At 22-years-old, Brett Johns of Swansea, Wales has come a long way from attending judo at the age of 4. Having already acquired a pair of domestic MMA championships, Johns defied the odds last year by defeating two men in one night to win the Cage Warriors Bantamweight Championship Tournament. Now, at Cage Warriors 67 on April 12 in his home town, Johns will encounter the toughest test of his career to date, a significant threat of which he welcomes in the form of James Brum. Brett recently spoke with us at MMA PLUS, and took us through the journey of his life in MMA.
How did your martial arts career get started?
I was four years old and my Mother was a single parent; she would take me to the local judo club, my sister is a few years older than me and she had started doing judo. A few months went by and my Mother asked if me and my Brother could as well, and the coach said yes. Later, the judo coach and my Mum were together and I’ve been into judo ever since. I’m 22-years-old now, that’s how I got into martial arts as such, I got a black belt in judo from my Father.
When did you decide to make the transition from Judo to MMA?
It got to a point in my judo career where I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I was trying my hardest and just couldn’t seem to get the results. I thought I’d try something else and do my best at something else, and it happened to be mixed martial arts. I was doing BJJ to help my judo at the start, but I fell in love with the sport as soon as I laid eyes on it. The judo’s helped me a lot but the judo style I had was basically a wrestling style, they said “my god, his wrestling’s good”, I’ve probably done about four session of wrestling in my whole life. The rest of it is just adapted by my Father and my MMA coach Chris Rees, they’ve adapted me into this sort of wrestler/judo player.
What are you thoughts on the Judo vs. wrestling argument that seems to be taking place at the moment?
If you remember Bellator; when Rick Hawn fought Michael Chandler, and Chandler subbed him with a rear-naked-choke in the second, you could see the difference. Chandler was a good wrestler and Rick Hawn was an Olympic judo player, but you could see the judo couldn’t keep up to scratch with the wrestling. That’s what I thought would happen with Ronda Rousey vs Sara McMann, but obviously I was proven wrong with that knee. My Dad said Ronda Rousey would win, he’s a traditionalist judo player, he’s judo through and through.
How did you get the nickname ‘The Pikey’?
Funnily enough, people think I’m a gypsy. My nickname was given to me by my friends for the way I used to dress when we’d go to the local nightclubs. I used to love wearing these big thick boots, scruffy old boots that at the time were quite fashionable. When I went out they’d say “Look at that pikey”.
What did it take to become Cage Warriors Bantamweight Champion just two years after becoming a professional?
I always watch a lot of inspirational stuff on Youtube to get me ready for any sort of fight. The best person to get me motivated is Floyd Mayweather, and in the gym it’s a lot of hard work and dedication. That the formula to get belts, hard work + dedication = belts. I don’t think there’s anybody out there who trains as hard as me, I train really difficult situations, I’m not in the gym blasting people. I get beaten up a lot in the gym from putting myself in situations where I need to improve. I think that’s the reason why I win belts, I’m there all the time and I’m training all the time.
How did it feel to be over looked by some as a potential winner of the four-man Cage Warriors bantamweight tournament and how did you feel when you were victorious?
Oh definitely, I was put in as an underdog. I lost count of how many times I was mentioned; “he shouldn’t be in this tournament, there’s much better guys,” I just ignored that. I was offered by Cage Warriors to do the tournament, I was blessed with the opportunity and I just wanted to prove everybody wrong, so for the next 13-weeks I went back to the drawing board and trained hard. They didn’t give me an offer of who I wanted to fight, I thought realistically that I was the underdog and [David] Haggstrom was the favourite. I wanted that fight, I wanted to prove I was one of the best. He’d been stuck in the top-10 European rankings for a few months, and I just wanted to prove the fact that I am one of the best, I am one of the best in the world, I’m definitely one of the best in the Cage Warriors promotion and I do think it’s a matter of time or a few fights now before I’m in the UFC. I’m confident, but not over-confident. I know the next couple of fights are going to be hard, this fight against James Brum is probably the most difficult fight of my career, but these are the fights I want.
Can you tell us about the physical and emotional challenge of competing in the tournament?
