"The only reason I’ve never been down to the ground is because I’ve never needed to (go to the ground); I’ve never needed to take someone down." - John Dodson
Though never directed at him personally, criticism keeps landing at the feet of Ultimate Fighter winner John Dodson.
As a long-time member of Team Jackson-Winkeljohn, the 28-year-old Albuquerque native has had to listen as fans, critics, and other fighters have lined up to take their shots at his coaches, teammates, and the results they earn in the cage. UFC President Dana White has been the most outspoken critic of the respected coach, blasting him in wake of Jon Jones’ decision to decline a fight with Chael Sonnen and the eventual cancellation of UFC 151.
“Greg Jackson ruined the sport of MMA,” says Dodson, tongue firmly planted in cheek as he begins to address the barrage of complaints that get levied against Jackson and his fighters. The most popular, of course, that fighters from the New Mexico super-camp never finish fights.
“Or Kyle Noke knocking out ‘The Spaniard,’” adds Dodson, citing his teammate’s 30-second victory over Charlie Brenneman in the first bout of the evening. “Or Jon Jones submitting a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.” Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the criticisms continue, but if you think Dodson is frustrated by the attacks on his coaches and teammates, think again.
“It’s flattering, to tell you the truth. They get so mad that we’re winning everything all the time and having some of the best fights ever that they need something to hate on. It’s like hating on a system that is working so well that they’ve got nothing better to do than complain. They want to complain about `they’re winning too much.’ `Oh, their strategy sucks because it helps them win. Don’t let them do it anymore.’ That’s what you want to complain about?”
Dodson is one of those fighters in the Jackson camp who has done nothing but win since entering the UFC.
After stepping up in weight in order to be a contestant on Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter, the diminutive man with the maniacal laugh earned back-to-back knockout wins over Johnny Bedford and TJ Dillashaw to emerge as the winner of the bantamweight competition. Shortly thereafter, the UFC announced they would finally be adding the flyweight division to their ranks, and Dodson made the move back down the scale to the 125-pound weight class.
In addition to serving as a platform for dispelling the myth about Team Jackson-Winkeljohn fighters and the detrimental impact of the first coach in that tandem on the sport, UFC 152 also served as a catalyst for criticism of the UFC’s newest division. This time, White and Dodson landed on the same side of the argument.
While some saw the inaugural flyweight title fight between Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson as an engaging back-and-forth affair, many in attendance booed and White was inundated with complaints in 140-character increments on Twitter.
“Everyone’s going to continuously say the same things: `they’re just midgets in there fighting’ or `they’re kids fighting,’” Dodson suggests, addressing the verbal attack directed at his fellow flyweights. “We’re not actually kids – we’re full-grown men, and sooner or later, people will start coming around and realizing that those weight classes are the good ones. They probably said (the same things) when boxing started losing (heavyweights) like Tyson, Holyfield, Muhammad Ali.
“How do you say we don’t finish?” Dodson asks rhetorically, tackling another of the complaints levied against the lighter weight classes as a whole. “Look at Joseph Benavidez - he knocked out Yasuhiro Urushitani for the chance to fight for the title. John Moraga just knocked out Ulysses Gomez. And of course, there was Louis Gaudinot choking out John Lineker. People can’t sit there and say that flyweights don’t finish fights because we do finish fights. We’re just as exciting as any other weight class. When you get top tier guys fighting each other, it’s hard to get the finishes that everyone wants to see.
“I’m not going to call the fans morons,” laughs Dodson, referencing White’s characterization of the flyweight critics after UFC 152, “but you need to realize we’re just as good as everyone else. Of course we’re going to use our strengths to our advantage, but we do have power, and a lot of us love to stand and bang and brawl with everybody.”
Dodson gets his next opportunity to show fans why the flyweights are among the most exciting, must-see competitors in the sport on Friday night, when he welcomes Jussier Formiga into the Octagon for the first time. A teammate of UFC champions Jose Aldo and Renan Barao, Formiga has been a fixture near the top of the flyweight rankings for a number of years, and carries an impressive 14-1 record into the cage for his debut.
In addition to being a chance for Dodson to get a major victory on the main card of a televised UFC event, a win would also bring the eight-year veteran with a 14-5 record a chance to challenge Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight title.
“I didn’t even know I was one win away from a title fight,” laughs Dodson. While having a title shot hanging in the balance might rattle some, the easy-going “Magician” says it doesn’t have any impact on what he plans to do to Formiga on Friday. “Nothing really changes – I’m still going to go out there and hit this man as many times as I can until he falls.”
Though unfazed by the high stakes attached to this fight, Dodson does acknowledge that being one step closer to challenging for the flyweight title is something he takes seriously and embraces, especially given that his ultimate plan is hold the flyweight, bantamweight, and featherweight titles simultaneously.
“It means the world to me knowing that I’m one win away from getting my chance to get a title shot,” admits the frenetic flyweight, who counts eight finishes among this 14 career wins. “That’s going to be amazing because I’ll get to fight for a UFC title that a lot of people have dreamed about for their whole career, you know? For us, the UFC is the top tier, so to be knocking on the door for that opportunity, I’m… I’m… I don’t know what. I don’t have the words, you know?”
“Still the same goal; that goal will never change,” he continues. “People always want to sit there and talk about being the first person for everything, so this is my chance to be the first person to do something, you know? I’m already knocking on the door for the first title. I don’t think Demetrious Johnson is an easy opponent by any means. I think he’s going to be the toughest fight I’ve ever had in my life. He’s so fast. I want to see who is fastest – me or him? I want to see how well our combination of power, speed, and technique fits together. That’s going to amazing. It’s going to be a fun fight.”
Before “The Magician” can try to cast a spell on “Mighty Mouse,” he has to get through a considerable challenge on Friday night.
Formiga has won five straight heading into his debut, submitting the last four opponents that he’s faced. Though his ground skills remain his greatest strength, Dodson is ready to battle Formiga wherever the fight goes, including the ground, and show the critics once again that flyweights and fighters trained by Greg Jackson deliver highly entertaining fights just like everyone else.
“Formiga used to be just straight jiu-jitsu, but look at him: he’s been working on his standup. His last two fights that were out in Brazil, he’s been striking, and standing – or at least trying to. I’m actually happy that he’s not going to try to double leg me every chance he gets. I think he’s going to stand-and-bang and give a better show for the crowd.
“The way that I have to beat him is that I have to stay on my feet and I have to stay on my scrambling. We’ve already seen him plenty of times where he’s just taken people down and controlled the position. I’m not going to let the jiu-jitsu game play into his favor.
“Everyone is trying to speculate about my ground game because they’ve never seen me go to the ground. Well, let’s be realistic people: the only reason I’ve never been down to the ground is because I’ve never needed to (go to the ground); I’ve never needed to take someone down.”
A win on Friday night might not silence the critics, but it will bring the charismatic and confident Dodson one step closer to reaching his goal of complete and utter domination of the lighter weight classes.
Cue the creepy, maniacal clown laugh.