Tony Johnson Jr defends his ACA heavyweight title against Dmitry Poberezhets at ACA 122. The card goes on Friday, April 23rd and emanates from Falcon Club Arena in Minsk, Belarus.
I had a great conversation with the reigning and defending champion Johnson Jr and below are several excerpts from my talk with him ahead of this championship affair.
It seems like conditioning is one of the bigger things you’ve been able to just figure out throughout your career. Just continually weaponizing the pace seemingly on a fight-to-fight kind of basis.
Is that kind of a fair characterization? Has weaponizing the pace been a big focus largely throughout the recent years there?
“It definitely is. In the heavyweight division I believe if you have good cardio, you’re going to last a long time in this game. And when I fought (Aleksander) Emelianenko, when I fought a couple other guys, I realized my cardio is pretty damn good. I didn’t utilize that as much. Definitely working on using that as a weapon.”
Tony Johnson Jr
The road to the title here…winless across two but then the last fight marking that return to the win column. Being out for over a year. So just with the backdrop of all that, I imagine it was immensely satisfying to get out there and finally capture the gold.
So can you kind of put me in that moment and articulate how you were feeling just with the backdrop of that timeline?
“It was definitely awesome. Because I went for a title previously twice. The first time, it was a no-contest because of the eye poke, the eye gouge. The second time, he (Evgeny Goncharov) ran. It slipped through my fingers twice and I wanted another shot at it. So then I was supposed to fight Ruslan Magomedov. It kept getting postponed because of Coronavirus…Then they asked me if I wanted to fight Daniel Omielańczuk for the title in November.”
“Because Ruslan’s hurt and I said absolutely. Let’s do it… I seized the moment. Kept telling everybody I was going to knock this dude out. I know he’s never been knocked out before but I’ve trained with some of the best. Sparred with some of the best and fought some of the best out there. I believe in myself now…. I’ve been hit by the hardest hitters in the game…It was an awesome win.”
Tony Johnson Jr vs Dmitry Poberezhets
What it was like competing just with the whole no-fans-in attendance dynamic in the whole pandemic going on? I’ve heard some fighters say it’s kind of weird. I’ve heard some say it’s more akin to like, a sparring session. How would you characterize it?
“I would characterize it as more of a sparring session. The thing is when there’s no fans, you’re going to figure out if you’re doing this for yourself or doing this for the fans. It’s like, you have no fans rooting you on. I liked it because I was in another man’s country. I went to Poland to fight one of the biggest stars…But you know, it’s crazy, because you can hear everything. You can hear the punches, you can hear the coaches talking. You can hear everything…Fighting in front of the fans is also cool too. So I like it but I kind of want to fight in front of the fans.”
His burgeoning fan presence in Russia
“The crazy thing is though, I have a lot of Russian fans. I’ve been fighting in Russia for the past five years now. I have a lot of respect for Russians. They know when I come there, I come there to fight. I don’t back up, I come forward. Russia’s like my second home now to be honest.”
You’ve got quite a challenger here. It seems like you were anticipating fighting Ruslan Magomedov a bit after your title win there. But then obviously, we saw your upcoming opponent here get the jump on him a little bit there.
15 wins in a row, a pretty proven knockout artist, what are your thoughts on this upcoming matchup with Dmitry Poberezhets and just kind of what he brings to the table as a martial artist?
“I think he’s very dangerous. I don’t think anyone gave him a chance against Ruslan (Magomedov). That’s one of the reasons why I went to go train with Francis Ngannou. They kind of have the same fighting style. Very similar, they throw heavy. I respect him but he’s not very dynamic. He’s going to pressure and he’s going to throw hands. I know he’s on a fifteen-fight win streak but those guys weren’t me. I’m separate from those guys.”
Four weeks training with Francis Ngannou ahead of this one. Good friends now and training with Xtreme Couture now. Ngannou training will obviously ramp up in the future.
Past work at AKA and ATT. Todd Duffee, Bigfoot, Hector Lombard, Luke Rockhold former training partners
Working at Nashville MMA in recent camps and will still continue to rep them on his shorts. Showing continued love in this move to Xtreme Couture.
Contractual agreement with ACA heading into this inaugural title defense?
“I just re-signed for three fights. I’ve got three fights. I was signed in December. So I have three more fights on my contract. The Dmitry fight is number one on the new contract.”
Your career has been pretty amazing. As far as the different promotions you’ve been with like ONE Championship and Bellator and everything like that.
“They’re (ACA) the number two organization in the world…My thing my whole career was just take your time getting there, man. The mistake these young athletes make is they want to get to the UFC because of the fame right. That’s like going from high school to NFL. Very few can make that step. There’s a lot that comes with it, you got to be mature…Go travel the world, go see what’s out there, and then last stop’s UFC, man. So I’m excited that I was able to do that.”
Johnson Jr vs Poberezhets
Yeah, it’s a fun career path to follow along with man…former King of the Cage heavyweight champ as well. But yeah, I mean, I think UFC would be a promotion, you’d make waves in.
Right away, I mean, especially with the backdrop of having victories over guys like Alexander Volkov and Derrick Lewis…Just guys were positioned at the top of the division.
“I know when I’m signed to UFC, I’m going to be fighting those guys again. But I’ll be ready. Those are notable wins. Both guys are both in that top five in the UFC. And that kind of shows you where I am as a fighter. I beat those guys not even training like I was supposed to. Now that I’m training like I’m supposed to, sky’s the limit.”
Absolute Championship Akhmat
The epiphany moment for when Tony Johnson Jr stopped “half-assing it” in his career
“I was scrolling through Instagram, right? Derrick Lewis his Instagram popped up and he was working out in his garage. He had like a Ferrari and a lift with like two trucks. I’m not doing bad like I make very good money at ACA but obviously, Derrick Lewis makes more than me… That was like February of 2020.”
Lewis’ insta inspired Tony Johnson Jr to put in diligent thoughtful work throughout the pandemic when it settled in a few weeks later.
Parting thoughts for Tony Johnson Jr
“Follow me on Instagram @TonyJohnsonJr. Watch the fight, it’s going to be a good one and I don’t expect it to go very long. We’re both heavy hitters. And we’re both hungry. I know I have the belt but I want to keep the belt. Do whatever I go to do to keep it. So there will be blood. Don’t miss it.”