"We’re going to be moving so fast that you have no room for error. It’s going to come down to who comes out on top in
those scrambles." - John Dodson
John Dodson is equal parts Pinky and the Brain.
Nine months ago, prior to his first fight in the UFC’s new flyweight division, the long-time Team Jackson-Winkeljohn representative unveiled his ambitious plans for world domination: three titles in three different weight classes, starting with the flyweight belt.
Like the genius half of the genetically-modified cartoon duo, Dodson was dreaming big, and he had already crafted the blueprint for how to turn his dreams into reality all laid out in his head. He’d start with the flyweight title, and work his way up, sticking around each division long enough to defend the title a couple times and solidify his standing as champion prior to moving up in weight to conquer another weight class.
Like the hyperactive, happy-go-lucky half of the greatest mouse tag team in history, the 28-year-old veteran was also just happy to finally be competing on the biggest stage in the sport, hopeful that he could entertain the masses with his rambunctious brand of fighting.
Saturday night, Dodson will get to indulge both halves of his cartoon alter-egos when he steps onto the biggest stage of his career opposite Demetrious Johnson in a battle for the UFC flyweight title live on FOX.
“Not that many people get to do it. It’s one of the things every fighter dreams about,” admitted Dodson in a deliberate, reflective manner, a departure for the man who usually speaks as quickly as he moves inside the cage. “Not only am I headlining an event – a major event – I’m headlining on national TV. People can go watch it on FOX. Shoot, I get to fight on one of the biggest stages across the globe; not just this nation – across the globe.
“I’m going to go out there with the biggest smile, dancing my way into the Octagon, and enjoying every single moment of it. I don’t know when I’m going to die, but I want to remember this moment forever.”
Getting the chance to fight for a UFC title is something Dodson wasn’t sure he was ever going to get to do in his career.
After being discussed and speculated about for some time, the flyweight division only came to life in the sport’s premier organization last March, when Johnson, Ian McCall, Joseph Benavidez, and Yasuhiro Urushitani ushered in the 125-pound ranks with the semifinal round of a four-man tournament to crown the division’s first champion.
And it was only a little more than a year earlier that the UFC adopted the featherweight and bantamweight classes as well, bringing over the 145- and 135-pound divisions from the WEC, a move that ended up giving Dodson the opening he needed to win his way onto the roster through Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter.
“I had a lot of ups and downs in this sport,” reflected Dodson, who started his career in 2004. “Coming into the UFC, coming onto The Ultimate Fighter, I always wondered if there was going to be a light at the end of the tunnel for me. I was sitting in the dark wondering where I was going to go, what I was going to do. When the big fights were going to come through? Do I have to go up a weight class? Should I retire and get a real job?
“I never wanted to (walk away). These are my dreams, and they’ve started to come true, and that’s why I smile so much every time I’m in the Octagon, walking out, getting punched. I feel like I’m getting to fulfill my dreams.
“I actually stayed because of coaching,” continued the 15-5 flyweight title challenger. “Coaching everyone else kept me motivated to fight myself. It helped me stay in the game when all those guys are telling me how much they want to see me fight, and understanding what I was going through. Helping those other fighters learn and get better, they were the ones encouraging me to stay in the game, and keep looking for fights.”
That’s part of what makes Saturday night in Chicago so special for Dodson.
Along with “The Magician,” this weekend’s fight card for the UFC’s return to FOX features several other members of the Jackson-Winkeljohn fight team Dodson has been an integral part of for his entire career.
“It makes it so much better for me because I get to enjoy it with my team,” said Dodson, who will follow teammates Shawn Jordan, Clay Guida, and Donald Cerrone into the cage on Saturday night. A fifth member of the team, middleweight Buddy Roberts, was scheduled to compete, but was forced out of his bout with Michael Kuiper due to an illness. “The people that have been helping me grow as a fighter are going to be there – my teammates, my coaches, my family – and they’re all going to be supporting me, and watching me go out there. That’s all I care about.”
