Mailbag: Loose and ready, Lavar Johnson primed to become a UFC star (Yahoo! Sports)


UFC heavyweight slugger Lavar Johnson jokes that getting shot in the midsection while attending a family reunion in Bakersfield, Calif., over the Fourth of July weekend in 2009 limited his job prospects.

"I've got such a big scar there now, I guess I'm not going to be hired as a stripper any time soon," said Johnson, who missed 10 months after being shot but returned to full-time duty as a mixed martial arts fighter with no complications.

And while he may be forced to continue to talk about the shooting now that he's in the more high-profile UFC, he hopes that it's his knockout power that gets most of the attention going forward.

The easygoing Johnson will take on Pat Barry on Saturday at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., in a three-round heavyweight match that could steal the show on the UFC on Fox 3 card.

Johnson is 16-5 and coming off an entertaining knockout win over Joey Beltran at UFC on Fox 2 on Jan. 28. Johnson entered that bout on a two-fight losing streak, having been submitted by Shawn Jordan and Shane del Rosario in back-to-back matches. Beltran, though, is not the type to ever think of a submission and that suited Johnson perfectly.

Beltran wanted to stand and slug, but it was a mistake against a guy who was talker, thicker, heavier and hit harder. Johnson put Beltran out with a series of uppercuts and earned a $65,000 Knockout of the Night bonus.

"That bonus was the best thing about that night," Johnson said. "I've never gotten paid so well in my life."

A win over Barry, who is pretty much a one-man highlight reel, would set Johnson up for plenty of big paydays down the road. He's trained with noted kick boxer Carter Williams to prepare for Barry and is confident of a win.

He's not willing to look ahead, though, even if it's tempting, because of the impact a win could have on his career.

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Barry has been involved in some noteworthy slugfests of his own, but Johnson figures Barry will decide at some point it's no longer worth standing with someone who hits as hard as he does and that Barry will try to get the fight to the ground.

"If it's up to me, we'll stand and bang and see who lasts," Johnson said. "But [everyone in our camp thinks] he's going to think twice about that after I hit him a couple of times. We'll see what he chooses to do, but I'm pretty sure he's going to try to take me down.

"And I'm pretty sure I'm going to stand there and try to knock his head off his shoulders. It should be fun."

MMA MUSINGS

UFC president Dana White's video blogs are always popular. But this one, featuring UFC bantamweight star Urijah Faber, is particularly entertaining.

The UFC on Fox 4 card has two great matches at the top. The Aug. 4 bout at Staples Center in Los Angeles features middleweights Brian Stann against Hector Lombard and light heavyweights Lyoto Machida against Ryan Bader. Lombard was the Bellator champion and signed with the UFC last week. He's a legitimate title contender, and the fight with Stann should be a classic. I don't believe Nick Diaz's lawsuit against the Nevada Athletic Commission has much of a chance of succeeding, but it still seems wrong that he'll likely get penalized more stringently (probably 12 months) for smoking marijuana than Alistair Overeem did for having an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio. The welterweight bout between Josh Koscheck and Johny Hendricks on Saturday is the first in UFC history to pit former NCAA Division I wrestling champions against each other. When Brock Lesnar met Shane Carwin at UFC 116 in 2010, it was a Division I heavyweight champion against a Division II heavyweight champion.
READERS ALWAYS WRITE

No reason Silva, Jones should not fight

I read in the latest MMA rankings that both UFC president Dana White and middleweight champion Anderson Silva have indicated that a fight between Silva and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones isn't likely to happen anytime soon. I can't help but ask why not?

If Silva and Jones each win their upcoming fights, there's a serious lack of qualified contenders in their respective divisions. Though Silva stated last year that he doesn't want to move up to 205, what does he have to lose at this point, especially if he's contemplating retirement? Even if he moved up and lost, he would still go down as the greatest middleweight in MMA history.

Not only would this be the biggest fight in the history of the UFC, but it would also give "The Spider" a chance at performing the one feat that no fighter has accomplished yet: holding titles at two weight classes concurrently.

This would also stem the tide of those who are calling for Jones to move up to heavyweight by giving him a crack at the best fighter in the world. By all accounts, this fight seems like it would be a win-win-win situation for Jones, Silva and the UFC. Even better, if New York state legalizes MMA competition anytime soon, imagine what a Silva-Jones bout headlining at Madison Square Garden would do for the UFC!
Nathan Mowery

White's position has been that Jones still has to clean out the light heavyweight division. Plus, if Silva doesn't want to move up, he has that right. I would love to see the fight as much as you, but timing and Silva's age may prevent it.

'Bones' does have a path to the top ranking

Regarding Jon Jones being blocked from the top of the pound for pound ratings by Anderson Silva, you overlooked a couple of key points. You say that barring an upset or Silva actually losing to Jones, that Jones will have to wait until Silva retires to take the top spot.

What if Anderson puts on a poor showing against Chael Sonnen at UFC 148 and gets another come-from-behind, or controversial, win? What if he fights timidly and puts on Thales Leites- and Demian Maia-style fights against his next three opponents while Jones rips through everyone put in front of him?

