UFC Fight Night 26 (Mauricio Rua vs. Chael Sonnen) – Michael Johnson vs. Joe Lauzon Preview, Breakdown, Prediction

You know how awesome this first UFC on Fox Sports 1 card is? You get the most exciting fighter in MMA taking on a fighter who rises to the occasion when provoked on the first fight of the main card. If you’re not excited for Lauzon vs. Johnson … you need to check to see if you’re still alive.

Fight Breakdown – Joe Lauzon is the ultimate test for an MMA fighter at 155. If you can beat him odds are you’re on your way up in the world. If you can’t … your odds of staying around aren’t that great. Lauzon is the grim reaper of the UFC’s lightweight division: everyone faces him once in their career and guys who lose to him generally find themselves out of the company in short order. He’s also the toughest first round out in MMA; there’s a reason why Lauzon racks up “Of the Night” bonuses and it’s because he goes for the kill constantly. In every position he’s trying to finish, and finish quickly.

It’s something his opponents have to tend with and they all do so differently. Michael Johnson might just match him in a wild brawl; Lauzon has a great way of baiting fighters to get the sort of fight he wants, not what they want, especially early in the first. Lauzon fights wild and is looking to land a big shot then a submission and is active off his back, as well. He’s a nightmare matchup for a lot of fighters because he comes out so how hard and so fast out of the gate that he overwhelms a lot of fighters into doing something stupid and setting themselves up to be finished.

And then the second round begins … and Lauzon tends to fade the further the fight goes along.

That’s where Johnson is going to design his game plan around: getting Lauzon into the second round and grind him from there. Johnson is a dynamic wrestler who has the raw tools to be special. He’s got everything you’d want out of someone who should be in the Top 10; so far he’s shown to be Melvin Guillard but with less flakiness inside the cage.

It’s just that so far he’s faltered when stepped up against something other than prospects needing seasoning. And Lauzon is a crazy step up for him in competition after falling in two fights to guys in similar spots. Nothing Johnson can show will be new for Lauzon; he’s a student of the game and has a knockout of Jenz Pulver to his credit (back when that still meant something).

Johnson’s game plan is going to involve how he handles each round. Lauzon tends to leave himself open to big shots early; Johnson has enough power to put him down if he can sneak something big through Lauzon’s defenses. Once he gets past the first round Johnson can work a grinding top game and win the second and third; Lauzon fades as the fight goes on.

The longer the fight goes the more it works in Johnson’s favor; he’s got a great gas tank and is a better athlete than Lauzon. Johnson has all the athletic tools you’d want … he just has to step up his game right now. Lauzon is a tough out but Johnson can grind a win out of this with top game and a Chael Sonnen like approach to the ground.

Why it matters – Johnson is on the cusp of being a prospect that looked like he could become a world champion in a lot of people’s eyes to staring outside the UFC, looking to get back in. He was dominated by Myles Jury and tapped by Reza Madadi in his last two outings, snapping a three fight win streak, and a third loss might seal his fate in the toughest division in MMA.

He’s starting to look like Melvin Guillard but without the hair dye, frankly, in terms of his ceiling as a fighter. That’s not a bad comparison to make, as “The Young Assassin” has been a Top 10 guy for quite some time, but Johnson is looking like his ceiling is as a good but not great fighter with similar flaws as Melvin stylistically. Johnson is too good an athlete to not at least get to Top 10 potential … but putting it all together is a difficult proposition for a lot of fighters. A win here and he’s back on track, career wise.

Lauzon’s career is pretty much set at this point; he’s a fringe Top 10 fighter who’ll never crack into the elite but will always have a fight of the year candidate every time he steps into the cage. Every time he’s tried to put together a run to get to the title he’s always stopped by someone elite; he’s maximized his talent but he’s a great test for a fighter.

Prediction – Johnson

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