I have interviewed a lot of MMA fighters, but Tony Johnson Jr. has one of the most interesting stories I have ever heard. I enjoyed every minute of the interview with the newly signed Bellator fighter, who will be fighting on the main card on April 10. We talked about life and he even gave me some great advice that I truly appreciated. Whatever your opinion of Tony Johnson Jr. was or is, wipe that away — after this article you can make a new one.

Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all time.

Spoiler Alert: This is a ride that you will enjoy.

Tony Johnson Jr. was an exceptional high school athlete and that might even be an understatement. He was not your typical high school wrestler, unless that would consist of winning state championships, national championships, being an ASICS All-American, and many more significant accomplishments. Not only was he a great high school wrestler, but he was also a standout high school football player. He was rumored, and confirmed to me in the interview, to have ran a 4.7 40-yard dash at 300lbs. For the MMA fans that are not football fans or do not understand what that means, just know that is absolutely insane and one of the more impressive things I have heard in my life. Johnson did not just talk about his impressive accomplishments in high school, but instead talked about how his father was a driving factor and huge part of him becoming the athlete he was and is.

Johnson said, “My father taught me that if you are going to do a sport you have to give it everything you got. He taught me that I have to work hard and push myself to my limits. That has helped me become the person I am today. On Thanksgiving and Christmas we would eat and then he would make me go run. He even would drive behind me and make sure I would keep running.”

The word “father” was interesting, because it would be something that changed Johnson’s career. At 20 years old, Johnson found out that he was going to be a father himself. He had to put his dreams of being a professional athlete aside and start raising a child instead. This is something that could derail someone’s career, but not Johnson; he made it something that pushed him harder.

“Everything I do is for my daughters,” said Johnson, who now has three daughters named Isabella, Aurora, and Vivien. “I want them to be able to do whatever they want and that is why I fight.”

After what looked like the end of his athletic career, Johnson started to focus on his professional MMA career. He made his professional debut on November 6, 2008 and won by TKO. Johnson went on to win his next three fights as well, putting him at 4-0.

At 4-0, Johnson then fought a name that might be familiar to MMA fans, Daniel Cormier, where he lost his first professional fight. The loss to Cormier, which was a round one submission (rear-naked choke), was just another roadblock that Johnson planned to smash through. Ironically, Cormier may have handed Johnson his first loss of his career, but now as one of Johnson’s training partners, he is handing him career and life motivation.

“Cormier is awesome. He is pushing me to be the best I can be. I have the utmost respect for him. He is always in my ear telling me to push myself. I also want to be where he is in life, so it pushes me harder.”

Johnson trains with his mentor Cormier at American Kickboxing Academy, where he also trains with another name you might know: UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. Johnson talked about his relationship with Velasquez and how he has helped him in his career as well.

“Cain and I are really good training partners. He is a role model to me. Cain is a real humble guy and has helped me so much in my career. Being at AKA showed me the way to train and so did sparing with Cain. Sparing with Cain showed me how to fight better because he always fights with so much pressure. They are all helping me get to where I want to be.”

Some have questioned Johnson and whether he has the work ethic or the drive to reach the potential that many see in him, so I asked him a little about that. I asked him when he decided that MMA was going to be his profession and got a very honest answer from him.

“I have always done it for fun and I wanted to see where I could go. I fought DC and then trained with the guys at AKA, where they said I was good, so I figured I must have a shot. Maybe about five years ago I realized I wanted to make it my real profession, but not until about a year and half ago is when I started to treat it like a job and not a hobby.”

His honesty was awesome, but I think knowing that he just started taking MMA as his job about a year and a half ago may be even more awesome. He has all the potential in the world and hearing that he is taking MMA as serious as can be makes me believe that Johnson is going to reach his potential that many talk about.

His next fight is scheduled for April 10 at Bellator 136. Many see that he is fighting for Bellator and it makes them think about the last time he fought for the promotion. For those of you that do not know, Johnson and Bellator did not have a very good relationship, and had a contract issue that lasted around two years. Johnson touched on the matter that many still are scratching their heads over, but shed some light on his new deal with Bellator as well.

