MMA fighter John Dodson appeared on Front Row Seat and talked about his life growing up in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area, including living in a section called "The War Zone". He also opens up about severe bullying he faced in high school and how he overcame it. Plus, he's charting a path back to competing in the UFC's bantamweight division.
Watch the full episode:
Here are the show notes along with a transcription of the full interview:
Episode # 2
Episode Title: John Dodson
Episode Description: Sharing his love for his hometown Albuquerque, and how his family pushed his interest in organized sports, John Dodson, showcases his fighting career and challenges he went through that led him to earn the respect as a modern day hero crime fighter in organized sports.
Guest Information: John “The Magician” Dodson is a professional mixed martial arts fighter who competes in the bantamweight division. He is The Ultimate Fighter Season 14 Champion, and went on to fight in the UFC for nearly a decade. He is associated with Jackson-Wink MMA and fights out of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- John Dodson's childhood and interest in organized sports
- Bullied in school
- Career in Engineering and Science
- Introduction and training in MMA and UFC
- Ultimate Fighter matches and trainings
- Fight with Demetrious Johnson
- Second title fight loss with Johnson
- John's successes in the bantamweight division
- On Henry Cejudo's UFC return
- Positive personality as a fighter
Shane: Hello, I'm Shane Mercer and welcome to front row seat, part of the Millions Podcast Network. Our guest today legendary MMA fighter and one of the best bantamweights in the world, John, ‘The Magician’ Dodson. John, how are you, man?
John: I’m amazing. Thank you for having me on, man. I appreciate it. It's been so long since I've been talking to some people, but Shane, thank you, man.
Shane: Let me ask you something. How do you get that nickname, The Magician?
John: You know what, it's so wild. One of my amateur fights, some guy was sitting there just screaming and hollering, he was like, “Oh my God, this guy is flying through the air. He's doing flying, he's flying kicks, jumping off the case. He's like a magician.” I was like, “Yo patent pending, I'm going to take that, that's trademarked by John. That's me.” So I Googled it, make sure nobody else had it like the magician name tag for anything for boxing, mixed martial arts, jiu jitsu and I was the first one. There was an arm bar magician, but it wasn't just the same as being a regular magician.
Shane: So that's how it happened. And it just kind of stuck.
John: Oh it stuck with it and I made sure I ran it with the best way possible, like throughout my whole MMA career from being an amateur to the early starters of m my pros. I made sure do anything that was super flashy and I can knock people out and they kept on asking me what was my favorite magic trick and I told everybody that it was to make people go to sleep.
Shane: Of course. Right? So let's get a little bit into your history and sort of how you found your way into MMA. You're born and raised and you still live in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area, is that right?
John: Yeah, born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is like my hometown. I don't want to ever leave here because of the fact that there's no natural disasters. I mean, besides the drought, I can fix that with a water bottle. Everyone else always complains about it being like horrible and this and that, this is like the best place for me.
Shane: No natural disasters. There we go, that's good. It’s a great way to figure out where to live.
John: Yeah, because I don't have to worry about no earthquakes, no volcanoes erupting, no like seismic toss of anything being like a cow thrown out my window, no Wizard of Oz tornadoes coming through or hurricanes, or floods. Those are the main things. I'm like, you know what? This is the perfect place. I can sit there and get a taste of all four seasons and still be happy and content. Let's go.
Shane: From the sounds of it. It sounds like since you're still there that you liked growing up in that area, the Albuquerque, New Mexico area.
John: Yeah, like this is pretty much a staple for me. Like growing up here and make sure I can go ahead and build the character that I am and I've seen like the ups and downs and pretty much how people will see the worst of it. But I also see the beauty of this town as well. I get to see how all the different sceneries and the sightseeing, going hiking, and everything else that made me love the city even more in the rich history that we have.
Shane: To tell me a little bit about that. Like what if I came to Albuquerque? Like where would we go?
John: Oh we'll go see some ghost towns, we'll go see some national monuments that people don't really care about. But I really take you out to some of the places that I love and then in the mountain ranges. We go out to see pretty much all the nice hikes that you probably would die on because hiking out here in the elevation kills a lot of people when they're not used to it.
