Not everything you believe about the UFC is true. heavyweight fights don’t always end in spectacular first-round knockouts, and lightweights don’t always go the distance. Of Michael Johnson’s three lightweight division fights since his runner-up finish on 2010’s The Ultimate Fighter reality show, two never made it past the first round: a submission loss to Paul Sass in October 2011, and a TKO win over Edward Faaloloto a few months prior.

You also likely think smaller fighters train more for conditioning than pure strength. Wrong again. Although he tips the Toledo at a match-ready 155 pounds, the Missouri native is no lightweight in the gym. Like any fighter, he partakes in intense cardio sessions, his being under the watchful eyes of strength coaches Brian King of Martino Training Systems in Springfield, MO, and Juan Carlos Santana of the Institute of Human Performance. However, it’s his strength workouts that Johnson enjoys most.

“I love deadlifting,” says Johnson, who works up to 450 pounds for sets of five reps in workouts. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m good at it, or because at 155 pounds I’m doing deads with three times my body weight, but I love them. I also love my hang cleans and do a lot of explosive movements, like box jumps. But I’m not a big fan of bench pressing, really.”

“I like my guys to be strong,” says Team Jaco head coach Mike Van Arsdale, Johnson’s primary fight trainer. “The stronger the athlete is, the more power and endurance he has, the better he’s going to do when he has to perform in competition.”

Van Arsdale’s philosophy entails first making a fighter’s muscles big, then filling them with strength—which translates to high volume and lots of reps and supersets at first, followed by a transition to heavier weights and lower reps later on. “You’ll add endurance this way because you’re doing multiple exercises back to back. This is what’s going to take Mike to another level.”

When preparing for a fight, 26-year-old Johnson’s training schedule consists of eight MMA practices per week, where he performs intensive wrestling, grappling, and striking drills, combined with four strength and conditioning sessions.

“Because Mike is a young, up-and- coming fighter, he has to be in the heat a little bit more than an experienced veteran might be,” Van Arsdale says. “He’s working on his technique hard every week until he learns the system and gets established in his weight class on a world level. If you haven’t established yourself yet, you’ve got to pay a certain price to get there.”

Michael “The Menace” Johnson

BORN: June 4, 1986

HOMETOWN: Springfield, MO

HEIGHT: 5’10”



MOST RECENT FIGHT: Unanimous decision over heavily favored Shane Roller at UFC on Fox: Evans vs. Davis, Jan. 28, 2012.