We spoke with Tony Johnson, a professional MMA athlete currently competing in the Bellator heavyweight division. Johnson is facing Cheick Kongo in the main event for Bellator 161, going down this Saturday, 17th September.
Johnson is one of the most underrated heavyweights in MMA, some suggest because most heavyweights try to avoid him. They keep their heads down, avoiding eye contact. He’s competed in King of the Cage, One Championship and recently made his return to Bellator, building a 10-2 record. Johnson was the King of the Cage Heavyweight champion and in 2016 he’s making another run for the vacant Heavyweight title, this time at Bellator. He has defeated the likes of Alexander Volkov, Tim Sylvia, Derrick Lewis and most recently, Raphael Butler, different styles and strategies clearly won’t phase him. Throughout his career, Johnson’s strong base in wrestling has allowed him to control his opponents, dictating where the fight takes place; grinding the will out the competition.
Unfortunately, just weeks before he was scheduled to go up against Kongo, Johnson’s younger brother passed away. Despite the situation, Johnson has remained strong. He is focused, healthy and ready to take on the MMA legend, Cheick Kongo.
The Neversphere: How are things going in your world, how’s training camp?
Tony Johnson: Training camp’s going good, but ah… I lost my little brother last week, so that was kinda tough. But other than that, no injuries and we’re focusing on the task at hand.
The Neversphere: I’m glad to hear you’re healthy man… but I’m so sorry to hear about your brother, you have my deepest condolences…
Tony Johnson: Thank you, I appreciate that man. I told Bellator and they said, ‘Hey, if you don’t want to fight, we understand’, but that was never in my mind. I’m always going to take this fight. Y’know, life’s gonna hit you, but you just gotta get up and keep going.
The Neversphere: For sure, that’s a commendable attitude…
Tony Johnson: Thanks man.
The Neversphere: So, in your last fight you looked like you were in incredible shape. I heard that you were using a new conditioning coach, are you still using the same guy?
Tony Johnson: Absolutely! Hey listen, the program works. This guy has pushed me way past where I thought I could go… he’s kind of like my father. My father would always stay on me and that’s what this guy does. His name is Omar, but we also got Bronson and Nate; they’re all owners of the gym. The thing I like about those guys is that they practice what they preach. We have a lot of athletes training there. Any time we run, they’re at the front. We can’t beat those guys, they’re so mentally strong.
They don’t tell me to do anything they can’t do, so you just shut up and do it. Yeah, I’m with those guys to the end, that’s my conditioning crew.
The Neversphere: So would you say cardio is a strong focus of your training at the moment?
Tony Johnson: I have a strong focus on everything, honestly. But definitely, cardio is one of my main focuses. I believe that Cheick Kongo is gonna tire in the second round and we’re ready to capitalize on that. The conditioning program has made me physically and mentally strong, and I’m ready for whatever Cheick Kongo is gonna throw at me.
The Neversphere: So on Cheick Kongo… he’s a pretty well rounded veteran, but in the past we’ve seen you beat some of the best heavyweights in the division. You’re predicting a second round finish?
Tony Johnson: I believe I’m going to finish him in the second round. We watched his film and that’s where he tires. One of my biggest problems in the past was my conditioning, I fixed that in my last fight and it’s only improved. So unless he’s worked on his conditioning tremendously, he’s gonna be in trouble in the second round.
The Neversphere: I know you’ve fought in numerous organisations over the years. So if we can talk about the Heavyweight division in general, even looking outside of Bellator… what do you think of the landscape of the Heavyweight division, where do you place yourself in it?
Tony Johnson: I see myself holding the title. Now that I have my conditioning program, now that I’m strengthening all my tools, I don’t believe that anybody’s going to beat me. I’m not saying that somebody can’t me a hard time, but I’m ready for all that. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am.
The Neversphere: So on the topic of the Heavyweight title, I saw a few weeks back you called out Matt Mitrione. Once you get through Kongo, do you reckon you’ll go up against him for the vacant title?
Tony Johnson: I hope and pray that I get to face Mitrione, hopefully in December. I tell everybody man, he’s come in here from the UFC, but he hasn’t fought anybody man. He hasn’t put the skin in the game like Cheick Kongo has, or I have… and he’s number 1.
That left a bitter taste in my mouth. Y’know, I’ve kinda flown under the radar. I’ve fought tough fights and he hasn’t. It just doesn’t make sense to me, but first and foremost, I have to keep my eye on the prize. That’s Cheick Kongo man. Once I finish that all my attention will be towards that… dumbass meathead… excuse my language.
The Neversphere: [laughs] Nah that’s all good man, sounds like you hold a bit of disdain for Matt Mitrione.
Tony Johnson: Absolutely. I’ve worked hard to get where I am. He hasn’t, it’s like he’s the golden child. It’s not jealousy, it’s about him not having tough fights and he’s number one. I’d be ok if Cheick Kongo was number one, he’s had those tough fights, he’s fought the champion. Matt Mitrione hasn’t, he fought a guy on the undercard- damn near lost- he shoulda lost that fight. Then looked horrible in London, so it’s like, why is he number one?
Whatever, I’ll put an end to that once I seem him…
The “Hulk” @HulkJohnson is primed & ready to make his presence felt in the Heavyweight division #Bellator161 pic.twitter.com/BhKtTgziUR
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) September 14, 2016
The Neversphere: So the Neversphere covers more than just MMA, we also love music. I gotta ask, what’s your current walk out tune and does that song have any special meaning to you?
Tony Johnson: Yeah, actually my first walk out song was going to be the intro to “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot’ by DMX. But my brother passed away last week. He made a video montage for me and the song in the background was ‘Kings Never Die’ by Eminem and Gwen Stefani, so I’m going to walk out to that.
The Neversphere: That’s a touching tribute man… I’ve got one more question for you man. I know you’ve wrestled your whole life, so I’m sure you’re used to dealing with the stress of competition and having the correct mind set to get through it. However, MMA is a different sport. Where is your head at this close to a fight?
Tony Johnson: My head is in a good position. I’m not stressed, it’s about seizing the moment and enjoying life man. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m enjoying this. I’m going to be on the main card at Bellator, one of the greatest organisations in the world. I’m ready y’know? There’s nothing that Cheick Kongo can do to me that I haven’t already seen before. So my head’s right. I’m ready to go.
The Neversphere: Fuck yeah, awesome to hear. Thanks so much for giving me some of your time, I appreciate it’s a hectic time for you. We’ll be watching and supporting you from down here in Australia.
Tony Johnson: Awesome, I appreciate that man. Thank you.