There was a point in Tony Johnson’s life where he almost ate himself out of mixed martial arts entirely.
Though 6-foot-1 is a good height for a bigger fighter, Johnson weighed more than 320 pounds. He needed to make changes and make them fast.
Johnson educated himself on how to eat properly and over time he learned how to have a much fuller, more meaningful training camp. His cardio has greatly improved and while he still busts his tail in the gym day in and day out, he isn’t killing himself in the process. He says the No. 1 reason is that he no longer inhales everything in front of him.
But it wasn’t easy.
“I’ve learned to train smarter and control my diet,” he told Sherdog.com in a recent interview. “My weight was my biggest problem, and I wasn’t improving as a fighter. I used to eat everything. Portion control was my biggest problem and it was very difficult to adjust to my current way of life. Now I eat much cleaner foods and I control myself. I still like to eat but I have control over everything.
“I no longer train six, seven times a day,” he added. “I used to think I had to train that much because of how big I got, but now I [only] do it two or three times a day and my conditioning is on point. My weight is down. I’ve never felt this good before.”
Johnson will need to be on point Friday night when he climbs into the cage as one of the featured bouts of Bellator 148, which takes place at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., and airs on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m CT. The Nebraska fighter will square off against Raphael Butler, a former pro boxer who has taken on the likes of Chris Arreola and Malik Scott, both of whom fought one Klitschko brother apiece. With that said, Johnson understands that it’d be foolhardy to stand and trade blows with Butler.
“He’s a good fighter,” Johnson said. “He has some good striking; look at his resume just with boxing. But I don’t know about his wrestling or grappling. I’ve been wrestling my whole life so I won’t be abandoning that. Overall, though, I think he’s a good opponent.”
Though he says he knows how his eventual foe will fight him, Johnson said he’s not taking any chances. He expects Butler to be aggressive, but he is also prepared for a more conservative approach.
“I think he’ll come out with a tactical, technical approach,” he said. “I think he respects my wrestling, so I don’t think he’ll come out guns blazing because he’ll get taken down right away. But I could be wrong; you never really know what to expect once that cage door shuts. I know he’s been training with one of my former wrestling coaches so I know he’ll be ready. I think he’s going to be very careful when we get into that cage. His biggest weakness is wrestling, which I have been doing since I was four years old.”
Johnson has been fighting under the Bellator banner for almost a year now and though he first appeared in the California-based promotion’s cage in June 2011, he hasn’t yet made it to the upper echelon of the heavyweight division. Nonethelessm Johnson has high-level experience, as he has locked horns with current UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and ex-heavyweight king Tim Sylvia.
“Tim Sylvia, that was a tough fight,” he said. “I took that fight on a two-year layoff. I had to cut around 80 pounds to make that fight, and I told myself that I’d never get that big ever again. But I hit him with an elbow and then another one opened him up. From there, it was a doctor stoppage but it was a tough fight. He is 6-8 and that in itself was difficult to adjust to.”
His luck wasn’t as great with Cormier.
“Cormier wasn’t as polished as he is today, but he was prepared and his wrestling was definitely better than mine,” he said. “That was a tough loss. He had everything; better hands, wrestling, a complete team. He was ready and it showed. I learned so much from that loss and who knows? Maybe we’ll do it again down the line. I’m very proud of what he’s accomplished.”