After nearly two years of frustration and three straight losses, veteran Lavar “Big” Johnson finally got back on the winning track earlier this year in the Bellator Season 10 Heavyweight Tournament.
In defeating Ryan Martinez via TKO in March, not only did Johnson end his losing streak, but he also extended his career, which before the fight was in jeopardy.
“I had a few losses before that, so to get that W, I really needed that or (I was going to) hang it up,” said Johnson. “It got to the point to where if I’m not beating these guys and I can’t be the best then I feel I should not be fighting.
“That win boosted my confidence up. I know I have skillset to hang with the best, so I’m giving it one last year.”
While Johnson told MMAWeekly.com that he is happy he got the win, he admits Martinez presented a more difficult challenge than he had thought going into the match.
“It didn’t go as planned,” said Johnson. “I didn’t know (Martinez) was going to be that good of a wrestler, to hold me down like that. He’s got good ground and pound, so I knew I had to be out from under him.
“I knew that with me and him standing, with him being so short I could use my reach and once we got to bang, then I’d win soon.”
With the win, Johnson (18-8) moves on to this Friday’s Bellator heavyweight semifinal bout against undefeated Bulgarian prospect Blagoi Ivanov (10-0) in Temecula, Calif. Their fight headlines Bellator 116.
“We’ve worked a little bit on the ground and getting up and everything like that, but otherwise we keep it the same,” said Johnson. “I know how I like to fight and what my traits are. I just like to try to make it exciting – swing for the fences – and try to put them away.
“I’ve got to stay away from (Ivanov’s) clinch. He’s got good Sambo, so I think as long as I can stay away from him clinching me, I think it’s the same thing (as all my other fights): I’ll pressure him, put him up against the cage, and put him to sleep.”
For Johnson, it’s the Bellator heavyweight championship or nothing, as he feels he’s put enough time in this sport that if he doesn’t achieve his goal, it will be time to move on.
“I’ve been doing this for a little over ten years now and my body’s been through some things, so I think it’s time for another chapter in life,” he said. “I’m happy with my career, and I’m going to give it one last shot.
“When it comes to Friday, I’m going to try to make it the most exciting fight possible and get a first-round knockout.”
(Photo by Esther Lin)