Shane: I believe that. Plus the heat. Oh man, I'm just sweating thinking about it.
John: Well we're actually like a high desert, so we're kind of like Denver but a desert Denver.
Shane: So talk to me a little bit about your family. You're half African-American, half Filipino. Do you have any brothers or sisters? And what was it like growing up? What was your family life like?
John: My family life and me and my brother would just basically sat there and ran around doing anything wild and crazy. So I have a younger brother who's 18 months apart from me. So we're really close in age and we've done everything together. Like we pretty much beat up everybody to save everybody's life or get into everything. I wasn't up for trouble possible. Like we were those kids that no one liked to mess with because they knew that they mess with one, you’re going to mess with both of us and they could handle the both of us.
Shane: Oh geez, alright, so it was a tag team situation, you guys are going to take people out as a team.
John: Of course because we're always tagging each other in left and right. It doesn't matter if we need the help or don't need the help, we're still getting tagged in because we both want to enjoy the fun.
Shane: Did you guys get into a lot of fights growing up? Like was there a lot of schoolyard scuffles and that kind of thing?
John: Well there was a lot of altercations that we had then, like when we were growing up. Me and my brother sat there grew up in an area part of the town called war zone and that's now called the International Zone to be more peace-y.
Shane: Wait, wait, wait. Hold up. A placed that’s called war zone?
John: Yeah, so out at Albuquerque we have like this designated area where it was called the war zone and one sun fell like sunset came through you should be at your house at this park where we live close by to it, it would just be known as a war zone. Like everybody would go out there and a bunch of gangs will go and do what they need to do to separate the rivalry and kind of have to find out who's the better people. Me and my brother would always go out there and stay true to ourselves. We would be, hey, we're going to stay and hold our ground. If anybody messes with us, we're going to go beat them up. And if they want us to go do some dumb things, we're going to tell them no because we have other better things to do in our lives. Like we wanted to get out of Albuquerque, but then we kind of just stayed there.
Shane: You ended up still fighting but things to love about it.
John: Well, this day and age we found things on what we want to fight for in Albuquerque. So we want to make sure that we can inspire other people to become better than what the surrounding areas are. Like, even though people want to leave Albuquerque to go make a successful career, I want to show people that you can make a successful career here and doing amazing things like fighting, you can go ahead and be an actor now, we've got other sports that you guys can go ahead and move to and that's all accumulated through here.
Shane: How important was it to have that person to kind of lean on when you're facing those tough situations or those temptations? How important was it to have that other person close in age that you could lean on?
John: It was amazing because like my mom worked three jobs. So me and my brother basically raised ourselves. We just sat there and went to school together, did our homework together, we made sure we kept each other like out of trouble and stayed together. Everything that we did, we made sure that we made each other better and kept on pushing ourselves to be the better versions of ourselves each and every day. So I know that I have my brother looking up to me so I can't ever do anything wrong in his eyes.
Shane: Wow, that's a lot of responsibility.
John: Oh, absolutely.
Shane: Yeah. When do sports enter? You know, when do actual like organized sports or even individual sports? When did you start taking an interest?
John: Actually, my mom threw me in like organized sports since I was like five years old. So as soon as I got into anything, she made sure I can go ahead and try to stay out of trouble since we were living in like such a rough neighborhood. She wanted to keep us out of danger. So she was like, “Hey, I want you to do this.” So I played soccer, football, I did wrestling, I ran track and field since I was pretty much as I could walk, I did track and field. But every other sport that I could possibly get my mom could possibly get us into that was like a club activity, she threw us into it. She's like, “Hey, I need you to go do this. Hey, go do that. Hey I found parks and recs did this, you're going to play tennis this time.” I was like, “What the hell is tennis?” So I found out what sports I liked and what sports I didn't like because it was just boring. I was such a hyperactive kid. I need something that can draw my attention to hold it and keep it as much as possible.
Shane: Right. So, which ones was it then that kind of grabbed you?
