Brett Johns (12-0) spoke exclusively with MMA Plus ahead of his UFC debut in Belfast on November 19 and opened up about the difficult path to achieve his dream.
For years the 24-year-old affectionately nicknamed “The Pikey” has been been touted as the number one European Bantamweight outside of the UFC, further defined by his championship wins in Cage Warriors and Titan Fighting Championships.
For Johns, the prospect of signing to the UFC was always on the agenda but nevertheless he admitted it was still an emotional experience when the moment finally came.
“Early that morning my manager [Brian] had told me there was chance that I could feature on UFC Fight Night 98 card, but a few times before my name had been put forward as a late replacement for fighters that had to pull out of fights but nothing had come of it so I was’t going to get my hopes up.
“Then later that evening during a No-Gi session at my gym, my coach called me off the mat and instantly I thought I was in trouble for mucking around during training, which is something I am always getting in trouble for. He called me into his office and there was my manager Brian Butler on Skype and he said welcome to the UFC and I just broke down which isn’t really surprising as I cried so many time throughout my career, I’m a bit of a cry baby.”
For the Chris Rees Academy trained fighter, the news of joining UFC roster was deserved for the Bantamweight who had spent almost every waking hours of his young life in the gym in a quest to achieve his goal of becoming the best.
“Some fighters claim that they live in the gym in a quest to being the best they can be and for them living in the gym means training for six or seven hours everyday. But for me living in the gym at times literally meant living in the gym, which I did for a long time at one point in my career.”
“I would literally train all day and in the evening after the gym had closed I would push together two sofas, put a sleeping bag in the middle of it and go to sleep. I would then be woken up in the morning by Chris [Rees] opening up the gym in the morning to prepare for the first class, at which point I would start training again. I’ve given up a lot to get to where I am today and no one can take that away from me.
“When I started out my goal was to be Welsh champion and I got there after five-fights, which was a dream come true despite fighting in a local social club, then I dreamed of winning a professional titles and I managed that as well. Growing up as a Judoka the most I won was local titles so I didn’t have high expectations when I started training in MMA but I fell in love with the sports and I discovered a drive and passion I never thought I had.”
With his UFC debut imminent many people are sure to believe that the Swansea native will be training even harder in the lead up to his UFC debut, but for Johns it will be business as usual.
“Some people say now that I am signed I will need to train harder because its a different league to what I have experienced before. But I know I train as hard as I can everyday, in my opinion I’ve always trained like a UFC champion since day one, I honestly have, and you’ll see that in Belfast. I train to win and for me its no different now that I’ve signed for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.”
With well documented problems making the 135lbs limit and as a result he has been stripped of world titles on two separate occasions. But with a new found focus and maturity Johns now feels those issues are a thing of the past.
“I’ve had issues in the past making weight but what people don’t realise is that I’m a young man who didn’t have money to train let alone pay for a nutritionist to help me make weight but in the lead up to the fight I am already 5lbs lighter then I was at this stage the last time I was cutting weight because I am taking a more professional approach to that aspect of my training.”
Standing across from him inside the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 99 will be fellow undefeated Bantamweight Kwan Ho Kwak (9-0) who will also be making his promotional debut at the SSE Arena. With both their perfect records on the line the Welshman has no illusions to the task that lies ahead of him when he faces the South Korean.
“Kwan Ho Kwak is a high level guy who like me is an undefeated two time world champion but the only way I’m losing is if he puts me to sleep. I know its going to be a tough fight but I believe I am ready for it. I believe this is a fight between the number one European Bantamweight from outside the UFC against the number one Bantamweight from South East Asia.”
The importance of being the second Welsh fighter to be signed to the UFC alongside fellow countryman Jack Marshman is something that isn’t lost on Johns who is more then aware of the great responsibility that now rests on his shoulders. He feels although, he is more than up for the post of representing Welsh MMA.
“Hopefully with myself and Jack [Marshman] signing the floodgates will now open for the MMA scene in Wales with more and more fighters from my country getting signed in the feature. For me you couldn’t have picked two better representatives, Jack is a paratrooper and you have myself who has been dedicated to martial arts for my my entire life so its a dream come true for both of us and I’m sure Jack feels the same.”