Once most American mixed martial artists reach the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the goal becomes to remain there for as long as possible. The chances of lasting in the UFC seem to increase exponentially whenever a fighter stays undefeated across several appearances. However, Jordan Johnson did not see eye to eye with the Las Vegas-based promotion on his value as a fighter, so he tested free agency and signed with the Professional Fighters League.
The 30-year-old will carry a 10-0 record into his organizational debut on June 6.
“I had the choice to sign the contract going into that last fight in the UFC,” Johnson told Sherdog. “I believe in myself and I believe in my abilities, so I placed a bet on myself.”
Heading into the final bout on his contract -- he submitted Adam Yandiev at UFC Fight Night 136 in September -- Johnson made it known, before and after, that he wanted to remain in the UFC, as long as the company offered him what he felt he deserved.
“They made me an offer, and I knew I was worth more,” he said. “I love the UFC. I still [do]. I think I’m one of the few fighters, if not the only one, that’s no longer in the UFC but still talks positively about it. I wanted more money, and I wasn’t going to get it. I looked elsewhere, and I got more money. It’s as simple as that.”
When it became clear a return to the UFC was unlikely, Johnson started to ponder what was next. He admits he did not even factor in the PFL as a possible option.
“PFL kind of came out of nowhere,” he said. “I really thought I was going to go a different direction. One thing I really like about the PFL is [that] it’s five fights a year [including the playoffs]. It just made sense when it was all laid out.”
As a fighter who trains year-round, Johnson wanted to stay as active as possible. Scheduling issues have impacted competitors across the sport.
“It happens to a lot of guys in other organizations, [and] I’ve been a victim of it,” Johnson said. “They get done with the fight, no injuries, in great shape, ready to go again and then you sit around for nine months without a fight.”
Another element that aided in his signing with the PFL: the first-hand experience of Johnny Case, an MMA Lab teammate and close friend. Case fought for the league late in Season 1 and enjoyed his time there. He was even paid his show and win bonus when a fight was canceled. All the signs pointed to the PFL.
“The PFL really made a lot of sense,” Johnson said. “I’m super happy and excited, and I can’t wait for June 6.”
Johnson harbors no ill will toward the UFC, as he understands the business side of the sport.
“I appreciate the UFC,” he said. “The UFC allowed me to fulfill one of my childhood dreams. I really enjoyed my time there. Life happens, and now I’m at a point where I’ve decided [that] no matter where I’m fighting, I’m going to be the best version of myself, but I’ve got to make as much money as possible.”
Johnson, who has a wife and 1-year-old son to support, has enjoyed the early stages of his Professional Fighters League career. However, the real work begins in a little more than a month at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, where he will face Maxim Grishin in his return to the 205-pound weight class. Even though he sees himself as a middleweight, Johnson remains content to compete wherever duty calls.
“I think I’m [at my] best at whatever division,” he said. “You can change your body with the right time. I made it clear [to the PFL that] I will fight any weight class. Give me enough time, I’ll fight at welterweight. For the right money and opportunity, I’ll fight anywhere.”
Although he was not necessarily a believer in the PFL at its inception, a successful first season and positive personal experiences made him a loyal member of the league.
“I do know everyone got paid last year,” Johnson said. “The money’s there this year. There’s even more money, [and] I have no reason to doubt that. There won’t be any crazy need to rush to the bank at the end of the season to try and get those checks cashed.”