John: At first what grabbed me was definitely basketball. Baseball was like the least favorite of mine because it was fun to hit the ball, but standing around waiting to hit or to wait for somebody to hit the ball to me was so boring. Gymnastics was one I really wanted to do because I watched it all on tv because I kept on watching the Olympics because my mom made me watch it. And I want to do gymnastics and I said, “Okay, let's go ahead and try this.” And she'd be like, “No, we don't have the money to go do that.” So I would go and experiment gymnastics out on the concrete and figuring out what flips I can do and then I realized I could do flips out of trees.
Shane: Wait, I mean you're doing flips on concrete?
John: Yeah, because we don't have really much around then. So I went outside and did like flips out there. I learned how to do back handspring, back handspring and then to do like I do back flips, I learned to do out of trees. I just put mattresses down but still it hurts.
Shane: Okay, so you have the mattresses to kind of break the fall a little bit for when you did slip up?
John: Yeah, I wasn't completely stupid. I mean I did some stupid things, I wasn’t going to leave me off guard and then like you know how the, like when you have those stairwells that you can put your fingers like your hands through it. So I learned how to do like uneven bars through that. So I would jump up to the bars and coming back down. Apparently now it's like American Ninja Warrior, but back then I thought it was still the Olympics.
Shane: You’d be a great American Ninja Warrior contestant.
John: I went on American Ninja Warrior and then I didn't -- like I messed up and they want to bring me back and I was so heartbroken because like when they called for the callbacks, they're like, “Hey, can you do this?” I was like, absolutely. And they're like, “Hey, John do you want to fight for titles?” American Ninja Warrior, fight for the title. Sorry, American Ninja Warrior, I got to go this way.
Shane: An opportunity missed. I mean, maybe they'll give you a call back or something. Maybe you’ll get a chance to give it a try again.
John: I mean, I hope and I've been training with this guy who actually trains out here has been on the first 14 seasons of American Ninja Warrior. And I was like, hey Josh, man, if you want, I can come over here and come help and train and teaching the kids. He goes, ‘Well you're more than welcome here anytime. I got your picture on the wall and if they call you back, hopefully you'll bring me with you.” I was like, alright, fair enough.
Shane: Alright, so, it's not ruled that there might be a shot at the American Ninja Warrior championship at some point.
John: I mean at some point I'll keep my fingers crossed. Like I want to get back in there. I know I can go ahead and complete the course. My whole thing is I just want to run the warped wall and then try to hit that 14 ft warped wall since everyone keeps on saying it's impossible. I was like, the record was at 10 ft, I can definitely hit the 14 ft because I used to do 14 ft one with a 50-pound weight vest. So I was like, I can definitely do it. Easily.
Shane: Wow in a 50-weight vest, man. That's intense.
John: Yeah, I was trying to make sure I can do it. I was like, no, I'm absolutely going to make sure I can do this. Like somebody already beat the record for being the shortest and he was 5’1, so I can't beat that because I'm not going to actually shrink to 4’11.
Shane: He had you by just a couple inches, I guess. Right?
John: It's heartbreaking.
Shane: Well, so tell me that as you go on and you're exploring sports and that kind of thing, you end up in high school, high school is always a time where people are kind of finding themselves especially athletically and figuring out, hey what am I actually really good at here? But you played a few sports in high school, right?
John: I'm a four-year leadman in football, wrestling and track the only freshman on my high school football team and I play special teams, I was running back and I was amazing at it. And then for wrestling again, I still won the only freshman on the wrestling team. I just sat there trying to go out there competing at one like 112 and 119. From that point on, I once stayed at 119 and 125.
Shane: You would have been a freshman, so you're one of the younger guys out there. But on top of that, you're also one of the smaller guys out there.
John: I'm 7 ft tall.
Shane: I mean, I'm just wondering though, because you're not only are you young but they're looking at you like, who is this guy? He's one of the smallest guys out here and he's really young. Does he belong here? Were you accepted into that club?
John: So on that note, actually left from Albuquerque living in a war zone being the only like black and Asian kid, here to go into all white school out in the countryside called Moriarty, and that was just being the only, what they didn't see Asian, they just called the only black kid in our school. So they're like, oh, we can't have this like hood kid come into our school and overtake us into sports. I was like, man, I'm not trying to do that. And I was always so happy, just go lucky, I'd be dancing like the commons because I was doing that in the middle school. We would only be dancing and just having music vibing. And they thought I was like, showboating and highlighting what I could do. And I was like, no, I'm just having a good time.
