Michael Johnson might have stepped in at the last minute, but he was up to the task. He defeated Artem Lobov in a three-round slugfest at UFC Fight Night 138 on Saturday in the promotion’s debut in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.
Lobov had been scheduled to face rival Zubaira Tukhugov in Moncton, but the Khabib Nurmagomedov teammate was removed from the bout because of his participation in the UFC 229 post-fight brawl in Las Vegas. Lobov is a teammate of Conor McGregor’s, whom Nurmagomedov defeated at UFC 229.
Johnson quickly stepped in on short-notice, but the bout could still have been sidelined at weigh-ins, as Johnson missed weight by a pound. Lobov, however, making full note of Johnson being a last-minute replacement, wouldn’t consider canceling the fight, in fact, he even insisted that he would return the 20-percent fight purse penalty that Johnson was assessed for missing weight.
Though he didn’t hold Johnson missing weight against him, Lobov looked to exploit the late-notice acceptance of the bout, starting fast from the opening bell. He immediately began walking Johnson down, launching jabs and low kicks. The approach worked for the better part of the first round, but Johnson started to get his jab going late in the frame, particularly working it well to Lobov’s body.
While Lobov was generally first to throw or kick, Johnson quickly got his timing down for counter shots that appeared to be much harder and much more effective than those Lobov was throwing.
Johnson landed a hard left hand that staggered Lobov a bit in the final minute of round one, and he carried that momentum into the early portion of the second round. He continued to feed Lobov a steady diet of jabs, but Lobov started to figure it out midway through the round and upped his pressure again.
As he walked Johnson down, Lobov started landing much more effectively and with more power than he had in the opening frame, but was wobbled again midway through the round, though he quickly shook it off.
The final frame was likely the turning point of the fight, as two of the judges eventually scored it a one-point separation in the decision.
Lobov employed his strategy of walking Johnson down, but slipped into a habit of one-off strikes and kept dropping his hands to his sides.
Johnson took advantage as he figured out Lobov’s timing. He stepped up his own pressure in the final frame, but didn’t let down his guard as he darted in and out, mixing a healthy dose of jabs with kicks and body work.
Lobov dropped to a knee late in the round following a Johnson punch, although he tried to shrug it off as a slip. Regardless, Johnson put his stamp on the fight, as Lobov pressed forward and he dropped down, shooting and planting Lobov on his back, keeping him there until the final horn.
“It’s been a crazy long week. I had like 30 pounds to cut in a week,” Johnson said after the fight, though he showed little slowdown from having to focus on his weight-cut so intensely.
The judges didn’t think so either, as they awarded Johnson a unanimous decision. Two of the judges scored it 29-28 for Johnson, while the third scored it 30-27 in his favor.
The victory was an important one for Johnson, who now has back-to-back wins after coming out of a three-fight skid, and would like to fight again later this year in Australia. It’s quite the opposite for Lobov, who has been on the wrong end of his last three fights.