John Howard is excited.
Excited that after having gone through a gauntlet of talented grapplers such as Dennis Hallman, Daniel Roberts, and Jake Ellenberger, he will finally be able to display the full gamut of his game. His strong suit being his penchant for punching people in the face.
“Doomsday” returns to the Octagon on Saturday night when the world’s largest mixed martial arts organization makes it’s fourth trip to the Bell Centre in Montreal for UFC 124: St-Pierre vs. Koscheck 2. He faces one of the division’s most talented strikers in former title challenger Thiago Alves.
While Howard is coming off of a loss to the aforementioned Ellenberger last August, he bears no weight on his shoulders. The Boston native considers his role as an underdog opposite of one of the division’s best an advantage.
“That’s not really pressure on me, to me the pressure is on him because I’m considered the underdog,” Howard told MMAWeekly.com Radio.
Any additional pressure Alves faces is multiplied by back-to-back losses he’s recently suffered inside the Octagon, albeit against top flight competition in division kingpin Georges St-Pierre and perennial contender Jon Fitch.
“He has two losses, and he’s top four,” said the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt.
“I’m not even ranked top four, top ten even to tell you the truth… I’m just happy to be fighting a top ten guy and get my shot. I think the pressure is more on him. I think he realizes that this is the biggest fight for him. It’s the biggest fight for me, but it’s the biggest fight for him too, because he’s fighting someone with a similar style as him.”
Some might suggest that Alves has lost his competitive edge in the welterweight division, and that his wrestling has been exposed since his losses to St-Pierre and Fitch, whom were both able to control Alves on the ground with multiple takedowns en route to a unanimous decision victories.
“I think it’s because he was facing two of the best guys in the sport,” proclaimed Howard.
“My wrestling is good, it’s on a, I would say an All-American level, but it’s not like on a college/Olympic level. Not yet, I’m getting closer to it slowly but surely. He’s very hard to takedown. Not only is he hard to takedown, he’s hard to keep down. I think because of who he was fighting and the experience that they have, they were able to beat him.”
Howard is a noted wrestler in his own right, but will rely on his striking prowess, which has improved leaps and bounds with his regular trips to Thailand, to aid him in his fight against Alves, who has knocked out seven of the nine opponents he’s defeated under the UFC banner.
“But we never saw him with a striker who’s just as aggressive and just as powerful, so that’s what I’m interested to see,” said Howard.
“This is a whole different fight for me because I’m fighting a straight-up striker. I come from a striking background, but we’ve never seen him fight a straight-up striker before, so I want to see how he reacts to it.
“I think his striking is legit, but I think with my boxing background and my Muay Thai, I think I can just bring a whole different style to him. I think I can put the pressure on him and make him react a little bit different, because he’s used to bullying guys in the cage, but he can’t do that to me because if he hits me I’m going to hit him right back.
“I know all the tricks of the trade of Muay Thai.”
Pitting fire against fire is always a high risk, low reward scenario, but for the 27-year-old welterweight contender, it frees his mind of doubt. You can always expect the Brazilian to be swinging with bad intentions, and for Howard, that’s exactly what he’s looking for.
“That’s what I’m excited about. I get to use my striking and (everyone) will really get to see me display my skills and all that I can really do. I’m really excited about that. I can kind of relax and get into my mode and go for fancy stuff, like the flying knees, the elbows, Sityodtong, and everything like that. I can really go for it, so I’m excited about it. I hope this fight stays standing the whole fight, to tell you the truth.”