So I wasn't accepted at all. I got trash canned, hung. I got shot with paintballs. I got dragged across like the pavement all across my back and I was actually had like, my mom was mad because of the day that I got hung. I like all kinds of rope burns all over my neck. And, she's like, “What happened?” I was like, “I can't tell you what happened because it's going to be stupid. But yeah, I just carried myself off the rope and I came home.” She was, “Are you okay?” I was like, “You know what, what you said doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. I'm going to live in another day. So apparently I'm going to be stronger after this.”
John: So pretty much I got bullied throughout from like all football season and the halfway through wrestling season. Like even the wrestling team didn't like me. Like the kids that were my age that were my friends and I only had like three or four of them. I had like three or four like really good friends that I kept with and they just kept on like, “Hey man, just keep it up. Hey man.” I was like, “Alright man, like there's nothing really that's going to be too bad throughout all this.” Like my personality is going to shine through one of these days.
And then one random trip that we went with the varsity team, they all saw who I was as a person and my character came through because this girl was getting beat up by her boyfriend. I end up going tackling the guy and I didn't know the girl was actually one of the girls I was supposed to compete against at 112, but I went out there and I fought her boyfriend said, “Hey man, don't do that. You can't sit there and be hitting these women like what's wrong with you?” And like everybody on my team then became like, “Hey man, we like you, hey, you're cool, you're like nice guy. Like what made you want to do something like that?” Like I was taught to be a defender or bully beater upper, like that's what we did when I was in middle school and I'm going to keep on doing that the rest of my life. And that point on that like everybody just had like a new turned a new leaf on me. Like they had a different point of view who I was because instead of them thinking I was a hoodlum, I was a guy that was pretty much just wrong place, wrong time type of the person.
Shane: So much there. I mean first you know, you call it bullying, but to me that's beyond bullying. This is the hate crime territory of the kind of thing that you experienced there and then on top of that I mean it took you to be a modern day hero crime fighter type guy to earn the respect.
John: You know what? We can see it however we want to. Like, I don't care if it's a modern day hate crime. It’s the hate crime to this day and age. Back then I was just considered to be bullying or hazing and I'm glad I've been hazed to the point where anything bad happened to me, like where I was going to be ended or end myself. I just kept on staying true to who I was and believing the person who I always will always be and this is happy person who's going to enjoy life no matter whatever [0:14:36] that's coming in between it.
Shane: Man, that's an incredible attitude to have and I mean, it's shown all through your career as I've watched you as a UFC fighter, I was always like this guy is super happy all the time, great energy. It's just incredible to hear that that's sort of the kind of adversity that you faced with in your adolescent formative years as they say.
John: Yeah, you can sit there and say call of that. I'm just glad that I survived all that and I'm still good looking and nothing bad happened, I got all my limbs, that's all I care about.
Shane: So, you graduate from high school, you made it through, you ended up planning to go to the University of New Mexico. What kind of career did you think you were going to have at that time as you were leaving high school, getting ready and applying to university and preparing for post-secondary school? Where did you sort of see your future at that point?
John: My scholarships. I turned them all down. The only one I wanted to keep up with was U&M because I was going to school at U&M at the time and when I was a junior and senior year I was doing my college courses so that I can do computer engineering because I was a computer engineering and computer science major.
John: So I was doing all of that. I turned down my scholarship to University of Miami for track and field at Texas AM at Adam State if I had a full ride. And also I got a wrestling scholarship to Penn. So I was like alright, cool, let's go ahead and not do any of these because I don't want to be my sport, be my job, I'd rather go ahead and be my academics be there. And I went to U&M. And I was making sure I was keeping it up and I was all bored with it, working at Chuck E. Cheese.
Shane: How long did you work at Chuck E. Cheese?
John: Wow. I think I worked there for about six years.
Shane: Six years at Chuck E. Cheese.
Shane: Like what? All through your teenage years kind of thing?
