There is no title bestowed upon the greatest all-around athlete in mixed martial arts, but if there were, UFC flyweight John Dodson would be a leading contender for the honor.
He pulls off moves in the gym that regularly stun onlookers. Anthony Pettis became a national sensation in 2010 when, in the final fight in World Extreme Cagefighting history, he leaped up against the cage, pushed off and kicked Benson Henderson in the head.
The move became known as the "Showtime Kick," and was nominated for an ESPY as Play of the Year. It was a jaw-dropping move that hadn't been done before and hasn't happened since.
Dodson, though, regularly pulls it off in the gym.
He's only 5 feet 3 inches, but he can dunk a basketball. He may never be a contender to beat Spud Webb in a slam dunk contest, but Webb, the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk contest winner, has four inches on him.
"Oh, man, the guy is so athletic he could walk into any Cirque du Soleil tomorrow and be a star in that world," trainer Mark Valle said. "In the gym, he does incredible, incredible stuff. He works hard but he has fun in there, doing flying kicks running off the top of the cage. He runs up the wall and somersaults into the cage at the start of practice. He can do all kinds of Spider-Man-like stuff.”
Dodson is so gifted, he doesn't need to run the length of the court to build momentum in order to dunk. He said he can start from the free throw line and get up high enough to slam.
It's just one of his many athletic gifts.
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Dodson, who fights Jussier Formiga (formerly known as Jussier da Silva) in the co-main event of UFC on FX 5 on Friday at the Target Center in Minneapolis, will earn a shot at flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson with a win.
The bantamweight winner of "The Ultimate Fighter 14" in December is one of the most explosive fighters in the sport and has already made a fan of UFC president Dana White with his up-tempo, aggressive style.
"[Dodson] is unbelievable," White said. "I like the guy. He's incredibly fast, but he hits really hard. He's fun to watch. If he gets past [Formiga], can you imagine what a fight between him and [Johnson] would be like?"
While his fights are entertaining, so, too, are the feats he's able to pull off that show his athleticism.
His teammate, UFC heavyweight Travis Browne, calls him "a phenomenal athlete, just remarkable."
Browne has repeatedly seen that first-hand, both in watching Dodson train and when Dodson is pulling off one stunt or another.
One of his most jaw-dropping is when he has the 6-7 Browne stand about three or four steps away from him. Dodson runs up, climbs up Browne's back like he's scaling a wall and then pushes off to do a reverse somersault.
Dodson's ho-hum about it all because he's been doing mind-boggling feats for so long, it's pretty much become second nature.
Despite his lack of size, he was always confident in his ability and never thought of himself as less than any of his peers because he was shorter than they were.
"The funny thing is, I never knew I was little until my sophomore year in high school," Dodson said. "When people started showing me pictures, I realized I was small. I really thought I was average height. I never looked at them that they were taller than me. I never thought, 'Oh, I need to be bigger so I could do this or do that.'
"I'm true testament to 'Ignorance is bliss.' I was ignorant to the fact that I was so small, I shouldn't be able to do the things I was doing. I was just so happy to go do it. It was like, 'What do you want me to play? Nose guard? OK, cool. Fullback? Cool, no problem.' I didn't think of my size. I just went and played and did things."
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The biggest thing he needs to do on Friday is to avoid Formiga's dangerous submission game. He won't, though, rely solely on his athleticism to do so.
He's not only extremely athletic; he has a bright MMA mind and serves as an instructor at Jackson's. And he has a strategy for Formiga.
"I'm just going to punch him in the face," Dodson said.
He pauses a long while, then continues.
"Often. And hard. Usually," he says, breaking into a laugh, "that does the trick."
And if it doesn't, he has a very deep bag of tricks he can reach into to find something that does.
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