The Ultimate Fighting Championship set up shop in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on May 5, 2012. UFC on Fox 3 on paper seemed to be a prime example of “just another free card,” and for the most part, it played out that way on fight night. In the main event, Nate Diaz pulled off a minor upset by dominating Jim Miller. The second-round guillotine choke—the first submission loss of Miller’s career—stamped Diaz’s passport to a shot at Benson Henderson’s lightweight title.
In hindsight, the most noteworthy result of the night—though it would not become apparent for some time—was tucked away on the undercard, where Michael Johnson took a clear-cut unanimous decision over Tony Ferguson, snapping a six-fight winning streak for “El Cucuy.” The result is particularly noteworthy now because eight years later, Ferguson has yet to lose another fight.
Ferguson’s trajectory since that night is of course well-known. A 12-fight winning streak characterized by savage beatings and interrupted by frustratingly frequent injuries reaches its culmination with a shot at a second interim lightweight championship when he faces Justin Gaethje in the UFC 249 main event on Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida. He is one half of perhaps the greatest—and absolutely the most cursed—title matchup in UFC history, and MMA fandom has its collective fingers crossed that he and undefeated champ Khabib Nurmagomedov will finally meet this fall.
Johnson’s path is murkier, but such has always been the case for one of MMA’s most talented, mercurial and inconsistent fighters. In fact, Johnson’s win that night may be his best career performance and his most frustrating. The most stunning part is that Johnson made the win look routine; at no point during the fight did he look like a 3-to-1 underdog. It is the perfect microcosm of Johnson’s maddening inconsistency, which seems to leave him capable of beating or losing to almost anyone on any given night, without regard for style. On the one hand, he has shown himself capable of outstriking someone like Ferguson for most of three rounds—a feat he also managed against muay Thai wrecking machine and walking highlight reel Edson Barboza. In fact, until Gaethje did so seven years later, Johnson was the only fighter who managed to neutralize Barboza without having to take him down. Johnson’s first-round destruction of Dustin Poirier is one of the worst thrashings “The Diamond” has ever received, right up there with those handed out by Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor.
Yet the same fighter with those impressive scalps hanging from his belt is also prone to coming out flat, dropping miserable performances and losing to fighters who prove not to be UFC-level talents, such as Paul Sass or Jonathan Brookins. His own UFC employment was probably on the line when he carried a three-fight losing streak into the cage against Andre Fili in August 2018. The same could be said now, as he finds himself on another two-fight skid and with an overall record of 11-11 in the UFC before he takes on Thiago Moises at UFC Fight Night 171. We can only wonder which version of Johnson will show up.