be tough to call who I think will win, hell maybe they might knock each other out with the way they strike. However, I believe Johnson will take the W home with a TKO in the second round to go on to his longest win streak since 2013.