Many mixed martial artists run through entire careers without getting the opportunity to test themselves against an all-time great. That will not be the case for Bellator MMA’s Timothy Johnson.
The Xtreme Couture representative will confront former Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight titleholder Fedor Emelianenko in the Bellator 269 headliner on Saturday at the VTB Arena in Moscow. Johnson, 36, has rattled off three wins across his past four appearances. However, he finds himself on the rebound following a unanimous decision defeat to Valentin Moldavsky at Bellator 261, where he failed in his attempt to capture the promotion’s interim heavyweight crown on June 25. Wins over Cheick Kongo, Matt Mitrione and Tyrell Fortune anchor the hulking Minnesotan’s resume, which includes 11 finishes among his 15 career victories.
As Johnson approaches his showdown with the legendary Emelianenko, here are five things you might not know about him:
1. He rose from the humblest beginnings.
Johnson was born on March 13, 1985 in Lamberton, Minnesota—a city of less than 900 people that sits roughly 140 miles to the southwest of Minneapolis.
2. The singlet and the military armed him.
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound heavyweight wrestled collegiately at the University of Minnesota Moorhead, where he was a two-time NCAA Division II All-American. Johnson later joined the United States Army and endured a deployment to Iraq as part of the Minnesota National Guard.
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3. A kill-or-be-killed mentality earned him notice.
Johnson made his professional mixed martial arts debut on Oct. 30, 2010, as he put away Travis Willey with punches a little more than two minutes into their pairing at a Max Fights show. None of his first 10 bouts reached the judges. Johnson went 9-1 in those appearances—a run that included his arrival in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, where he cut down Shamil Abdurakhimov with punches at UFC Fight Night 63 in April 2015.
4. He maximized his potential in the minor leagues.
The Lambert, Minnesota, native won a regional title with Dakota Fighting Championships—a now-defunct organization that was headquartered in Fargo, North Dakota, and promoted mixed martial arts events from 2004 to 2017. Johnson captured the DFC heavyweight crown with a second-round technical knockout of Brian Heden on Jan. 11, 2014 and successfully defended it on three occasions before signing with the UFC.
5. He kept his head above water inside the Octagon.
Johnson drew seven assignments with the UFC and left the organization with a winning record, his victories over Abdurakhimov, Marcin Tybura, Daniel Omielanczuk and Marcelo Golm offset by losses to Jared Rosholt, Alexander Volkov and Junior Albini. The company elected not to renew his contract after he laid claim to a unanimous decision over Golm at UFC Fight Night 125 in 2018.
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