You seem to think Anderson is invincible and that's fine, but let's not forget that out of those 14 wins, two were against a declining Rich Franklin. Forrest Griffin was beaten before he got in the cage, Patrick Cote blew out his knee, Silva took a beating from Chael and Travis Lutter before tapping them, and he took like six of them to lackluster decisions.

I agree that he's currently the best based on record, but he's a paycheck fighter who finishes when it's convenient and if he shows off that attitude over the next 12 months while Jones is smashing people, that could be enough to put Jones in the top spot.
Joshua Smith
Columbus, Ohio

Thanks, Josh. Let me state that I am one of the folks who has Jones first and Silva second. I tend to go much more on current form than some who tend to believe you only lose your spot if you lose a fight. And that's the difference.

It's not impossible that Jones could leapfrog Silva, but each voter has his own way of looking at it. And I see from the way people vote and the comments they make when they vote that a lot of them believe that if Silva doesn't lose he shouldn't be knocked off his perch. I disagree with that, but there is a lot of logic with that argument.

St. Pierre deserved to stay in the rankings

Are you in a hurry to get rid of UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre? It's not April 30 and your poll is out and he has not been inactive for 12 months. It seems obvious somebody wanted votes to go somewhere else or get another fighter on the list.
Dan Cheetham

Dan, it's ridiculous to think there is a conspiracy theory. My feeling is this: We usually conduct the voting after a major event. Voting this time came after UFC 145, which was April 21. Voters had until April 25 to get their votes in. The story posted on April 27. Given that it is my poll conducted under my rules, I felt it was appropriate to exclude Georges based on inactivity, given the next poll wouldn't happen until late May.

He was three days short of a year (and if you consider Leap Day, two days!) and I felt it was justifiable to keep him out. There was certainly nothing personal against Georges, and I would much rather not be facing this type of scenario, but it's also unfair to active fighters to not open spots when guys have not fought in so long.

Anheuser-Busch complaints a warning for UFC

After reading about Anheuser-Busch's complaints regarding the UFC and its fighters' attitudes and actions, I had a thought that led me to this idea: Without a drastic shift in the sport's representation, the UFC will deal itself a knockout blow for mainstream acceptance. While there will undoubtedly always be a loyal fan base, many of the casual MMA fans will likely shift their attention to the next trendy alternative or back to an old favorite.

Let's be honest: Not everyone tuning into a UFC on Fox card, or heading to the bar for the next pay-per-view, are hard cores. Many of them are just there for the atmosphere; a group occasion where everyone can get together to "watch the big fight."

The UFC is walking a thin line between its outspoken athletes pushing the limit of political correctness and offending several organizations with more than enough clout to damage the UFC's reputation.

The NBA, NFL, and MLB do a significant amount of damage control when an athlete steps out of line. In the history of combat sports, that sort of thing has been more tolerated. At boxing's peak, racially and culturally insensitive remarks were made, but brushed off as a product of the times.

With the UFC gaining traction in mainstream media, and with the increasing popularity of social media, these PR missteps catch like wildfire and the UFC is not doing enough to combat it. No amount of "sensitivity training" is going to have significant effect on a brazen, egotistical fighter who is used to settling scores by damaging someone's facial skeletal structure.

There are only a few things which are important in the fight game. Fighter safety, entertainment and public relations.

Zuffa hasn't taken enough steps to ensure fighter safety, and in a decade or two, the exponential increase in cases of CTE will be more prevalent to people who are turning a blind eye. Every so often we get to see a true display of MMA, but with so many live events, how can even a slim percentage be truly entertaining?

The PR issue is just coming to the surface now. When a big-money sponsor like AB is complaining, you know something is wrong. Zuffa needs to shift the strategy it uses to market its product or total mainstream acceptance will forever be out of reach.
Dave Griffith

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Dave, while I agree that there is a problem, I don't think it's of the scope you do and I don't think it's threatening the sport's existence or popularity. And I'm going to take great issue with a number of your points:

First, I vehemently disagree with your point where you refer to a "brazen, egotistical fighter who is used to settling scores by damaging someone's facial skeletal structure." The vast majority of MMA fighters are intelligent and socially aware, much more so than in most sports. Guys have made stupid comments, for sure. Gay bashing, for instance, can't be tolerated and the jokes need to be stopped. But I think these guys are, as a group, bright and insightful people.

Also, I strongly disagree with your point about fighter safety. Zuffa has done wonderful work trying to ensure fighter safety. My opinion is that the UFC needs to make fighters aware that rape jokes and gay jokes and things like that are out of bounds. I don't think there is a culture in the sport that threatens its future success. There is far more good than bad in these people. The ones who make the ill-advised comments are the ones who should be punished, but as a group, MMA fighters are top-notch human beings.

Quoteworthy

"I'm always extremely conscious of what is going on around me and what is happening when I'm in there [fighting]. I'm not and never have been one of those guys who zones out when the bell rings. I can hear what the crowd is saying. I can hear what the corner [people] are saying. I can see who is walking by the ring. I've always had that awareness of what is going on around me." – UFC heavyweight Pat Barry.

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