Michael Johnson knows deep down inside that he has what it takes to beat Nate Diaz, but he just didn’t get the job done when they met inside the Octagon last December.
Johnson lost a unanimous decision to Diaz in his last fight and while that’s a tough enough pill to swallow, he then watched as the Stockton, Calif. bad boy went on to earn multi-millions in a pair of fights against Conor McGregor.
Now, Johnson isn’t jealous that Diaz earned the money he did, and he’s certainly not faulting a fighter for going out and getting a big payday against a marquee name like McGregor.
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What kills Johnson is that he knows he should have won that fight so he could have earned opportunities just like that or even better if he was standing tall as the UFC lightweight champion right now. Instead, Johnson is returning from nine months of inactivity and he wants nothing more than to wash the bad taste of defeat out of his mouth.
"Every loss is tough. Everybody deals with it in a certain way but it’s definitely still brewing on me, especially when that was so close," Johnson told FOX Sports when speaking about the Diaz fight. "Then to see him go on and beat (Conor) McGregor and make all this money, that just makes it burn even more. I’m really just been getting in here and training and having that mindset that I need to jump to this next level. I need to go in there and put on a great performance and everything will fall into place.
"Not too caught up on the loss but it’s definitely still there."
Seeing Diaz go out and earn multi-million dollar paydays after their fight was only more motivation for Johnson to know that it’s time to push the gas pedal to the floor and really make a run at the top of the division if he hopes to make that kind of money one day.
Johnson has been a top 15 lightweight for the past couple of years, but now he’s coming off a pair of losses and he knows that if he wants to work his way back into title contention, it’s now or never.
That's always the No. 1 goal to get in here make big money, win the title and leave unscathed.
— Michael Johnson
"That’s definitely been motivating me to push me harder. Now we’re a few days away and I can’t wait for this," Johnson said.
To get back on track, Johnson will have to go through Dustin Poirier this Saturday night in Texas while facing one of the most prolific finishers in recent UFC history. Poirier has won four fights in a row since moving back to lightweight from the featherweight division and he’s been a force of nature ever since.
Poirier has finished three out of his last four opponents by knockout or TKO and his only decision came in a rousing performance against top Irish prospect Joseph Duffy.
All those accolades are nice and the knockouts look good on paper, but Johnson cautions putting Poirier on a pedestal like some kind of unbeatable killing machine. Johnson only has to look at the level of competition he’s faced throughout his career compared to Poirier’s to know that this is really his opponent’s first real step up in competition since moving to 155 pounds.
"He’s beating guys who are not in the top of the division," Johnson said. "He rattled off four wins in a row. Bobby Green, he wasn’t there, I don’t know what he was doing. His other ones are good but the thing is he hasn’t fought Michael Johnson yet. That’s what he’s forgetting.
"He’s thinking he’s untouchable, he thinks he’s beaten great guys. No. He hasn’t fought anybody that fights like me. He hasn’t fought anybody that moves like me. It’s going to be very difficult for him."
Johnson has faced a laundry list of top fighters with wins over opponents such as Tony Ferguson, Edson Barboza and Joe Lauzon.
Of course records don’t matter once two fighters step inside the Octagon, but Johnson knows Poirier has his hands full this weekend even if the American Top Team fighter believes he’s going to win his fifth fight in a row as he makes the charge towards title contention.
"It’s definitely a test for him. We’ll see how he does," Johnson said. "I’m not saying I’m greater than this guy or that guy, but I do feel I’m one of the top guys in the division so it’s a test for him. I hope he studied."