As a fighter coming off three straight wins, Michael Johnson still finds himself working hard to push the boulder of public opinion uphill.
It’s not that he isn’t good, but instead that he hasn’t been as consistent as fans would like.
Oddly enough, consistency doesn’t have to be found in victory. Nate Diaz has just one win out of his last three fights, but he’s consistent in his attitude and brawling style, and his fans still treat him like the uncrowned champion of the lightweight division.
But given how fickle fan opinion is, the only thing that matters is the fight itself—or in this case, the next fight. Both fighters need another bout that will see them tested and their careers reinvigorated if they are victorious.
Johnson vs. Diaz is the answer both men need.
Johnson is improving with every outing, and he looks like he is headed in the right direction and towards title contention. He is taking his job seriously, working with an excellent team. More importantly, he’s willing to take a chance to prove himself because he’s hungry.
As for Diaz, I don’t know if he’s hungry anymore—anyone taking to Twitter and asking for his or her release from the UFC doesn’t exactly conform to the standard of a “hungry” fighter.
But Diaz doesn’t really need that—all he really needs is to feel disrespected. Given the animosity that has been brewing lately between himself and the UFC, Diaz should be in proper form to take his anger out on a suitable opponent.
Diaz would probably jump at the chance to fight Johnson should it be offered to him. Johnson would likely offer Diaz a greater chance for a stand-up fight than Khabib Nurmagomedov, and Johnson is one of the few exciting fights left for Diaz in the division.
There is also another reason why this fight should be made: It could be excellent.
Johnson is turning into a thinking man's kind of fighter. He’s not as reckless as he used to be, and he doesn’t abandon strategy when things start going wrong.
But, as usual, what makes this fight compelling is that both men are strong where the other is weak.
Johnson has much more power in his punches, but he doesn’t string his shots together as good as Diaz. When it comes to grappling, Johnson is much better at wrestling and takedowns, but Diaz has a large advantage in submissions.
Both men are laudable for many good reasons, but they make for a great fight in this circumstance due to their failings and the disadvantages they would have to overcome in order to win.
For instance, if Johnson got into a good rhythm, Diaz would be forced to pursue a good counterpuncher with power, which is a desperation situation that is very viewable. You don’t want to follow a power puncher around because you run the risk of running headlong into that power.
But if Diaz finds his range early and is landing with both hands, Johnson could be forced to try to take the fight to the ground, which is an area where Diaz is very dangerous. While Johnson is a strong wrestler (and only getting better at his current camp), he has lost six fights via submission. Getting stuck in a scramble against Diaz is living life very dangerously for anyone with such vulnerabilities.
And if both men are at the top of their game, Johnson will be landing very hard counterpunches (in addition to hooks and uppercuts) while Diaz will be taunting and landing punches in bunches. It's hard to imagine a fight like that not winning some bonus or perhaps even a Fight of the Year nomination.
Right now, Diaz is somewhere between No. 6 and No. 10 in the rankings depending on where you look. While a fight with Johnson may not seem to do much for his standings from a mathematical standpoint, it could still see his cause advanced if the fight turns out to be as good as it looks on paper.
And on paper, this looks similar to Takanori Gomi vs. Nick Diaz—heavy-handed slugger-wrestler vs. high-volume puncher and submission specialist.
That was a pretty good fight, wasn’t it?