It might be what he cares most about heading into tomorrow night’s meeting with Johnson, but it’s not really all the charismatic contender cares about.
Dodson also cares deeply about exciting the crowd and giving them their money’s worth when he takes to the cage. Thus far, the flyweights have received a rather frosty reception, with Johnson and Benavidez fighting for a place in the history books to a soundtrack of boos in Toronto, while Dodson and Jussier “Formiga” da Silva received a similar response when they fought a month later in Minneapolis.
“It’s heartbreaking to tell you the truth,” Dodson said of the competing with a chorus of boos echoing throughout the arena. “To always hear them booing makes you want to try and step up, do something impressive so they can start cheering. You always want the fans on your side throughout the fight – it gives you that extra motivation, that extra boost when you’re down and out.
““With Formiga, he’s a tough opponent, and I was trying to take it technical, but apparently the fans don’t like it when you think. They want you to give them mayhem and carnage all the time.”
Dodson eventually delivered carnage, stopping the highly respected Brazilian newcomer with a flurry of punishment late in the second round to vault himself into position opposite Johnson.
It’s a fight that Dodson has been eying for the last year, and not solely because a win would bring him the first of the three titles he ambitiously hopes to acquire over his career.
He and “Mighty Mouse” are viewed as two of the fastest competitors in the UFC, and a bout between the two has the potential to be a frenetic blend of kicks and punches, takedowns and scrambles; technique and precision mixed with calculated risk-taking, all delivered at 100 miles per hour.
“We’re going to be moving so fast that you have no room for error,” assessed Dodson. “It’s going to come down to who comes out on top in those scrambles. Who cuts better corners? Who can make the tighter punches? Who can have a shorter distance on their takedowns? Who can pick them up faster? Who can hit his reversal or sweep? Who can attack first off a break?
“Those are all going to be things that are major, major factors in this fight because Demetrious is so technically sound he can keep people in a slow pace when he’s moving backwards so that they drop their guard, and then he attacks. We’ll see if I can capitalize on that or if he can capitalize on something I’m going to do.
“I know he’s going to use everything in his arsenal and try to really push for those takedowns. His level changes are among the best in the game, so knowing that I have to compete with such a strong wrestler, I have to be able to be ready for that, and prepare for me scrambles. I had to go back to basics with my own wrestling – doing sprawls, getting back my speed, having fast shots, and fast defense – just so I can compete with this dude. I want to make sure we have a good fight and I can match him in every area to the point where I have no disadvantages in any area, and it can be a straight-up brawl.
“I’m going to hit him as many times as I can, and one of those is going to put him down. I’m either going to hit him with a body shot or one to the face – probably a combination of both. Maybe I’ll hit him with a “Dragon Punch” like in Dragon Ball Z.”
For the animated flyweight challenger, emerging from the cage victorious on Saturday night would be validation of his persistence, and a realization of one his dreams.
Winning UFC gold is a life-changing experience and a career-defining moment, but as much as Dodson will revel in the excitement if he defeats Johnson, it’s not going to change his long-term plans.
“To tell you the truth – I would probably be the happiest man in the world at that time. It probably wouldn’t really hit me until two weeks later that I’m the actual champion, but at that point in time, it would be one of those life-changing events. It’d be like winning the lottery, and not the little lottery where you win $7 million – the one where you win $746 million.”
Dodson releases a rapid-fire laugh, and then unveils more of his blueprint for dominating the UFC’s three lightest weight classes.
“If I do win the title, I want to defend it a couple times so I can solidify my championship status. You’re not a real champion until you defend the belt. I want to do that in each weight class. If I can do that at 125, I would like to go up, win that belt, defend it a couple times, and go back down to ’25, defend that again, and then go up to 145.”
In other words, as much as waking up with the flyweight championship in his possession on Sunday morning will be something he’ll never forget, come Sunday night – and every night after that – the plan remains the same: try to take over the world.