The former Cage Warriors and Titan FC champion has claimed two decisions thus far under the UFC banner, but he has prepared himself for the “the hardest fifteen minutes of his life” against Soto, knowing that only his best efforts will allow him to leave the Octagon with his unbeaten record still intact.
“They asked me who I wanted to fight after UFC Glasgow and I said ideally I’d like to get someone in the top 20 so I could get my ranking up again,” Johns told MMAFighting.com.
“They offered me Soto and he’s close to top 15 if not in the top 15. I look at him as a tough fight. Stylistically it’s a hard fight. It’s not the kind of fight I’m used to. The last guy I fought that was like him is probably James Brum back in the Cage Warriors days.
“Physically, I’ve prepared myself for the hardest 15 minutes of my life, but mentally I’ve prepared even more. I know it’s going to be a hard fight, I’ve accepted that.
“There’s two ways this fight can go. It’s either going to be a fifteen minute decision or it’s going to be a quick knockout. I can see it going that way whether it’s me or him that gets our hand raised.”
Johns’ 14-0 record is one of the most impressive within his division, but even though he has yet to taste defeat, he admits that his self-belief could be improved.
As far as the 25-year-old is concerned, he needs the win over Soto to prove to himself that he ready to take on the world’s best bantamweights.
“If I’m lacking in anything it’s belief. My coaches are very confident that I can do very well against the best bantamweights in the world, but I’ve always been my own biggest critic,” admitted Johns.
“By beating Soto on Friday, that will confirm to me that I can hang with the big boys in the division. That’s what I need.
“No matter what, if I go in there and I give him a good fight and have a good performance, I’ll know that I’m worthy of fighting these guys. I know it’s going to be tough but if I come away with the win it’s going to give me the confidence to go in there against the best guy in the world.”
Soto has competed in elite grappling competitions such as the Eddie Bravo Invitational, but Johns is confident that he has what it takes to mix it up with him in the grappling exchanges. “The Pikey” recently had to prepare for English heel hook specialist Ian Entwhistle – who later pulled out of their UFC Belfast showdown due to weight cutting issues – and believes that the experience will serve him well when he clashes with Soto.
“I’ve mentioned Soto’s grappling ability a lot ahead of this fight and the thing is, people don’t see that side of me an awful lot. I haven’t competed in grappling in over two and a half years now,” he explained.
“That doesn’t mean I can’t, it just doesn’t mean that I haven’t competed. I grapple more than any other session. I wrestle, I do a lot of jiu-jitsu and I have an EBI veteran in my camp, which I’m so lucky to have.
“People are talking about heel hooks, I was scheduled to fight Ian Entwhistle in March, don’t you think I was working on my heel hook defense? The guy is a heel hook specialist.
“I looked at Soto’s heel hook finish of Marco Beltran. In my opinion, Marco Beltran was in the wrong place to defend that. You can make a mistake and that’s when the heel hook usually happens.
“I feel I’m prepared for that. I think it’s mad because I used to be always considered the grappler going in against the striker in my fights. This time around I feel like it’s a bit of a role reversal.”