Dodson draws motivation from his students

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
10:57
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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When word came down earlier this week from UFC president Dana White that Friday's flyweight bout would determine the No. 1 contender, John Dodson jumped for joy.

Dodson has envisioned fighting for the 125-pound title; he just didn't know how soon that opportunity would come.

Now he knows: Defeat Jussier 'Formiga' da Silva on the UFC on FX card at the Target Center in Minneapolis, which Dodson expects to do, and flyweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson is next.

Dodson is excited about making that scenario a reality. But his excitement isn't based solely on personal gratification.

Of course, he's motivated by the possibility of achieving his long-awaited goal -- to become a UFC titleholder. There is, however, another source motivating him -- the mixed martial arts students he teaches in Albuquerque, N.M.

Dodson is a professional instructor at Team Jackson-Winkeljohn, where he also trains for his UFC bouts. Each day when he's done with his regular fight preparation, Dodson turns his attention to the students.

"I was teaching until the day I left for Minnesota," Dodson told ESPN.com. "I use [my students] as extra motivation for myself because I like looking in their faces and seeing how proud they are of me. They are actually texting me as I get ready to fight for the No. 1 contender fight and telling me how proud they are of me. That's an excellent thing to hear."

The pride is reciprocated. Dodson loves the enthusiasm and commitment his students demonstrate during classes.

Their progress warms his heart. Dodson says some students aspire to become professional fighters, but most just enjoy working hard to improve their bodies.

Physically, Dodson will be alone Friday night inside the cage with da Silva.

But when the horn sounds to start the fight, Dodson will have each and every one of his students fighting with him in spirit. They have played a major role in getting him prepared for da Silva.

"Competitively, they help me a lot," Dodson said. "I'm there teaching them techniques, but actually I'm relearning it myself -- things that I forgot about doing years ago, like a basic armbar, how to make it tighter. Yet you see people trying to finish an armbar with their feet crossed. They're not supposed to be doing that, that's a big no-no."

Throughout his training/teaching camp, Dodson was reminded of little mistakes he can't afford to make against da Silva, a high-level jiu-jitsu practitioner. It's the lone area where da Silva has a technical advantage over Dodson.

"He's a four-time world champion," Dodson said of da Silva. "You can't get any better in jiu-jitsu than him. The ways that he can get your back, submit and get different positions -- he moves very, very fluidly. I have to make sure that I can pick him apart. What I have to do is stand and bang, not get taken down and don't let him touch my back. And if he does touch my back, make him pay for it.

"But he only has jiu-jitsu. This is mixed martial arts. You have to have more than one art to sit there and think you're the best. I have a well-rounded game. My striking is better, my wrestling's going to be better and my jiu-jitsu is going to be on par with his. I'm not going to say [my jiu-jitsu] is going to be better than his; he's won world championships."

Aside from having more technical skills at his disposal, Dodson believes he has the physical edge as well. Dodson gives up two inches in height to da Silva, but he views being the shorter fighter works to his advantage.

Being able to fight at 125 pounds is a godsend for Dodson. Though he has competed at featherweight and bantamweight, fighting as a flyweight is where Dodson is at his best.

[+] EnlargeJohn Dodson
Al Powers for ESPN.comFormer TUF bantamweight winner John Dodson takes on Jussier da Silva on Friday for a chance at Demetrious Johnson's UFC flyweight title.
"When I was at bantamweight, I was the fastest fighter," Dodson said. "Everyone who stepped in the cage with me said I was either faster than them, quicker than them or had more agility. But going down a weight class, I still have that speed, explosiveness and tenacity but I'm adding more strength. Now that I'm fighting guys my own size, I feel that I am stronger than the other 125-pounders I compete against.

"I am kind of beefy. I'm short, stocky and 5-foot-3. I'm like a tree stump."

Then there is the confidence factor. The support Dodson receives from his coaches, teammates and students at Team Jackson-Winkeljohn is invaluable.

But there were times in his career when that support wasn't enough, giving Dodson doubts about how good he was or could become. That changed in 2011 when he competed on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show.

"Fighting on 'The Ultimate Fighter' and actually winning it built up my confidence," said Dodson, who was TUF bantamweight winner during the "Team Bisping vs. Team Miller" season. "A lot of people said I had no finishing power. And I knocked out three of the four people I fought. My confidence level isn't where it was two years ago, it's much higher. I have more faith and belief in myself. I know where I am now."

And Dodson has a good idea where he will be Friday night after spoiling da Silva's UFC debut -- celebrating somewhere in Minneapolis. Shortly thereafter he plans to return to Albuquerque and begin preparing for Johnson.

When he arrives, there will be MMA students eager to resume their roles in helping him get ready for the next big fight.

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