After losing his LFA debut to Armando Villarreal (then 3-1) at LFA 52, many people would’ve written off Michigan prospect Jose Johnson, who’s professional record took a hit and fell to a middling 6-5.
The then 23-year-old had just competed in his 48th MMA bout between his time in the amateur and professional ranks, and many would’ve thought it was a pipe dream to believe Johnson could get a chance to fight in the world’s premier MMA organisation – the UFC. Now, less than two years later, Johnson can punch his ticket to the big show in front of UFC President Dana White on his eponymous Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS).
Johnson was eager to get back in the win column, however, and fought less than a month after the LFA 52 loss at WXC 74 against Mike Johnson (4-4). Nicknamed “No Way,” Jose Johnson said just that to the critics, notching a first-round knockout just three minutes in with a big right hand that dropped his opponent.
Johnson displayed improved takedown defence, technical knee strikes, and clean elbows from close range, which are some of Johnson’s best weapons (which end up resulting in big finishes later in his career).
Fast forward to August 2019: Johnson scores big first-round knockout wins over WXC staple Adam King (6-3) and 47-fight veteran Ryan McIntosh (16-35) and earns a WXC bantamweight title shot in the main event of WXC 81: Warrior Wednesday 6, which airs on UFC Fight Pass, against highly-touted American Top Team prospect Pipe Vargas (7-2).
Vargas, coming off a vicious flying knee knockout in his last fight and sporting a pretty record at 7-1, is expected to win the contest.
This was the biggest stage of Jose Johnson’s career, and Johnson, now 24, puts on a show.
Johnson was aggressive early, using his long 6’0” frame and 74” reach – unheard of at 135 pounds – effectively, consistently sticking Vargas with a straight right hand, using teep kicks to the body, and outside leg kicks to keep Vargas at the end of his range.
Johnson displayed smooth striking variations, making up his attacks well throughout the fight, and despite conceding a takedown at one point, Johnson swept Vargas to get back to his feet, and then Johnson went to one of his best assets – his knees and elbows from within the clinch.
Johnson hurt Vargas with a knee to the body followed by the elbow to the head. Johnson smelled blood and after a few more elbows and knees that landed clean, Vargas collapsed to his knees and the referee waved off the contest. This was the biggest win of his MMA career, his fourth first-round knockout in a row and his first MMA title as a professional.
Johnson was now 10-5 with four violent first-round knockouts in a row and was enjoying the best run of his professional MMA career. His next fight would be back in the promotion the last lost in and one of the best feeder organisations to the UFC, Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA). Johnson was matched up against 22-year-old standout, Rafael Costa (11-3). Costa had a professional record of 11-2 at the time with ten finishes in eleven wins, and the Brazilian was making his debut in the United States.
Costa was a submission threat – which Johnson struggled with early in his career – so the bout with Costa would act as a good litmus test for Jose Johnson’s career resurgence… win, lose, or draw.
After wild exchanges early, Costa landed a hip throw and got the fight to the ground a minute into the fight, and began instantly trying to attack Johnson’s neck with submission attempts. Johnson fought off Costa’s early submission attempts and managed to get back to his feet. Yet Costa was relentless with his grappling, going after another takedown.
But as Costa went for a single leg, Johnson landed one brutal elbow to the side of Costa’s head that sent him face-first to the canvas, unconscious, just two minutes into the contest.
LFA commentator and UFC Hall of Famer Pat Miletich, who described the knockout as “scary and vicious,” preempted the strike’s quickly viral status on the Internet.
The knockout win for Johnson went viral, and it was awarded as the best finish on the UFC Fight Pass streaming platform throughout the entirety of 2019. Johnson’s win put the MMA world on notice and made sure they kept an eye out for a fighter once thought to be a lost cause.
Johnson’s knockout brought him to the longest win streak in his professional MMA career, with five first-round knockouts in five consecutive contests. Johnson had turned his record around, from 6-5 to 11-5 within a mere 13 months.
Now, Johnson’s career resurgence has paid off, as Johnson earned a shot on Dana White’s Contender Series, fighting Tennessee product Ronnie Lawerence (5-1) on September 1st. With early finishes making it likely to secure a UFC contract, a sixth first-round knockout win could earn Johnson his shot in the UFC.
In an interview with MyMMANews after the LFA 78 bout, Johnson expressed he felt he had done enough to get straight into the UFC, but stated he would make the best out of any opportunity given to him – including a contender series shot.
“That’s all I’ve ever asked for is an opportunity so I can be a better father, a better husband, to better my life. That’s all I want,” said Johnson.
Tune in to DWCS, airing live on UFC Fight Pass on September 1st to see Jose Johnson compete on the biggest stage of his MMA career.