TUF finalist looking for another first round finish
The unbeaten British lightweight has collected 10 submission victories, seven by his signature triangle choke. He's even fashioned his nickname after the hold, "Sassangle."
"I've worked a lot on that," answered Johnson with a laugh, asked how much he's drilled triangle defense and escapes when appearing as a guest on The Next Big Thing Podcast earlier in the week. "A couple of my early losses in my career, you know, when I was just starting up as a pro, I got triangled a couple times. I stayed focused and I dedicated myself in the gym, and I will never get triangled again. That's what I kept telling myself.
"It's a hard pill to swallow when I'm winning the fight, I flip up, and get triangled in the third round. It's happened to me a couple times, and I've worked hard enough to where I'm not going to let that happen again. Unfortunately for him, if he's expecting to triangle me, he should have caught me earlier in my career, not at this point.
"It's bad timing on his part. He might have had a chance to triangle me a couple years ago, but I'm working so much with my jiu-jitsu coach and wrestling; everything is just clicking right now, so it's going to be a very hard task for him."
Johnson was a star on Season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter, advancing to the finals as a member of Team GSP, where he lost to teammate Jonathan Brookins. After beginning his post-TUF career training at Greg Jackson's gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Johnson relocated to Boca Raton, Florida, joining the team at Imperial Athletics that has since come to be known as "The Blackzilians."
The group includes a number of Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts. From coach Sergio "Babu" to fellow fighters Jorge Santiago, Gesias Cavalcante, and Danillo Villefort, Johnson has spent hours on the mat, soaking up as much knowledge as he can over the last five months, and said it's starting to pay dividends.
"My striking and wrestling have always been there, and jiu-jitsu is just a work in progress. It was one of my weak points — I noticed that — and I've been real dedicated to getting better every day. Its grown on me; I love it now. Good luck to him. Working with black belts for the past five months, I've been rolled up on the mat a lot, but now I'm starting to compete and get better every day, so I'm getting real excited to see how this pans out for him."
There is also the flip side of the fight as well; Sass needing to contend with the weapons "The Menace" brings to the cage, including knockout power and improved conditioning. The 25-year-old Johnson put both on full display back in June against Eddie Faaloloto, his first fight unrelated to The Ultimate Fighter series.
Early in the bout, Faaloloto clipped Johnson, opening a cut over his right eye, causing crimson blood to work its way down the side of Johnson's face. It flipped a switch in Johnson.
"I didn't want my first fight back from losing in the finale of the show to me get a fight called due to a cut over my eye. I knew I had to finish that fight in the first round to not even give them chance to even think about stopping the fight."
Johnson did just that, turning up the intensity and bringing the fight to Faaloloto. He let his hands go, catching the Hawaiian, eventually finishing him with punches and elbows against the cage at 4:42 of the opening round.
It's a sequence he plans on repeating Saturday night against Sass.
"According to game plan, in a perfect world, I go in and get another first round knockout; that's what I'm going for. I'm in this sport and I'm in the UFC to finish fights. I want make it exciting for the fans, and I want to stay relevant. So I'm going to go out here, put everything on the line, and make a statement; fight like it's my last fight. We'll see what happens."
Check out the complete interview with Michael "The Menace" Johnson on Episode 8 of The Next Big Thing