Dodson welcomes pressure before big bout
The fight plan is finalized, and if John Dodson executes it to the fullest Saturday night, he'll take another step toward silencing his doubters by becoming the UFC flyweight champion.
Dodson takes on titleholder Demetrious Johnson at the United Center in Chicago. The fight represents the biggest in Dodson’s professional mixed martial arts career.
Most fighters in his situation would feel some tension. They’d become a bit more agitated, less talkative or unapproachable. Not Dodson. He isn’t one to succumb to pressure; in fact, the greater the pressure, the more relaxed he becomes.
More than any fighter on UFC’s roster, in his estimation, Dodson relishes fight night. He embraces frenzy crowds, whether they’re directing cheers or jeers in his direction. Dodson is most happy during his walk toward the Octagon. So when he enters the arena Saturday night, there will be no butterflies in his belly. Expect him to be the happiest, most excited, most relaxed fellow in the building. Dodson will be fighting for the UFC flyweight title and for him, it's business as usual, but on a slightly grander scale.
“I enjoy the moment, being there, just being in that moment,” Dodson told ESPN.com. “How many people can say, ‘I’m walking out to the cage to fight for the No. 1 contendership, fighting in "The Ultimate Fighter" finale or even fighting for a world title'?
“I’m enjoying every moment I’m walking out there. It doesn’t matter if I’m going out there to win, to lose, get injured, it’s a life-changing moment for me. Everybody complains about how happy I am and that I smile too much, that I shouldn’t be that excited. But it’s like winning the lottery.”
Don’t be confused by Dodson’s happy-go-lucky pre-fight exterior. When the horn sounds to commence fighting, he will not be playing around. Dodson’s sole purpose in Chicago is to defeat Johnson. And sticking to the fight plan, which includes more than matching the champ’s speed, will be the key to achieving his desired outcome.
“I think our speed is going cancel each other’s out; that’s the way I see it,” Dodson said. "And if it doesn’t, then it’s probably going to go toward him and I’m going to have to hold him down and tickle him to death.”
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“I’m going to bring a lot of tools back into my arsenal,” Dodson said. “Everybody complains about never seeing me on the ground; well, they might see my jiu-jitsu.
“One thing about Demetrious Johnson is that he changes levels a lot. So if he actually gets a successful takedown on me, I can utilize my wrestling ability or I can submit him off the ground.”
And if his hand is raised after the bout, Dodson does not intend to rest on his laurels. Becoming UFC flyweight champion isn’t the end-all for him. Dodson has his career path mapped out, and claiming the 125-pound belt is just the first stop on a long road. There are two more titles to be had.
“This will be the next thing to check off my list,” said Dodson, 28, who has a pro record of 14-5. “This won’t be my last hurrah. I won’t be looking at it as “I’m the champion now, that’s it; I’m OK with it. I want to still be hungry for title fights.
I'm enjoying every moment I'm walking out there. It doesn't matter if I'm going out there to win, to lose, get injured, it's a life-changing moment for me. Everybody complains about how happy I am and that I smile too much, that I shouldn't be that excited. But it's like winning the lottery.” -- John Dodson, on his positive outlook on fight night
“If I can get the  title, and successfully defend it numerous times, I’d want to move to 135 and fight for that belt as well. I want to make sure I continue to expand my goals. I want to take the 125, 135 and 145 titles and defend them all at once.”
These are extremely lofty goals, and most fighters would not dare place such a heavy burden on their shoulders. But Dodson isn’t your ordinary mixed martial artist. Setting high standards is what keeps him hungry and motivated. He also knows that the majority of fighting observers don’t expect him to attain his goals.
Most don’t expect him the exit the cage Saturday night with the belt around his waist. And that’s fine by Dodson. He loves proving the doubters wrong. It will make his win Saturday night much sweeter.
“I will continue like I’ve been doing all along,” Dodson said. “I can make more of a statement that I’m one of the best in the division and on my way toward becoming one of the best fighters in UFC history.”