Dodson one step away from being next TUF alum to be title contender

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

TUF 14 bantamweight champion John Dodson, has been fighting bigger guys his entire career. Is he happy to be able to fight guys near his own size for the fight time? The answer will surprise you.

One of the complaints about the Ultimate Fighter reality show is that it's been so long, dating back to season five in 2007 to be exact, since the show produced a bona fide UFC championship contender.

But John Dodson, who won season 14 as a bantamweight, is only a day away from possibly joining in the select group that includes Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Nate Quarry, Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck, Joe Stevenson, Matt Serra, Patrick Cote, Gray Maynard, and will include Nate Diaz in two months.

Dodson (13-5) faces the debuting Jussier da Silva Formiga (14-1), a world class Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitor, on Friday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis in a bout where the winner will face new UFC flyweight (125-pound weight class) champion Demetrious Johnson.

But unlike the aforementioned names, who were in UFC a long time before building their way up to a title match, Dodson has only had two fights, one in the flyweight division.

"I'm all excited about that," Dodson said, who unlike many fighters right before a fight was very willing to talk about what happens next with a win. "Think about it, I've only been in the UFC for less than a year and I'm already going for a title shot. I know it's kind of early, but I can't pass up the opportunity. Who is going to say they would pass up a title shot?"

Formiga is making his UFC debut, although he's been South American champion at 56 kilograms (123 pounds) in the Shooto organization for the past two years.

"To the average fan, he's unknown," Dodson said. "I know he's a world champion in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and his striking has come a long way from when he started. Before, he'd try to take people down and take their back and choke them out from there. Now he's more ready for a striking battle. But if I push the pace, and make him make a lot of mistakes, hopefully I'll knock him out."

Dodson stood out on the reality show in a number of ways. First, he was always smiling and seemed to have endless energy. But why you couldn't miss him is he was the smallest fighter in the house, listed at 5-foot-3 and that's probably giving him the benefit of the doubt. He looked far too small to be competing even with the bantamweights. Visually, every fight looked like he was going to be easily overpowered. But he won all four of his fights, three by knockout.

Dodson actually started his career as a lightweight, just because that was the lightest division around at the time. At the Greg Jackson camp in Albuquerque, N.M., he's constantly training with fighters far larger. Now, with the UFC adding a flyweight division, this is the first time Dodson will be able to consistently face people who are at least close to the same size.

You'd think he'd be thrilled. And you'd be wrong.

"Hell no!" Dodson said when asked about if he was happy to be fighting guys close to his size. "These dudes are fast. Now I have to fight guys my own speed. Speed kills. Strength is all good and dandy if you have the endurance. But bigger guys are like doing sprints. They can do the 40 no problem. Put them out there for two miles and see if they can keep it up. Can they keep up the pace for seven minutes. I don't think so.

"With me, I'm used to having the edge in speed and agility. I pick them apart and I do what I want to do. Lighter guys will be just as fast, just as technical. Now I have zero advantage. I have to find little things I'm better at. With Da Silva, my striking is going to be a lot better than him. He's going to be working to take me down."

Dodson said the key to the fight is from him to avoid Formiga getting his back, or escaping quickly if he does.

"I don't want to be in his most dominant position. He'll want to take my back. I'll shake him off an then knock him out," Dodson said.

Knockout power is something Dodson said he absolutely was not born with.

"I had to work on that," he said. "Mike Winkeljohn (his striking coach) used to say to me that, `If you had knockout power, you'd be amazing.' I had to learn technique and learn to have sit down power. I've been working on it day-in and day-out. It's not something God gave me. God gave me a short body. I've been putting the pieces together so I can be a nice little Pokemon."

Dodson was unhappy hearing fans too during the Johnson title win over Joseph Benavidez two weeks ago in Toronto, but figures if the division has a champion who is knocking people out, people will start loving it.

"If they don't like flyweights, then they don't like Pacquiao, Mayweather and Sugar Ray Leonard," he said. "Those small fighters are awesome fighters. People talking crap about us, come on, the greatest fighters in boxing started in the lower weight classes. The lighter fighters are awesome."

He was excited watching the fight, and even more, hearing his name mentioned as a possible contender for the winner.

"It was a great fight. It was a great way to create the 125-pound title. They were the best two athletes we had at 125. I always thought D.J. was winning. I told people when they announced the tournament that D.J. was going to win the thing. He proved me right. Now, I get to fight the best man in UFC. I was very upset at the fans who were booing for no reason. They put on a hell of a show. They were giving everything they had for a world title shot."

Dodson was running up the cage and doing back flips when he beat Dillashaw to win TUF, and he's already envisioned what he's going to do after beating Formiga.

"If I get any kind of finish, I'll do a 360 back flip off the cage if I can do it. I've been trying to work on a cage flip,a front flip off the cage. I'm trying to outdo everyone else. All the flips and stuff helps me out to be a standout. I'm already short. I don't want people to overlook me."

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