There is something about a possible fight between Michael Johnson and Nate Diaz that has had me grinning from ear to ear since Johnson brought up the subject on Twitter.
Perhaps it’s a bit too early to hop onto the Johnson hype train. Johnson is just 6-3 since he lost to Jonathan Brookins at The Ultimate Fighter's Season 12 finale in December of 2010. Add to this the fact that Diaz looked excellent in his last fight against Gray Maynard—Diaz is still Diaz, after all—and that is a tough fight for nearly anyone.
But in his last two fights, Johnson has looked simply excellent. His movement is there, his head seems to be right and he’s a knockout puncher with an underrated ground game.
Granted, if this potential fight were to go to the floor, Johnson would be in some big trouble. Diaz is simply too slick with his submissions and has got a great deal of experience on the ground.
If the fight were to stay standing, however, I have a hard time seeing Diaz win against a fighter with the speed, power and movement of Johnson.
If you would have asked me about this match a year ago, I would have predicted Diaz in near-blowout fashion. A lot can change in a year, though, and Johnson seems like a much better fighter than he was 12 months ago.
I never thought Johnson would be able to beat Joe Lauzon, a fighter with true KO power and excellent ground skills who is as gritty as they come. But that is exactly what happened, as Johnson dominated Lauzon, landing punches with both hands and from all angles, moving constantly as he not only beat him to the punch, but pummeled him with excellent counter shots.
It was an excellent performance against a fighter who was a step up in competition and Johnson creamed him.
Then, he handed Gleison Tibau his first knockout loss since Nick Diaz defeated him via TKO at UFC 65 in November of 2006. Johnson dominated Tibau and then clubbed him with a heavy left hand, knocking him to the ground. From there, Johnson quickly finished the fight, and it was a brutal finish.
Now, he wants to take another step up in competition against Diaz.
Odd as it may seem, I think it is the perfect time for Johnson to take such a step. He’s got a good stride going and is utilizing a style that puts his best weapons to use while never standing still.
Let’s make one thing clear—Johnson probably wouldn't stop Diaz. He’s not going to score a KO or a submission over such a gritty fighter. However, he would beat Diaz to the punch and move out of harm's way all night long.
I think he could do this and earn a lopsided unanimous decision victory that would shoot him into the bottom of the top 10—or at least one more fight away from it.
The last time we saw Diaz in a fight like this, he was stopped by Josh Thomson in a bout that saw him beaten by movement and a mixed bag of strikes that attacked him both low and high. Diaz had some success, but Thomson never stayed on the defensive long enough to allow Diaz to do anything really significant.
If a fighter isn’t going to pull Diaz to the floor with an excellent wrestling game, then the next best way to beat him is with a lot of movement and attacks from all angles. That is something Johnson has proven he can do with great success.
As great as Diaz is, the very things that make him so compelling—plodding forward, hands down, waiting for the brawl to break out—are also his downfall against certain styles.
Against Johnson, odds are he would walk forward and right into fast straights, hooks and leg kicks only to find that Johnson will have drifted out of range before he could counter. Diaz would spend so much time stalking that he would get precious little time to set up any real offense against a fighter who is much quicker and more athletic.
Three of the biggest advantages Johnson has over Diaz are movement, speed and power. Given the way he is currently using all three, he could very easily reduce Diaz to a bloody, swollen mess after three rounds.