"I view the UFC as my home. That’s where I wanted to get to, that’s where I’ve gotten to, and that’s where I’d like to stay. Now it’s up to me to stay here, and I plan on doing everything in my power to stay here.”
DaMarques Johnson hasn’t had that conversation with his five-year old son Maxton, yet. No, not that one, but the one where he explains what it’s like to be a professional prizefighter and what it takes to have a job none of the other fathers at parent-teacher night have.
“I’m sure it’s coming,” chuckles Johnson, “but he’s always asking those tough questions that only kids can ask like ‘why’d you let him punch you in the face, dad?’ I’m sure we’ll have a talk sooner or later once a fight makes it on TV that he actually sees, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
When they do, you can bet that Johnson will give it straight to his son, not glossing over the lows with the highs. And once Maxton gets older and learns to use the internet, he can go to the blog section of his father’s website to get a look at just what has been going on in the world of the fighter he knows as dad. It’s compelling, no nonsense stuff, far beyond the 130 character tweets we’ve come to expect from pro athletes, and Johnson has no problem opening the door into his life to strangers.
“Honestly, getting all that stuff out makes more room,” said Johnson of his blogging. “You can’t fill up a cup that’s already full, right? You gotta constantly get rid of stuff, and as you’re getting rid of thoughts and feelings and stuff like that, it helps process incoming information that much more clearly. I’ve always found it kind of easy, and humorous in a way.”
And with a mix of humor, insight, and honesty, Johnson navigates everyday life. In that sense, he’s like a lot of people; Johnson would say he’s like anybody else, with the exception that he’s a professional fighter. But the one stark difference between Johnson’s day job and everybody else’s is that when he has a bad day, the world is watching – and commenting.
“I think people don’t realize how personal fighting is,” he said. “Fighting is an extremely personal endeavor, especially at our level of the game. Whether it’s a guy who kinda caught a lucky break and is in the UFC or a guy who’s been grinding away for years to be in the UFC, once you’re there, everybody feels like you owe them to be in there, and it’s kind of a weird double standard. Everybody’s perfectly fine with having the microscope on us, but then if you turn it around on any person in their regular everyday life, I’m sure they would feel a little differently.”
Last August, Johnson had one of those bad days on the job, as he saw a two fight winning streak snapped by Matt Riddle via second round TKO. Johnson, who didn’t make weight for the bout, didn’t look like the same fighter who earned KO and Submission of the Night awards for his wins against Brad Blackburn and Edgar Garcia, respectively, and Riddle took full advantage.
“It was me because I took the ass whippin’, but it wasn’t me,” said Johnson, who dropped to 16-8 with the defeat. “I got beat up and it was really just one of those things where life is going on and taking precedence over training, which kinda sucks. But that kinda stuff happens and you have to just go with the fight and see what happens. It’s sad to say, but Riddle kicked my ass because mentally I wasn’t in the right mindset to be getting in there. And everybody in the 170-pound class - whether it’s a guy making his debut, or a guy like Riddle, or myself, who’s been there for a little bit – is way too good to have an off day. And then you have an off day and everybody thinks you’re the bottom of the totem pole, and you suck, and the UFC should get rid of you. I have to keep things in perspective and say, ‘I had a bad day.’ And for me, when you have a bad day at work, it sucks because you get your ass whipped.”
It may be the most compelling part of being a fighter and the worst. All the weeks of training come down to one night and you’ve got to make sure you’re on. But if you’re not, you’re not a baseball pitcher coming back in five days to pitch again or a football quarterback getting another shot next week. For Johnson, the loss has been sitting with him through the end of the summer, all of the fall, and through the holidays. But he hasn’t stood idle since the Riddle bout. Instead, he took a week off and got right back into the gym.
“I would like to thank Riddle for whipping my ass because it made me grind away a little bit harder,” he said. “As far as learning anything, I learned not to take punches off of my eyeballs. (Laughs) But it’s fuel to the fire. Nobody likes getting beat up, nobody, and if you do get beat up, you at least want to beat the other guy up and I don’t think I got a chance to do that, which double sucks. It’s fired me up to not take a break and not dwell on it. I took a week off and I was right back at it, grinding and doing whatever I could to get in better shape and fill the holes that were so completely exposed by him. It made me a better fighter.”
This Saturday, Johnson gets to show off what he’s learned over the last five and a half months when he takes on Mike Guymon at The Fight For The Troops 2 event in Texas. It’s not your typical show, and it has even more meaning for Johnson, a veteran of the United States Army and National Guard.
“It’s a thank you,” he said. “Yes, I’m a vet, and it’s one of those things where the kids can’t go home because they have things they have to do, and it’s just a little slice of something to take their minds off ‘I miss my family’, ‘I miss my girlfriend’, ‘I miss my wife’, ‘I miss my kids’. If I made them forget about how much they were missing home for even 15 minutes, hey, I’ll take it.”
But this fight is about more than entertainment. With the influx of WEC fighters into the UFC and roster trimming a necessity of life these days, a couple consecutive losses could mean a release from the organization. Johnson, a finalist on season nine of The Ultimate Fighter, is 2-2 in UFC. Guymon is 1-2. When Johnson was asked for his thoughts on the fight for his UFC bio, the telling line was “It should a skilled and fun fight to be in, not to mention the loser gets his pink slip.”
Asked a couple weeks later about the quote, Johnson didn’t waver in that belief, but he’s not letting it cripple him with stress either.
“How much time and effort would you put into writing a story if you knew your job depended on it?” he asked. “You’d make sure your resources were correct, your grammar was right, your spelling was good, and that’s kind of how I approached this fight. It’s rubber meets the road now. I view the UFC as my home. That’s where I wanted to get to, that’s where I’ve gotten to, and that’s where I’d like to stay. Now it’s up to me to stay here, and I plan on doing everything in my power to stay here.”
And after January 22nd?
“All smiles and sunshine.”