Like a lot of fighters, Lavar Johnson usually likes to take a little time to celebrate a win. Nothing major. Just good, decadent food, maybe some adult beverages, and a few days away from the gym to relax and unwind. But after his TKO win over Pat Barry at the UFC on FOX 3 earlier this month, he didn’t celebrate in the typical way. When the UFC called him on Wednesday to ask how he felt about stepping in for an injured Mark Hunt and facing Stefan Struve at UFC 146 next Saturday night, that decision suddenly seemed like a great one.
"Usually I’ll go barbeque, drink some beer and celebrate, but I didn’t even do that this time," Johnson told MMA Fighting. "I’m at a high level right now and I knew I needed to stay on my game. That’s what I’m doing. I’m jumping right back in there and I’m ready to go."
With Hunt sidelined by a knee injury, Johnson now gets a chance to rack up two UFC victories in one month. All he has to do is beat a 6’11" Dutch heavyweight on a week and a half’s notice. It’s the kind of offer that few could have blamed him for turning down, but Johnson described it as an easy decision.
"This is what I get paid to do," he said. "This is what we all do. We train to fight. If I didn’t think I could beat Stefan Struve or anybody else then I wouldn’t be fighting in the UFC, period. I would find a different profession. I’ve got confidence in myself and I think I match up with him good."
At the same time, even Johnson admitted to a little initial concern at the thought of fighting an opponent who’s nearly seven feet tall. There’s almost no time to find a sparring partner who can mimic his height and reach, and even if there were time there still aren’t too many seven-footers hanging out in most fight gyms.
But Johnson said he’s "not really worried" about Struve’s reach (84 inches -- Johnson has it memorized already) or his height, because, as he explained, "I don’t think he really uses his reach, his height. He doesn’t utilize all that. I think I’m faster than him and I hit harder than him, and I’m going to get to him first."
If he does, his bank account will thank him. Johnson has matching Knockout of the Night bonuses from his only two UFC fights so far, and though he’s saving most of the money, he did permit himself the purchase of a new car -- a Chevy Silverado Z71, he said, "four-door, lifted, the whole nine."
At the same time, stepping in on such short notice against an experienced fighter like Struve is far from easy money. While Johnson said he’s injury-free after the Barry fight, he’s watched enough of Struve’s fights to know he has a tough night of work ahead of him.
"You just have to put him to sleep," Johnson said. "That’s the only way to beat him. He’s not going to quit, so I have to hit him on the chin and hit him a bunch of times and put him out."