One of my coaches came to me a few weeks after winning the title and said to me, “Do you remember what you said to the doctor afterwards? You looked at the guy and said ‘Thank god I don’t have to do that again.’” I couldn’t remember, I’ve blacked out most of that night. I just couldn’t get over it, it was a big thing for me and really emotional with the amount of effort and hard work. The amount of times I’ve cried in the gym, and to release all that energy where a lot of my anger is, in that final fight was brilliant.
After the Haggstrom fight I thought I’d broken a rib, I’d never been kicked like that in my life. After the win was called we went back to the changing rooms to get the medical check done first, before I could go for the final. I put on a brave face, I was hurting all over. They sat me next to Haggstrom and we were talking about the fight, Haggstrom was one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever fought. After that I was taken back to one of the other changing rooms with my coach Chris Rees, and then it hit me that I’d be fighting for a world title and I just burst into tears. I had blood running down my face from the fight before, I was so emotional. I fought for the belt and won that, and was crying after than. It was just one hell of an emotional roller coaster. In a tournament structure, you don’t know what you’re going through, you’re up and down.
I’d love to do it again but it wasn’t easy. I’d done a 3×5 minute fight and ended up being sick because I was so tired, and I had to do 40-minutes (in total) that night.
How does it feel to boast a 9-0 record and be CWFC bantamweight champion?
When I first turned pro (following a 4-0 amateur run) I thought “This is a bit soon”, but it came around and I didn’t expect to be champion for another four or five years. They offered me the world title shot and I turned to my coach and said “do you think I’m ready?” and he said “Yeah, they (CWFC) wouldn’t put you up for it if they didn’t think you’re ready.” That was a big step, to even fight for a world title. If I’d went into that first fight with Haggstrom and got knocked out, I’d have gotten out the cage with my head held high thinking I’ve done well with my career so far.
What emotions do you feel when you think about fighting in front of a home crowd in Swansea?
I’ve got a good fan base, a bunch of good people in friends and family that come out to a lot of my fights. It’s a massive thing for me, I feed off the crowd. I haven’t fought outside of Wales yet, when the crowd are behind me it’s like having an extra person in there with me. It’s an amazing feeling, before the Haggstrom fight I was crying before coming out,it was a big thing with the build up and my heart was racing. I was angry, I was happy; all these emotions in one.
I had been given the option to fight James Brum back in December, before my ruptured MCL, I was going to fight him in Newcastle. I wouldn’t mind fighting away (from Wales), it’s no problem for me, I’d love to go to these countries and fight.
How did you feel about having to pull out of your previously scheduled fight with James Brum due to injury?
When it got called off I was gutted, I didn’t want to pull out but there was nothing I could do. I spent a good few weeks in a knee brace and didn’t train at all, I think that was the lowest point of my life. I was going to sessions to watch the guys train and was feeling twice as bad. I was there in my environment with people training and could do nothing. Once something like that happens it’s devastating, it’s absolutely devastating.
What are your thoughts on James Brum and how he has been preparing for your fight?
James Brum is one of the best in Britain, since Brad Pickett dropped to flyweight he’s one of the top three in Britain and so he should be, he’s a good guy. I think a win over him would catapult me to the top of that division. I want to be up there with the likes of him, Ronnie Mann, and Vaughan Lee; they’re the people I want to fight. I know he’s training in California with Team Alpha Male, he’s got a good team down in Portsmouth, but I’ve got a good team back home, I train with a lot of good guys as well. He might be training in California, he might be training hard as well, but I know I’m training hard, I don’t need to travel to these places to train, I don’t need to do this for a few fight’s time. All the training I’ve done has been back home and it’s worked so far, I don’t know if anyone knows David Haggstrom was training in Alliance Gym, but that wasn’t a factor for our fight. All my training is back home with legit guys. I’m not really a trash talker, I just want to get the job done. I’m excited to fight him and I’m sure he’s excited to fight me as well.
It’s a lot to do with funds as well (training abroad), I haven’t got a lot of funds, lets be honest. I have two or three gyms back home that I go to; Muay Thai kickboxing, BJJ/wrestling, and my Dad’s judo club. I train three times a-day, every day of the week except for Sundays. It’s a mixture between strength and conditioning, standup, wrestling, judo, BJJ, any sort of grappling. It manages to work out for me so I keep everything, if it’s not broken don’t fix it.
Photo credit: Dolly Clew/Cage Warriors