When Canadian lightweight “Ragin’” Kajan Johnson steps into the Octagon on Sept. 9 against Adriano Martins at UFC 215 it will have been nearly two years since the TUF Nations competitor last fought.
Injuries were part of it, but Johnson put his gloves to the side as he opened up Tristar Gym Vancouver this past fall. The 33-year-old has seen it all in his fighting career, but the business world was a totally different challenge.
“Things are going great [with the gym] but it hasn’t been an easy process. We’ve had some roadblocks along the way,” Johnson told Sportsnet. “Everything now is amazing. The energy in the gym is incredible. I’ve got an awesome crop of guys who are coming up, we’ve got some active pros now and some world class amateurs. Then a bunch of recreational members as well. We’re very well rounded. It’s like a family.”
Johnson (21-12-1) made headlines this summer at the UFC Athlete Retreat when he voiced his displeasure with the promotion’s apparel deal with Reebok. As the summit was coming to a close, the Burns Lake, B.C., native stood up and spoke out saying he had lost 80 per cent of his sponsorship money due to the apparel deal. While UFC brass was upset with his actions, he did mention there was a process after the fact and also revealed many fighters reached out to him.
“A lot of the fighters [reached out to me]. Quite a few, especially when I was at the retreat,” Johnson explained. “People that I knew, people that I didn’t know were coming up to me. A lot of people wanted to say the things I’m saying and they’re just scared. Pretty much every fighter I’ve talked to has been really happy that I’m doing this and very supportive. It feels good.”
Johnson also revealed that at the retreat he nearly came to blows with fellow Ragin’-nicknamed fighter Al Iaquinta. The two had been exchanging words on social media and the New York native took things personally.
“We actually have a lot in common, me and this guy.” Johnson said. “At the retreat he didn’t like me but he was also hammered drunk. Like Lynyrd Skynyrd drunk. I saw the guy and he realized it was me. He immediately wanted to fight me. I’m like, ‘Yeah OK, let’s make some money,’ He’s like ‘no I want to fight you right now.’ I’m not trying to fight for free at some athlete retreat. I’m eating a hamburger and the guy slaps it out of my hand. I just walked away. I’ve learned how to walk away from situations like that. If I didn’t walk away anyone would be able to control me with their words. That’s part of the martial arts is learning when not to fight.”
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Johnson’s fight at UFC 215 is against an opponent who has also been fairly inactive. Martins (28-8) fought just once in 2016, a split decision loss to Leonardo Santos at UFC 204 in November that snapped the Brazilian’s three-fight winning streak. While on paper Martins may appear to be the favourite in this fight, Johnson says there are many holes in his game.
“I think it’s a very good matchup for me personally,” Johnson said. “On paper he sounds really dangerous. He’s a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he’s got a good double leg. He’s a southpaw, he’s got power in both of his hands. It sounds like a pretty difficult puzzle to solve. But if you look at the application of his mixed martial arts game I see a lot of holes in the game. I’m hacking that system and I’ve got a pretty good recipe to nullify his weapons so I can exploit it.”
One of the things Johnson has really worked on while he’s been on the sidelines is his fitness, something he’s excited to show off in this upcoming fight.
“I had an issue in my last fight (a unanimous decision win over Naoyuki Kotani) with my physical fitness. I was always focussing a lot on my technique. For a couple of camps there my body was breaking down so much that we had to go back to the drawing board and build it up from the ground up. I wasn’t doing a lot of the harder conditioning because I was spending time rebuilding my body. Now that I’m built back up to this level I’m working with New Edge Alliance.”
While he’s not a fan of predictions, Johnson did share some insight into how he thinks this fight will unfold in Edmonton.
“There are a lot of ways I can finish this fight and I think he only has two or three ways. Unless he’s gone back to the drawing board and he’s changed everything from his entire career. He always fights the same. I’m not expecting him to fight the same. I’m open to whatever happens. If he does fight in the way he has been fighting, he’s going to be very confused and frustrated.”