By Ari LeVaux
Last Thursday, members of the local media were invited to the Jackson/Winkeljohn Mixed Martial Arts academy in honor of three team members who will be compete for the UFC on Jan. 26 in Chicago. Jesus-haired Clay “The Carpenter” Guida will make his Featherweight (145 lb) debut against Japanese star Hatsu Hioki. Then, in a lightweight (155 lb) bout with important title implications, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone will face Anthony Pettis. Headlining the card will be Albuquerque native John “The Magician” Dodson, who battles Demetrius Johnson for the UFC’s Flyweight (125 lb) title.
Dodson doesn’t come across like a bruiser. He’s like a ripped teddy bear, with a smile wider than his face. In the cage, he’s blindingly fast and acrobatic—he earned his nickname by back-flipping out of a takedown attempt—with knockout power in his hands that is rare in the lighter weight classes.
How Dodson manages to cut from 155 lbs, his “walking around” weight, to 125 lbs by weigh-ins is a mystery I’d rather not ponder. But he doesn’t plan on making this cut much longer. The Flyweight belt he intends to win this weekend, Dodson told the Alibi, is just a pit-stop on his journey of cage conquest. He wants to be the first MMA fighter to win a world championship in three different weight classes, including bantamweight (135) and featherweight.
“I’ll try and get that first title. If I can’t successfully get that first one I’ll have to go back to the drawing board. But I don’t see that happening.”
Discussing your third title before you’ve even won your first … is that crazy talk? Well, yeah. But then, we’re talking about people who allow themselves to be locked inside of a cage with another trained fighter for the express purpose of determining who can remain conscious the longest. This is a sport that belongs to those who harbor the unwavering belief that they are the best, that no mortal can stop them, and to consider otherwise is beyond the imagination of most elite cage fighters.
Donald Cerrone—who interrupted our interview with Dodson by attempting a sneak head-kick him from behind—is cut from a similar cloth. When we asked “Cowboy” how he matches up with Pettis, he acknowledged his opponent’s elite skills, but said, “When push comes to shove I got a lot of grit. I hope to push the pace, bring it to the later rounds, and fucking give it to him.”
While Dodson has three titles in mind, Cerrone doesn’t seem overly concerned with winning one, despite the fact that beating Pettis will put him near the front of the line for a title shot. This may sound like lack of motivation, but for Cerrone, simply fighting is its own reward. And though he isn’t concerned with the big picture, he turns into a cold-blooded killer in the cage: a controlled fury of redneck-zen poetry, blistering kicks, lighting submissions and the joy of pain.
While he loves to fight, Cerrone will take his adrenaline fix anywhere he can get it. The former pro rodeo rider has not hidden his ambition to become a professional wakeboarder, even while he pursues his MMA career. These plans are unwelcome to UFC brass, who saw an unprecedented number of fighters getting injured in 2012. While none of these injuries were attributed to wakeboarding (or bull riding), a motorcycle accident suffered by UFC Featherweight champ Jose Aldo has prompted the UFC to include a clause in new fighter contracts that forbids certain dangerous activities.
It’s safe to say that Cerrone, who has a barn full of motorcycles and four wheelers, has yet to sign onto this. When he was scheduled to fight in just over a week’s time, Cerrone advised the Alibi, “If you’re not living, I don’t know what you’re doing. I’m going snowboarding this weekend.”
Turns out he went rock climbing instead, to the public chagrin of UFC president Dana White, who pouted about it on Twitter. Coach Greg Jackson may not have been thrilled either, having commented on other occasions that the hardest part of coaching Cerrone is keeping him alive between fights. Coach Mike Winkeljohn told me once about a bad kick to the head that Cerrone had once sustained from his horse.
Dodson, on the other hand, prefers to keep his dangerous activities in the cage. He won’t even fist bump his fellow fighters, out of fear of damaging his valuable hands. But when those hands are wrapped and the gloves are on, Dodson has no problem sparring with fighters a foot taller and 150 lbs heavier, including UFC Light Heavyweight champ Jon Jones on occasion. Those sessions didn’t go well for “the Magician,” but not because of what you may think.
“I used to mess around with [Jones],” Dodson told the Alibi. “But now he just wants to steal my moves. ‘Show me this, show me that.’”
On Saturday, Dodson will look to show all of us his moves, as he takes them to the biggest stage his sport has to offer.
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