John Dodson is just days away from the biggest fight of his career.
On Saturday night in Chicago, "The Magician" will step in against UFC flyweight champion Demetrius Johnson in the main event of UFC on Fox 6, and a the 28-year-old will finally have his opportunity to prove he is the best flyweight on the planet.
With Dodson being a relatively new face in the UFC fold, describing his title shot as "long awaited" may seem strange, but when you consider the long road Dodson has traveled to reach MMA's biggest stage, it becomes clear Saturday night will be a moment years in the making.
After seven years competing on the regional circuit, the Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter made his official introduction to the UFC fan base by winning the 14th season of The Ultimate Fighter. Competing as a bantamweight, Dodson steamrolled through the reality show's tournament and capped off his impressive run with a first round knockout of T.J. Dillashaw at the TUF 14 Finale.
Immediately following his victory over the Team Alpha Male fighter, Dodson joined the ranks of the newly formed flyweight division and wasted no time making his presence felt in the 125-pound weight class.
Dodson collected back-to-back victories in his first two showings at flyweight, with his most recent performance against Jussier Formiga at UFC on FX 5 earning the Albuquerque-native an opportunity to face Johnson for the flyweight title.
When he steps in against "Mighty Mouse" on Saturday night in the United Center, his moment to validate the struggles and sacrifices will finally arrive.
“It has been a long time coming," Dodson told Bleacher Report. "I’ve worked hard inside the gym and outside as well, to make sure I can get to this point, and everything can finally come together. I’m glad that it has come a long now rather than at an early time when I was a bit more inexperienced."
The match-up between the UFC's two top flyweights promises to be a full-throttle affair.
Both fighters are known to bring the action at a furious pace and their respective strengths present interesting problems for each to overcome. Where Johnson has found success using his wrestling foundation and an attack that always moves forward, Dodson's take down defense and counter striking accuracy make him dangerous at all times.
The stylistic differences between Dodson and Johnson make it an intriguing bout and one the former TUF winner believes he can win by using his skill set correctly.
“I think take down defense and my power are going to be the two things that are going to help me secure the victory," Dodson said. "I really need to stay focused on those two things. I need to make sure I hit him with clean shots from the outside and be prepared to take him down. On the other hand, I have to work to make sure I’m not taken down.
"Demetrius Johnson pushes a really good pace and is so quick with his level changes. He can disguise a take down behind a punch and also the same thing on the follow-up. If he doesn’t get his take downs, he comes right back up and continues striking. I have to match his aggressiveness. My aggressiveness has to meet his forward pressure."
While the main event on Fox is a championship tilt, there has been some brush back from the contestants involved as to how the upcoming fight has been embraced by the fan base.
The UFC flyweight division was only added a year ago, and the match-ups have been met with varying degrees of excitement and disdain from the normally passionate fan base. In addition to the fan feedback, recent UFC on Fox 6 promo spots ran during the NFC Conference Championship game, but failed to mention the weight class.
Dodson believes it will only be a matter of time before the fan base embraces the lighter weight fighters. That being said, he believes the moment to solidify himself as a marketable star has arrived and is eager to establish his name with a worldwide audience.
“Yes and no,” Dodson replied when asked if this fight was the "big stage" showcase he has been waiting for. “Yes, in the sense that it is a main event on Fox. I’m going for the world title and I’m looking to do something most people haven’t been able to and that is to defeat Demetrius Johnson in impressive fashion. That is what I want to do. I know it is going to be an all-out war, a lot of back-and-forth, and I would like to see it come out in my favor.
“Part of me saying ‘no’ is because I want it to be on a wider stage. I want more people to be able to tune into the fight and really be behind me on this. I’ve only been in the UFC for a little over a year. I know I don’t have that much of a fan following and I would appreciate if I had a little more of that fan backing so that people can understand who I am. Even if it is haters, that is still people talking about my fight.
“It’s not a pay-per-view thing at all. I just want more of a fan following. I want people to sit there and realize I am a guy to watch. A lot of people are sitting there not wanting to watch the fight because of the fact that we are flyweights. [Fox] didn’t even mention it during the ads that ran on T.V, and all they would say is that it was a world-title fight or a UFC title fight. They said our names, but didn’t mention the weight class because people have such a taboo hearing about 125-pound fighters. They think that weight should only be for females and kids.
"People say, ‘oh I haven’t weighed that since I was in the third grade.’ And you know what…it’s true. A lot of people haven’t been that weight for a long time, but it’s not the weight I walk around at either. I have to make that weight for the fight, but I walk around at what Donald [Cerrone] is fighting at right now.“
“I’ve been telling everyone it is just a matter of time before people embrace the lighter weight classes," Dodson added. "Boxing is a great example. Boxing was all about the heavyweights because you had Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. But then “Sugar” Ray Leonard came a long and it all changed. He came in and people started to recognize talent at the lighter weights. Then Cory Spinks came along, and the process continued all the way down to the littlest dude who got all the attention in Manny Pacquiao."
When the cage door closes on Saturday night, Dodson will attempt to make his dream of being a UFC champion a reality. Where winning one divisional title is an experience never realized by the majority of fighters, for Dodson it would be the first step in his master plan that includes adding titles in both the bantamweight and featherweight divisions as well.
It is undoubtedly a lofty goal, but ambition is never in short supply for Dodson.
“Being a champion in three weight classes is one of my goals," he said. "It is something I want to do because everyone wants to dream about doing big things—but when you set goals, you have more of a reason to obtain them.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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