“We did not have a good relationship. My grandfather passed away and I could not make it to a certain training, but they said they still wanted me there. It was just a bad relationship. I am happy where it is now though and Scott Coker is way better. I signed a six-fight deal and I am happy.”

Many will question why Johnson signed such a long deal with Bellator when he has all the opportunities in the world to make it to the UFC. I asked Johnson about his decision to sign the long deal with Bellator and what his plans were dealing with the UFC.

Johnson said, “I want to make Bellator my home. I want to be known. I want to fight and they are going to be good to me. I love the direction they are going and I am ready to show up for these guys. I am 100% content with Bellator and they are a great organization.”

“The UFC signed with Reebok,” said Johnson on his reasoning for not wanting to sign a UFC contract in which he says was at the table with the Bellator one he then signed, “With the Reebok deal, there would be no sponsor money. The UFC offered, but Bellator was the better opportunity.”

Now that all the dust has settled and Johnson is happy with Coker and Bellator, he is scheduled to fight former Bellator heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov.

Volkov is a very impressive fighter and a big step for Johnson, who has only fought three times since 2013. Johnson, though, like any other situation in his life, embraces the roadblock in Volkov and is very confident in his abilities.

“He is a very tough opponent, but he has never fought anyone like me. I am quick and I am fast. He is on a five-fight win streak and I am going to end that. He has had the belt and I want the belt. He does not want to be on the ground with me, but he has to worry about my striking too. I do not see how I am going to lose the fight.”

I asked Johnson if he thinks there will be any rust in the cage since he has not fought as much as he would have liked, but Johnson explained that he is ready to go and talked about another big name training partner who helped him prepare for the biggest fight of his career since defeating Tim Sylvia on May of 2013.

“I am ready, and when I win, I will show I am ready,” said Johnson. The big name training partner just so happens to be Deontay Wilder, who is the reigning WBC world heavyweight champion who holds a record of 33-0 with 32 of his wins by KO. Wilder has helped Johnson a lot and he talked about training with one of the best boxers in the world.

“I went 10 rounds with Wilder, he hit me with the hardest right hand of my life, but it did not drop me. It did buckle my knees though. I have a ton of respect for him and he has taught me a lot. We are going to work together a lot more because sparring with him gives me confidence. Getting punched by Wilder lets me not worry about someone’s power.”

Hearing Johnson talk abut his training partners and hear the excitement in his voice when talking about fighting showed me that he is truly taking the sport seriously. Now that he’s moved away from the old Bellator and started to take MMA as a job, Johnson is on a fast track to success.

I asked Johnson if his game has evolved in his eyes since his first professional fight and he immediately responded with, “My game has evolved a lot!” He then elaborated on how his game has evolved and what we are going to see on April 10.

“I still have not showcased my striking and I am going to showcase it this fight. I am a better-rounded fighter because before I would just grind people out. I started doing some pro boxing to get more comfortable with striking and I have evolved. Just be ready because I am totally different. I am more comfortable and more confident. I want to win this fight and it is going to be an amazing fight.”

I am very excited to see the new and improved Tony Johnson Jr. on April 10. The man has been through a lot of ups and downs, but it seems like he is finally on the right track to success. He has a great support system led by some big names in the fighting world like Velasquez, Cormier, and Wilder. He seems to be sincere in saying that he is taking MMA as a job and not a hobby anymore and I think that he will show that in his next fight. The sky is the limit for someone like Johnson, who has overcame everything in his way to be where he is today. Even if there is another bump in the road for Johnson, I believe he will still get over it and before his Bellator contract is up, we will be talking about the Bellator heavyweight champion, Tony Johnson Jr.

 

About The Author

Jeremy Klump
Interview Coordinator / Video Manager

Jeremy Klump is a Sport Media major at Ithaca College and has been writing about Mixed Martial Arts for over a year now. He interned at MVC Sports Management and AMA Fight Club. While interning at MVC and AMA, Jeremy found out that he had a true passion for writing about Mixed Martial Arts. He has interviewed and wrote articles on top UFC fighters while also having knowledge of regional fighters and the top new comers. He looks to grow as a writer and expand his knowledge of Mixed Martial Arts while being a proud member of The MMA Corner team.