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UFC 187’s John Dodson: ‘I am the savior of the flyweight division’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

John Dodson isn't deaf to the constant grumbles about his division. The UFC's number-one flyweight contender hears them every time champion Demetrious Johnson fights, hand-wringing over the 125-pound division's lack of drawing power and general disinterest from MMA fans when it comes to supporting the little guys, all despite Johnson's unquestioned status as one of the sport's premier pound-for-pound fighters.

All of that chatter bothers Dodson, in particular, because he believes he's the antithesis of everything Johnson represents. He's vocal where Johnson is unabatedly modest. He carries dynamite in his fists where Johnson relies on an unmatched technical brilliance. In general, Dodson isn't afraid to put himself out there -- he just hasn't had the chance, having been hamstrung on the sidelines while recovering from a torn ACL for the better part of a year.

But now Dodson is back, slated to fight former Bellator champion Zach Makovsky on May 23, 2015 at UFC 187. And when the time comes, he intends on making a statement to all of those restless fight fans out there, the same ones who crave change atop the 125-pound rankings.

"We always thought it was going to be Ian McCall, but Ian McCall hasn't been able to perform the way that he wants to. So I guess I can step up and say that I am the savior of the flyweight division," Dodson said on Monday's episode of The MMA Hour. "If everybody wants to have a last hope for [the division], it'd be me."

In a way, this next fight is somewhat of a step backwards for Dodson. The Jackson-Winkeljohn product was assumed to be the next title challenger for Johnson until his knee injury sidelined him. Now he's not only tasked with proving himself as the number-one contender all over again, but doing so against a man he calls a close friend.

"It's going to go both ways. He's going to know my ins and outs and I'm going to know all of his ins and outs, as well," Dodson said.

"Zach already knows what it's been like to be a champion. He was champion of Bellator, he's been champion of RFA, and I actually helped him get ready to win those titles and get him to the UFC. He was the first man I told to take my place against Scott Jorgensen when I tore my meniscus in my knee. So it's cool for me to go ahead and fight one of my friends, and it's a real honor because me and Zach are boys, he's a great friend and it's just going to be good, competitive action."

Dodson admitted it was initially "disappointing" to get lined up against a friend like Makovsky, though not as much so as it was seeing the duo of lower-ranked contenders that challenged Johnson in Dodson's stead. Between Chris Cariaso and Kyoji Horiguchi, neither of Dodson's replacements found any traction against the champion and both wound up losing lopsided and largely cold-shouldered contests. Dodson now hopes he can change that narrative after dedicating himself over the past nine months to rehabilitating his injured knee.

"There's no such thing as being 100-percent," Dodson said of his recovery. "I feel like I'm good as I can be and I'm just now getting stronger. I've been doing backflips, I've been back to my parkour stuff, just making sure that I'm doing everything in my normal routine. So people who are all sitting there asking me why I'm doing the exact same thing, if I let my knee bother me, if I let it pretty much scare me from doing anything I want to do, then I'm never going to let it heal. If I can't push myself to be better, then it's pointless."

With a successful comeback at UFC 187, Dodson would likely cement himself as flyweight's next title challenger, setting up a rematch of his electric Jan. 2013 meeting with Johnson. That fight was as close as anyone has come to ending Johnson's reign atop the division. Dodson dropped the champion twice in the early stages of the fight, but ultimately faded late to lose a unanimous decision.

Since then, it's not been lost on Dodson that Johnson often sours whenever his own name is brought to the champion's attention. The same goes for now-bantamweight titleholder T.J. Dillashaw, who suffered a first-round defeat at the hands of Dodson back at 2011's TUF 14 Finale.

So now that's he back in the hunt, with two obvious rivals in separate divisions, Dodson is keeping his options open.

"I notice that all the time," Dodson said. "I notice when you guys bring me up to Demetrious Johnson or to T.J. Dillashaw, both of them get super butthurt about the fact that you guys ask them about fighting me. Demetrious had his toughest fight against me and he knows that he'll have one again, another tough fight with me. I potentially could steal that title from him. And T.J. Dillashaw goes around telling everyone that when I fought him, it was a fluke, and that it never would happen again.

"I just keep on looking ahead, man. I'm going to be champion," Dodson added. "I wouldn't want to sit there saying, ‘what if I wasn't champion?' I just know that I'm going to be the champion, and that's a fact I'm going to stay with. I'm going to go out there and bang it out with them dudes, and when I walk away with the championship, I'm going to let them know that we both knew this was going to happen."

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