The victory over Jack Cartwright on season six of Dana White’s Contender Series last summer was necessary, but it was Jose Johnson’s perseverance to make it to the UFC that won over the UFC President and earned him a contract.
But that’s not where the story ends for the 27-year-old, who makes his Octagon debut against Garrett Armfield this Saturday.
“Now the hard work truly begins,” said Johnson. “Things really are getting rolling, and I can't just make it to the UFC. For some people that's cool for them. It's not for me. When I die, I want to die a legend. I want to be a household name and now the real work begins. So it's been work. I mean, it's been a little bit of play, as well. But it’s ultimately staying focused and staying the course.”
To some, it might be easy to take a deep breath and enjoy the moment when you finally hit your mark. For Johnson, that would be impossible, because it took too much struggle to get here, enough that it often made the Flint, Michigan native wonder if he would reach the UFC.
“Oh man, too many times to count,” he said when asked if he was ever at that doubting point.
So what does keep a fighter going after dealing with more downs than ups, both in and out of competition?
“The things that kept me going was a strong family structure,” said the father of five. “Me and all my immediate first cousins, it's like eight or nine of us, we got our own group chat and these guys keep me motivated, keep my head straight. Plus, my kids, I just want 'em to have a life that I didn't.”
They’re already there, and while the kids are eight and younger, the oldest does know what his dad does for a living and what it means.
“It's just really cool to be an inspiration,” said Johnson. “My son always tells me, ‘You don't got to go out there and win; it's just really cool to say my dad goes out there.’ And I know what he really means; he's just too young to put it into words. He’s basically saying that he's proud of me, and those are reasons to motivate me in fights and keep going. Because that last fight I had on the Contender Series, I was tired. It was a fast-paced fight and in that last round, I could just hear him saying that.”
His son’s voice got him through the tough-three rounder with Cartwright, making it three wins in a row for a fighter who once possessed a less than glossy 6-5 pro record. And once he got the UFC contract he had been fighting for, it was an example to his kids to never give up on a dream.
“It’s important to lead by example, and not necessarily just in sports,” Johnson said. “That's a huge life lesson. If life knocks you down, or you lose a job and you don't know why, or just any tragic thing that can happen to you, there's more to life. And don't give up just because you didn't make it the first time or the second time or the third time.”
That persistence paid off. Jose Johnson is a UFC fighter, and he plans on staying one.
“I don't have anything to necessarily prove to anyone,” he said. “I don't have anything to really prove to the fans; I don't have to prove to that I'm a great fighter. This is something that I worked so hard for so long for. And now it's trying to have fun. It's trying to really showcase all this hard work, all these different styles I've learned over the years, all this experience I've had. My whole life has been a fight.”
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