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UFC lightweight Michael Johnson trying to look forward despite missed opportunity

UFC lightweight contender Michael Johnson watched Nate Diaz compete in two of the biggest fights in UFC history this year against Conor McGregor with a much different perspective than the rest of the world.

Johnson believed it could have been him getting the big paydays and becoming an international star.

He also acknowledges he has nobody to blame but himself. Johnson was a favorite entering his fight with Diaz in December and admits he underestimated his opponent before dropping a unanimous decision.

“I actually didn’t expect that (performance from Diaz), Johnson conceded. “It was absolutely a mistake on my part. I didn’t expect him to be in the shape he was in for that fight. That was the best Diaz we had seen in years. It was a mistake for sure and one that will never happen again. I just have to live with that, learn and move forward.”

It became more difficult to move on when Diaz used the performance as a springboard to a fight with McGregor and took advantage by submitting the Irish superstar. The rematch in August was reportedly among the biggest pay-per-view events in UFC history.

“I look at it as it should have been me,” Johnson said by phone from Texas on Thursday. “It was a close fight. It’s a timing thing and everyone gets their chance to shock the world. When it’s my chance, I’ll do more than shock it. I’ll crush it and take over.”

First, he knows he must get back in the win column. He has the chance against Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC Fight Night 94 in Hidalgo, Texas, on Saturday.

Johnson took time off after the loss to Diaz to undergo surgery on a shoulder that has been problematic for several years. He says he wasn’t even aware of how much it was affecting him until after his shoulder started to recover and he regained strength.

It hasn’t stopped him from experiencing quite a bit of success during his time in the UFC. The 30-year-old former contestant on “The Ultimate Fighter” had won four straight fights between 2013 and 2015 against quality competition when he suffered a controversial split decision loss to Beneil Dariush.

The loss was so disputed that the organization essentially treated it as a win, matching Johnson up with Diaz on a Fox network card in December.

He failed to capitalize on the opportunity, but Johnson doesn’t believe it will take long to regain his place near the top of the division.

“In this business, all it takes is one fight to get it back right to where you need to be,” he said. “This is the fight, so I have to go in and take advantage of a great situation.”

It won’t be easy against Poirier, who has won four straight fights since returning to the lightweight division.

Johnson has learned not to look past opponents and cited Poirier’s explosiveness and talent, but he did discount the level of competition Poirier has faced since moving back up from 145 pounds.

“This isn’t a good matchup for him,” Johnson said. “I don’t fight like anyone he’s fought before. I’m a lot faster, I move more and you can’t predict which way I’m coming at you. It’s going to be a good fight. He likes to bang, but we’ll see if he’ll sit in there and bang with me.”

While Johnson says he is finally healthy, he insists his mind didn’t need any mending after the losses.

“I’ve been great mentally,” he said. “This game is such a roller coaster, just like life. After getting that (Dariush) fight taken away from me and then the Diaz fight, it was topsy-turvy a little bit. But I just have to stay focused, stay grounded and be true to myself and do what I do best. That’s be aggressive and win fights. I kind of got away from that a bit in my last two fights.

“I’m getting right back to it.”

Poirier will have something to say in the main event of a card that will air on Fox Sports 1 at 7 p.m. The preliminary card will begin on the same network at 5.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj

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