Next time Lavar Johnson steps in the cage, it will be round rather than eight-sided. The former UFC heavyweight will make his inaugural appearance at Bellator 102 on Oct. 4 against Vinicius Queiroz, in what will be the first round of a four-man heavyweight tournament.
Johnson last fought at UFC 157 in February against Brendan Schaub, a fight that many had circled as a be a slobberknocker. Instead, it turned into a dull affair, in which Schaub was able to neutralize Johnson’s striking by taking him to the ground and keeping him there. Ugly or not, it was the second loss in a row for Johnson, which ultimately resulted in his walking papers.
After that fight it was revealed by the California State Athletic Commission that the AKA fighter Johnson had tested for elevated testosterone levels. He was originally suspended for nine months for the offense, but had it reduced to six months via an appeal.
So, exactly what happened? Johnson was a guest on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, where he recounted for host Ariel Helwani the series of events.
"What happened was basically I was on TRT, I just didn’t disclose it to the athletic commission," the 36-year old Johnson said. "It was my mistake. I was taking such little amounts; me and my doctor didn’t think anything was going to pop up, like it’s no big deal. I guess any time you’re taking any kind of testosterone it’s going to show on the test. So that’s basically what I got popped for.
"You know, if you take steroids they’ll suspend you for a year. I wasn’t taking steroids. I was prescribed [TRT] by a doctor. They suspended me for nine months, and I ended up showing them my prescription from my doctor and everything. They ended up reducing it to six months. That was it. Unfortunately I got released from the UFC, and messed up the good opportunity. But Bellator, they believe in me, and they are going to give the opportunity and chance to showcase my skills."
At Bellator 102, Johnson will once again fight in California -- this time in the town of Visalia, in the central part of the state between Los Angeles and San Jose. Johnson said he began taking TRT after losing his fight to Stefan Struve (via first round armbar) at UFC 146, a fight he took on nine days’ notice. Though he thought he was cut from the UFC somewhat prematurely, he ultimately conceded that two losses in a row wasn’t a platform from which to argue.
Johnson cited fatigue and constant injuries in his fight camps for the reason he took TRT to begin with.
"I was wondering what’s going on," he said. "So I went to the doctors, and got tested, and my testosterone levels were low. They thought they might help out with that, and that’s what I did."
Asked why he simply chose not to disclose it, as other fighters have in gaining exemptions, Johnson essentially shrugged his shoulders.
"I didn’t think it was going to show up," he said. "I don’t know, it was a dumb mistake."
Johnson said that as he ventures into his Bellator fight with Queiroz, he’ll no longer have TRT hanging over his head. He said he is off of it, and will not get back on it again.
"I just don’t even want to take the chance or anything," he said. "I’m just going to ride out my career natural. If I get hurt, or if I can’t compete with these guys, then I just won’t fight.
"A lot of people look down on [TRT]. I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want people to think I need it to be a good fighter to compete with these guys. I’ve been knocking people out since I was like 14 years old. If I can’t compete, and I keep getting injured, then I’ll just be done."
Johnson and Queiroz join former UFC fighter Cheick Kongo and Mark Godbeer in the heavyweight tournament. Though Johnson said he wasn’t looking past Queiroz -- who also had an appearance in the UFC, at UFC 120 -- he did say that he hoped he and Kongo would advance to face off in the finals.
"Everybody knows who Cheick Kongo is, obviously he’s the biggest name on the card," Johnson said. "You know, I’m a big fan of Cheick Kongo’s, and I’ve been watching him for years. My kids pick him on the video game and play with him and everything, so I might get a little more respect at the household if I knock out Cheick Kongo."