John: I worked on my junior senior year and then a few years after high school. I was sitting there going through with it and making sure I can go ahead and do everything possible. And everyone kept on asking me, “What are you going to do?” Well I had this one table to sit down, it was Chris Luttrell’s son's birthday party and there's a whole table full of cops. And they were like my senior, they're like, “Hey what are you doing after high school?” I was like, “I'm going to go to U&M though.” They're like, “They don't have wrestling team there.” I was like, “Yeah, I know,” but are you sure? Like, “You're such an amazing athlete, what are you going to do?” I was like, “Well I'm just going to go study on computers, I'm going to go ahead and do all that because I found a degree that I'm really going to be smart at because I'm going to design video games later in life.”
Like, “No you're not. You should come over here, come to Jackson's and you are going to be an athlete and make a mark on the world.” No, I'm going to go to U&M then I'm going to get this degree. And he was like, “No you're wasting your talents.” And I was like, why? A talent is something that's anticipated in time and school is always going to be there so you can always relearn how to learn and it's just going to be found, it's going to be sitting there waiting for you to come back after your greatness is over. And I was like, just all right, let me go ahead and test this out.
And I went in there and I was doing front flips over people left and right over at Jackson's and then behold once we hit the Jiu-Jitsu part, I wrote down the name of everybody who tapped me out, make sure I walked super funny the next day or I put them on my hit list. I was like, “Man, when I finish this hit list, I'm going to retire from the sport.” Sadly, but they retired before I ever got a chance to, so I'm stuck doing this work.
Shane: You're stuck. Hey, you're referring to Jackson, but we need to make this clear for people who don't know. You weren't just pulled into the world of MMA by just anyone we're talking about Greg Jackson, one of the legendary MMA trainers, one of the most renowned trainers in the world that recruited you to be an MMA’s athlete. I mean, how did that feel at the time? And did you even really comprehend who he was and what that meant?
John: To tell you the truth, I got recruited by Chris Luttrell and Chris Luttrell brought me in and then he knew who I was. Chris Luttrel was one of Greg Jackson's original black belts and then they kept on talking after pretty much an hour of session going, “Hey man, what were you doing? What you want to do? What do you want to do in your life?” I was like, “If you guys want me to fight, I can do that. Like you guys kept on talking about UFC,” the UFC at that time only had 155 and then all of a sudden six months later they kicked the 155 division out there like lightweights. Yeah, no longer needed, we only need 170 above and then they're like, “Hey, so you can fight overseas. Probably got you and like you can fight at Ashudo [ph] you can do amazing stuff over there. I was like, do I really want to travel a lot? And I was like, yeah, sure why not.
And then after we kept on going through that Greg had trained me to start becoming Greg Jackson like so everything Greg would want me to know that he know, he taught me. And he kept on replacing all the knowledge that he wanted me to do and he kept on replacing all of his classes as my classes. So I would be taking all over a lot of his classes. I started teaching the first six months of training there. He's like, “Hey, I need you to teach wrestling, can you teach Jiu-Jitsu?” And then Mike Winkeljohn started to have me coming through teaching all these kickboxing classes too. So he's like, “Hey can you teach my kickboxing classes?”
And then all of a sudden I just realized what they needed, they needed me to replace them when they got done retired and was like, “Oh y'all, y'all slick. You guys didn't want me to fight. You guys wanted me to be a teacher.” Like Sean Shelby at the time, sat there and told me that my style wasn't creative enough to go ahead and be put into WC. And then all of a sudden they had trials for Ultimate Fighter. Ultimate Fighter Season 14. They're like, “Hey, do you think you could win this whole competition?”
Shane: Hold on, I got to stop, I got to stop you. Somebody told you that your style wasn't creative enough?
John: Yes. So Sean Shelby, the matchmaker for Milton Fighter told me I was not creative enough because I wasn't finishing people. I wasn't finishing every person. So I had a lot of TKO victories and I also had a near death experience by killing somebody on the tap out series, like their road trip. Like how the UFC had looking for a fight, the tap out series did one and I was on the second season.
Shane: Yeah, it was like a reality show before the Ultimate Fighter. Right?
