Posted 08/14/2013 by admin in UFC

Florida fighters looking to make their mark at UFC Fight Night 26

By Jon Lane, August 14th, 2013 

This Saturday at UFC Fight Night 26, to be televised on Fox Sports 1 during the network’s launch date — features five fighters from Florida. The Sunshine State has served as a haven for relocated MMA stars looking to either make a mark or find new life within their respective divisions.

“Florida, you can’t beat that. St. Louis will always be my home, but being in Florida, I love it down here,” said Michael Johnson. “The Menace” relocated to Boca Raton, Florida as one of the first members of the Blackzilians camp and will fight Joe Lauzon to open Saturday’s main card in Boston. “We’re definitely building one of the strongest teams in the world and we’re going to take over Florida.”

Formerly with Jackson’s Submission Fighting in New Mexico, Johnson traveled from St. Louis to Albuquerque before settling in Boca for what he says was more of a focus on private time with coaches. He has long been an admirer of Rashad Evans and other Blackzilians teammates Vitor Belfort and Tyrone Spong.

“It’s had the greatest influence in the world, just being around world-class athletes and seeing how they go about it and where they came from, and how they act and carry themselves now,” Johnson said. “I can take things that they have and that they’re doing, and I can add them in my life. It’s growing me into such a better person.”

During an interview with me for, Johnson cited the reasons coming off two straight losses that dipped his overall record to 12-8 and 4-4 in the UFC. It’s put him in a position where a win — this over a top-tier lightweight — is an absolute must for The Ultimate Fighter Season 12 runner-up.

“I don’t want to think about it that much, but if I were to pinpoint one thing, I would have to say I was expected to win those fights and I didn’t,” Johnson said. “I took my opponents very seriously, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I looked at it like there’s no way these guys can beat me. I went in there and took two losses that on any given day if I’m at my best I should have not lost those fights.”

Alistair Overeem vs. Travis Browne

Another Blackzilian fighter, veteran Alistair Overeem is anxious to rebound from a shocking third-round knockout loss to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 156. He faces Brown in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 26.

“What happen was he knocked me out cold. I think there was a little bit of an under-estimation,” Overeem told UFC Tonight. “He’s a dangerous guy. He has heavy bones. That was a costly price to pay,. In the meantime, I’ve learned all the lessons I could have. I took some time off to overthink everything that wasn’t right. In my own way I’ve been fixing everything. I’ve been in camp for four months and I feel great. I look forward to fighting again.

“I’m a striker and I’m looking for that striking game. I also have a submission game and I also have some wrestling. I’m all around. I think I’m especially going to beat him in the experience. I have so many more fights than he has. He’s very aggressive, but my experience is going to be the turning point.”

Brad Pickett vs. Michael McDonald

A product of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., Brad “One Punch” Pickett (23-7 MMA, 3-2 UFC) looks to build off a split-decision victory over Mike Easton (13-3 MMA, 3-2 UFC) at UFC on FUEL TV 9. Pickett is a winner of three of his last four bouts and was on the hunt for tougher, big-name competition. He’s got it in “Mayday,” whose eight-fight winning streak was snapped by a submission loss to interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao in February.

Mike Brown vs. Steven Siler

It’s been a long journey back to New England for Mike Thomas Brown, a native of Portland, Maine, who relocated to American Top Team. Brown knew it was time for a change following a loss to Lauzon in 2004 at an independent show in Revere, Mass., — the last time Brown fought in New England.

“The Lauzon fight was a crossroads for me,” Brown told my colleague Thomas Gerbasi. “If I wanted to keep going in the sport, I had to change camps. I had just lost to Genki Sudo in the UFC and then I fought locally and ended up losing to Lauzon and got submitted there. So I needed to change camps and get with some world-class submission guys, and that’s what I did. At that point I made the move to South Florida after that fight and I was with American Top Team, who had maybe the best submission grappling MMA guys in the world. So that’s why I came down here.”

After a few years training in Florida, Brown made his mark by going 6-2 for World Extreme Cagefighting, which included his capture of the WEC featherweight title in 2008. Since the WEC merged with the UFC in 2011, Brown, 37, is 2-2 and the last time he fought was 15 months ago. He had flirted with retirement, but instead underwent back surgery and got healthy enough to accept the fight with Steven Siler.

“It’s been about 10 years since I’ve fought there, so it’s going to be really cool to go back,” Brown told The Boston Herald of returning to Massachusetts. “I feel like I haven’t left my mark in the UFC. I still have some things I want to accomplish and I still have that opportunity which is great.”

Cole Miller vs. Manvel Gamburyan

Miller is a 29-year-old American Top Team fighter who found his way back into the win column in April after a 20-month absence with a submission win over Bart Palaszewski. This time he gets former Ultimate Fighter 5 housemate Manny Gamburyan this Saturday in Boston. This fight may be relegated to the Facebook preliminary portion, but it’s an important match to determine who’s fully on track in the featherweight division.

“It’s not really a fight I would want per se, or necessarily ask for, but when a name is given you just have to take it,” Miller told my colleague Duane Finley. “We are not friends in the kind of way where I call him on his birthday or anything like that, but we are friendly and talk when we see each other. I like Manny and I don’t have any kind of problem with him. I’m indifferent to it really. This is my job. This is what I chose to do. They say his name and I say okay.”