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Kajan Johnson thinks placement in UFC 215 opener no accident

UFC 174 weigh-in photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

EDMONTON, Alberta -- Kajan Johnson doesn’t think it’s an accident he’s in the Fight Pass opening bout on Saturday night at UFC 215.

The Vancouver lightweight is one of the few Western Canadians on the card. He has a level of visibility from his stint on The Ultimate Fighter Nations, is on a two-fight win streak, and earned Fight of the Night for his only UFC loss.

Yet Johnson will jerk the curtain at Rogers Place against Brazilian veteran Adriano Martins, and he’s convinced it was done by design.

“When I saw that, I knew right away they were trying to send a message,” Johnson told MMA Fighting. “You look all up and down the card, and see some of the guys who are placed higher and there’s no doubt they’re looking to put me in my place.”

The reason isn’t too hard to figure. Johnson made waves at May’s Athlete Retreat in Las Vegas, where he first went into a rant against apparel supplier Reebok, which led to an impromptu meeting in which much of the roster discussed issues they felt deserved more attention. From there, Johnson made an impassioned plea on The MMA Hour for fighters to unite.

When that happens, UFC management isn’t about to go out of their way to do you any favors.

That’s a fate Johnson accepts.

“I’ve said stuff that need to be said,” Johnson said. “Someone needs to do it. I talk a lot, I’m not afraid to express myself and I don’t want to be the type of person who goes through life regretting the fact I didn’t stand up for myself. I might not be the guy who gets this over the finish line, but at least I’ve helped get the ball rolling.”

Johnson remains active in the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association, which has been lobbying in Washington, D.C. to amend the Ali Act, which protects boxers, to also cover MMA fighters. He also was part of a group of fighters, which included Neil Magny and Sarah Kaufman, who proposed banding together to help promoter one another’s outside interests.

He reports the latter has been iffy thus far, and has a theory why.

“It’s the attitude on social media that everyone has to be like Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey,” Johnson said. “That worked for Conor and Ronda because that was an extension of their real personalities. But now you’ve got hundreds of wannabe Conors and Rondas who are being fake who think that trash-talking everyone is the way to go. It’s a sport. You don’t have to make everyone else your enemy. That type of attitude makes it harder for people to support each other outside the cage.”

While Johnson believes the company is sending a message in his card placement, he’s quick to note he’s been treated professionally throughout fight week in Edmonton.

“I need to make that clear,” Johnson said. “The rank-and-file UFC employees, they’re people just like you and I trying to make a living. They’re the best in the business and no one’s made me uncomfortable at all.”

Johnson understands the stakes on Saturday night. He knows a cut could be coming if he loses, given the stands he’s taken.

Still, Johnson hasn’t fought in two years -- a combo of injuries and outside business interests, including opening TriStar Vancouver in the suburb of Burnaby -- and he’s just happy to be back, regardless of where he is on the card.

“This is what I love to do,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t be so passionate about fighters rights if i wasn’t also passionate about this game in the first place. I’m enjoying fight week, I’m even enjoying the butterflies you get when the fight comes close. This is what I love.”

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