Charles Johnson faced Zhalgas Zhumagulov at UFC Vegas 65 on Saturday, in a fight that turned out to be foul-fulled and quite frankly rather bizarre.
Despite having losing records in the UFC that could be deceptive, each man had never lost to a fighter who was not at one point ranked and were previously flyweight champions in good promotions. A win in this fight could easily put these talented fighters in a position to make a run at the rankings.
The much taller Johnson opened southpaw but switched stances frequently against the orthodox Zhumagulov early on as they traded strikes. Zhalgas looked to press forward and kick the legs of his opponent while Charles looked to counter. The feints and stutter steps from both fighters were at lightning speeds, an advantage of flyweights. Zhalgas’ pressure was effective and was able to land a few good shots to the body early. A right hand from Zhumagulov made Charles stumble halfway through the round but Johnson recovered quickly. The hands of Zhumagulov were sharper than in any of his other fights and he was able to get past the three inch reach advantage of Johnson.
However, Johnson woke up and marched forward to land a good lead hook of his own with two minutes left in the round. Soon after, a kick from Charles hit Zhumagulov in the groin and the fight was paused as a result. When the fight resumed Zhalgas was determined to pressure and land strikes, including a big right hand almost immediately. Then Zhumagulov threw an overhand into a takedown which he landed but Charles got back to his feet. On the feet Charles began to open up with kicks which had great effect, moreso than his boxing. Johnson got on the pressure at the end of the round but Zhalgas fired back, both men landing big blows as the round drew to a close.
The second round was more of the same, with insanely fast exchanges where both men landed. Zhalgas’ leg kicks began to have an effect though and Charles sometimes seemed unbalanced. Zhumagulov was the only one really going forward this round and had success when doing so. A clinch situation ended when a brutal knee to the groin dropped Charles Johnson to the canvas where, oddly, he grinned as the fight was paused. He recovered more quickly than one might expect and got on the pressure immediately when the fight was restarted. However Zhalgas defused it and went forward himself right after. Zhumagulov was consistently having success when targeting the body with the left hook and then would follow upstairs with the right immediately. A caught kick tripped Charles to the canvas and Zhumagulov got on top, but Charles scrambled back to the feet and got into the outside position in the clinch where he did decent damage. Zhalgas attempted a whizzer kick and although it failed it got him off the fence momentarily. Charles was not to be deterred though and he forced the clinch again where dirty boxing from each man ended a close round.
The final round of a competitive, entertaining fight began with yet another foul, the fifth of the fight, when a Johnson kick landed to the groin of Zhumagulov. The fight was once again paused momentarily. When it resumed a kick from Zhumagulov seemed to hurt the knee of Johnson and he limped back to the fence, where he did not move. He stomped his leg on the floor repeatedly, trying to wake his leg up perhaps. Zhalgas did not press his advantage, confusingly.
Charles began to use an awkward fighting style where he sometimes jogged in place before throwing strikes, and even the broadcast remarked, “I have no idea what is going on anymore.” A nice left hook from Johnson clipped Zhumagulov two minutes into the round and despite his apparent injury he was having success. Zhumagulov was much less active this round and Charles took advantage to land big shots while pressuring forward. He hurt Zhalgas at one occasion but Zhumagulov fought back, stayed in it, and eventually came forward himself.
Johnson’s leg appeared to have recovered by now, at least as far as any viewers could tell. Johnson swarmed Zhumagulov against the fence with ninety seconds left and kept marching forward when Zhalgas retreated across the cage. All the big offense landing now was from the former LFA champion Charles Johnson, but he might have needed a finish to win. Zhumagulov hung out on the fence solely except when he shot a takedown. It failed but Charles appeared to try to land one of his own, however he gave up quickly and spent the last ten seconds striking. The last ten seconds except, that is, for when they stopped fighting before the bell and embraced when they could have hit each other perfectly legally.
After a completely bizarre fight the scorecards could feasibly go either way. When Joe Martinez announced the decision it was Charles “InnerG” Johnson who had won the fight by split decision. In the post-fight interview Charles revealed that his leg went numb when that third round kick landed on a nerve ending but he was able to wake it back up and win the fight in the end.
Official Result: Charles Johnson def. Zhalgas Zhumagulov by Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)