Johnny displays his ground skills at Shooto Brazil. Photo: Carlos Ozório.
In his usual humble manner, Johnny Eduardo (25w, 8l) answered his cell phone for the umpteenth time on the day. “It’s never rung so much before… It even seems strange,” he joked over the phone to GRACIEMAG.com.
“Time has finally come. We’ve been negotiating with the UFC for a while now, and smack dab on UFC Rio we were approved and closed the deal. It’s a blessing. There’s no use getting ahead of ourselves, God picks the right moment and I feel I’m ready,” said the 32-year-old fighter, whose paused speech contrasts with his free-flowing and well-rounded fighting style, complete both standing and on the ground.
Johnny will be facing Raphael Assunção (16w, 4l), for which he will drop to bantamweight. On an 11-fight win streak, Johnny will be representing Dedé Pederneiras’s Nova União, with his master, Luiz Alvez, on his mind. Alvez was his “greatest mentor”, from whom he learned his everything he knows about Thai boxing, and who passed away in March 2010.
Being supersticious, Johnny doesn’t even know how many fights he’s had throughout his career (it’s bad luck to keep count, he says). But he does know his last loss was in 2007, and he wants to put even more distance between himself and it.
To do so, early in the year he packed his bags and traveled to Holland to train with José Aldo and Andy Souwer. “We trained with Andy in Amsterdam and with the Olympic boxing team in Rotterdam. I picked up my game a lot this season; every beating was a learning experience…” remembers Johnny, who also trains in the gi regularly and is a Nova União blue belt.
Early in his 33-fight career Johnny faced now-UFC fighter Takanori Gomi in Japan, but now he knows there’s a different baseline.
“You can’t make it to the UFC if you’re not really apt for it. I don’t want to go in there and have one fight and then leave. I want to be there to stay, like the great ones do, and now I feel I have the credentials. Nowadays lighter weight fighters are no longer overlooked, but by the same token they have to show they’re putting in the work. If these days we are more respected, we owe it to José Aldo, who opened the doors for us all, not just for Nova União but for the whole planet. He proved little guys can bring the crowd to their feet,” he says in analysis.
On Assunção, he is respectful and humble. “He’s really, really tough. Like me, he fought at 65kg (145lbs) and will drop down. Shoot, it’s an honor to fight him; he’s really versatile and quick. But we don’t pick opponents; I’m glad to be fighting in the UFC and I’m going to do my best, respecting everyone, not cutting in line on anybody…” he said.
Before signing off he provides some words of incentive for athletes hoping to participate in the UFC or another major event. “I’m from the Baixada Fluminense, was born in Duque de Caxias and lived there for years. Now I’m going to fight in Barra (upscale Rio de Janeiro neighborhood) and represent my tough and underprivileged people in the UFC. So the advice I have to give is, don’t get discouraged: persist, believe and be true to the very end; someday the stars will shine on you,” he said in closing.
UFC Rio 134
August 27, 2011
HSBC Arena, Barra da Tijuca, Brazil
Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami
Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Brendan Schaub
Edson Barboza vs. Ross Pearson
Erick Silva vs. Mike Swick
Luiz Cane vs. Stanislav Nedkov
Spencer Fisher vs. Thiago Tavares
David Mitchell vs. Paulo Thiago
Yuri Alcântara vs. Antonio Carvalho
Yves Jabouin vs. Ian Loveland
Raphael Assunção vs. Johnny Eduardo