It turns out that John Makdessi wasn't option A to fill in against Donald Cerrone at UFC 187. The first fighter on the UFC's list (or at least higher up somewhere) was apparently Michael Johnson, as he recently revealed to MMAJunkie. The booking would have made sense, with Johnson having been set to face Benson Henderson in July at the TUF 21 Finale. Henderson fell out of that fight, so Johnson was not just a top 5 lightweight, but he was (and still is) one looking for a new bout. Just not on short notice, it seems.
Here's what he had to say when asked about the Cerrone fight by MMAJunkieRadio:
"I was the first one they called, but unfortunately, timing's everything, and I couldn't take it. I was dealing with a little shoulder problem I had to get worked out on, and three weeks of me not really training isn't enough time to get ready for a fight like ‘Cowboy.'"
That seems pretty reasonable, but apparently, Johnson wasn't so sure he made the right move come fight night:
"Watching him fight, I was like, ‘Shit. Maybe I should have just signed it and went in and fought.' It is what is it. The title's not going anywhere, and I'll be there pretty soon."
That seems to be the eternal battle for many rising talents in MMA. Taking and winning more fights more often is often the quickest route to recognition and divisional standing, but it also means staying relatively injury free and, of course, winning the fights you take. Maybe Johnson was right to skip a short notice bout against Donald Cerrone, it certainly didn't do John Makdessi any favors. Maybe taking those kinds of fights is exactly why Cerrone is next in line for a title shot. Either way, Michael Johnson is still waiting for his next fight.