BOSTON -- John Howard found himself in the news a few months back, associated with a story he would have rather not have his name attached to.
One of the terrorists involved in the April 15 bombing of the Boston Marathon, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had trained in MMA at Wai Kru, Howard's gym.
But the Dorchester, Mass. native is pleased to report that if nothing else, he once got the best of the Tsarnaev -- who was killed by Boston police on April 19 -- during a sparring session.
"It was a tragedy because it was close to home and I couldn't believe that something like that could happen and you could know someone like that," Howard said at Wednesday's UFC Fight Night open workouts. "It was crazy, but, I am proud to say that I am the guy, to all my Boston people, we had a rough sparring match one time and he tried to knock me out. I knocked him out, I broke his nose.
"Every time I see his picture on the news, you see his nose was broken. I was the one who did it. I just want my Boston people to know that he did that coward stuff, but before he did that he got a little Boston beatdown."
Howard (20-8) was at Wednesday's open workouts at TD Garden, of course, because he's gotten a second chance in the UFC. Howard, as a substitute for Nick Ring, meets Uriah Hall on the Fox Sports 1 main card.
"It's dream come true, man," said Howard. "Dream come true. As a kid I went to the Garden and saw the Celtics play, the Bruins play. And most of the athletes that play aren't from Boston. But to be an athlete from Boston and play inside the Garden? Dream come true. You call it the TD Garden? In my head's its the Boston Garden."
Howard's won six of seven fights since being cut from the UFC in 2011. But in Hall (7-3), he's facing a much-hyped middleweight, one who rose to fame based on his spinning kick knockout of Adam Cella on The Ultimate Fighter.
"That spinning kick was impressive, but he did it to a kid who had no background in striking, said Howard, who comes from a Muay Thai background. "I have the training, I've been striking for 10 years. Some of the best strikers in the world I've came across. I have the eye to see that. I'm not saying he can't land it, but I'm more like likely to see it."
Joe Lauzon hopes for quick work
Howard, of course, isn't the only hometown fighter who will hit the Octagon on Saturday night. Joe Lauzon will meet Michael Johnson in his second appearance at TD Garden. The first was his UFC 118 first-round submission over Gabe Ruediger.
"When I was here last time it didn't really sink in," Lauzon said. "It was awesome especially because last time the memory was so good. Complete domination. I hope to be able to say the same on Saturday, but we'll see how it goes. I was super pumped up last time. I always thought it was crap like aww, I can feel the energy of the crowd. There's no way. But I wanted to fight so much harder, to hear people chanting my name, going crazy, it was good."
Of course, it would also be good, in Lauzon's eyes, if he was able to score a quick victory. Has last two bouts ranked highly among the best fights of 2012: First his third-round submission victory over Jamie Varner at UFC on FOX 4, then a decision loss to Jim Miller in an absolute war at UFC 155.
"I want to be exciting, I don't want to be sloppy," Lauzon said. "There are some guys who want to go out there and have a kickboxing match, I punch you and you punch me, but that's not what I'm looking for. If it's up to me, I get out there, get a takedown, put ‘em in a submission and end it really quick. In and out in a minute and a half. When it goes long, unfortunately I don't have a complete say on whether I fight those."
The lightweight from E. Bridgewater, Mass. knows that he's a considerable favorite in his fight against Howard, who has lost his past two fights. But he drew on his own experience -- his first-round TKO of Jens Pulver as a huge underdog at UFC 63 -- as a reminder he has to take his opponent seriously.
"I think every fight is super tough," Lauzon said. "I know I'm a favorite, but that means nothing to me. I fought Pulver and he was a huge favorite, like 7-to-1. I definitely don't sleep on anyone, I don't think anyone's a done deal. I don't need the other name to get motivated. I want to be better than myself last time. Maybe Jim miller is a ‘tougher fight,' but it doesn't matter."