Coming off nearly a year layoff since he defeated Alexander Volkov at Bellator 148 in April of 2014, heavyweight Tony Johnson was eager to prove he had grown as a fighter when he returned to action this January against Raphael Butler.
Against Butler, Johnson was able to showcase improved stamina on his way to a late third round TKO victory, picking up his third win a row in the process.
“One thing I told everybody and proved to everybody is that I got my conditioning under control,” Johnson told MMAWeekly.com. “That’s been a big issue in my past fights.
“That’s one thing I wanted to prove; that I had the conditioning to go three rounds; and not just go all three rounds, but fight all three rounds. I proved that, so now let’s do something else. I want to prove I can strike and do whatever I need to in order to get the job done.”
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With his win over Butler, Johnson (10-2) has worked his way into a heavyweight main event fight against Cheick Kongo (24-10-2) at Bellator 161 on Friday in Cedar Park, Texas.
“I’ve got to mix it up and not just take him down,” said Johnson of facing Kongo. “I have to keep him guessing. If he tries to take me down, I’ll work my wrestling. He’s not just a striker now; he has worked on his wrestling and has improved.
“I believe pressure (is a key) and just patience. When I see that knockout I’ll go for it. I have to pressure him and implement my will and make sure he doesn’t control the pace of the fight. I have to control the pace of the fight and fight at my pace, and not his.”
Should Johnson come out on top against Kongo, he believes the next step is simple: go after the vacant Bellator heavyweight championship.
“I’d like fight one more time before the year is up,” Johnson said. “That would be the perfect game plan for me, so hopefully we can make it happen.
“I believe with a finish, there will be no question that I get that next the title shot. If I have another fight in December and it’s not a title fight, that’s fine with me, I just want to stay busy, but at the end of the day I do want a title shot.”