John: Well I actually during the Ultimate Fighter. They were just going around looking for a fighter so they can promote. I almost accidentally killed somebody by slamming this dude solely on his neck. He had an [0:20:40] and I picked him up and threw him into the ground and then he didn't move for like 20 minutes. And I was like, “Yep, this is the episode I get arrested on.” I was like, praying. I was like, because like, coach, I didn't mean to throw the guy on his neck. He had, to get you. So yeah, he had all right to drop on his neck and his head. I was like, “Yeah, but coach, I'm going to go to jail.” They're like, “He signed a waiver, he's okay, don't worry about it.” I was like, “You think they're going to sit there and just glorify this?” I was like, “No, absolutely not.” He got up, he walked away, he was perfectly fine and I was like, “Oh, thank God.”
Shane: Okay, that must have been a scary moment though. I mean, to think that you might have seriously hurt somebody or worse.
John: Yeah, actually, because I was like, man, like, I always look at the sports as a competition. I always want to be better than somebody. Like, I'm not trying to go ahead and physically hurt somebody. I'm just trying to sit there and to prove a point like, “Yeah, I can do this…” Yep, see I'm way better than you. That's what my whole style was always about. It's like sitting there, showing people that I'm physically faster, physically stronger. I can go ahead and do things and still laugh about it at you. Like, you're hitting me in the face, I'm still thinking, it's like, “You're tickling me… Stop it. It just giggles.”
Shane: So, we're on the Ultimate Fighter. So when you were heading into that show and the reality show, you were already a pretty established MMA guy, right? I think you had what, 20, 21 fights under your belt? 16 wins or something like that? Right?
John: I'd say it was 11 and 5. Everyone was like, hey, we got the rankings for the Ultimate Fighter. I was like, “Okay, cool. Yeah.” Because they showed up who was cast and who's coming through with it. And they're like, “So out of the 32 fighters are on the show, you're ranked 18.” I was like, “What, 18? Who's above me?” And they had all these people that TJ Dillashaw was ranked number one because he was the golden boy to win the whole thing. And I was like, “Okay, cool.” And then the people who I was scouting to be for the 135 matchups, we're all in the 145. Like, Jimmie Rivera, Bryan Caraway, man, I was like, “Who the hell am I fighting? And I didn't even put TJ Dillashaw in the mix because I didn't even know who he was going into,” like, so when I found out what the rankings were, because I was like two days before we were about ready to leave. I was like, “What the hell.” I got all offended, went in there. And the first day when we were finally got to see each other and we all finally got to hit the winds. I looked at TJ, I said, “Hey man, I know you're going to make it in this house. I want you to be my first opponent.” He goes, “Alright, done.” I said, “Cool, I'm going to murder you.” Not intended… I'm going to go out there and just destroy you.
So I ended up beating like the dude, he beat his guy and then we started like got on the show, he was on the other team. I got picked on the other one and I was like, “Hey, so keep your promise. You sat there and said you mean you're in the first fight. Let's do this.” He’s like, “Alright, cool,” kept on going through the whole thing and I just kept on demolishing everybody. I was like, “Dude, be the second fight.” He goes, “No.” Well, I didn't know Carraway since he was on my team. He was actually TJ Dillashaw’s his real teammate. He was like, “Hey, you don't want to take him on,” because Bryan Caraway actually trained with me a while back ago. And then while we're in the Ultimate Fighter, I was tapping them out. So I was beating him in the areas that he was beating TJ in. And he's like, yeah, John's legit on the ground and he has a better wrestling pedigree than mine. I was like, “Yeah, I don't get taken down.”
Shane: So, you're going through the show then and you and you and TJ are having this this sort of back and forth where oh you know, I want to fight you. No, I don't. Yes, I do. And it doesn't happen until the finale. Of course, couldn't have been scripted that way?
John: It could have. Here's the thing like Diego Brandao was part of the show and he was the 145, he's my actual teammate and he was gone there at 145 and Diego Brandao did something so amazing that if he wasn't on the show, I don't think these people would have been as afraid of me as they were of him because Diego literally threatened to demolish people and like end them every chance he got. He was like super hot-tempered and he just flared, “I'm going to murder you…” and I was like, “Yo, yo calm down,” and everyone was like, “Why do you control him so easy?” I was like, “I don't control him.” That's the one thing. Secondly, he's afraid of me because he knows the damage I can do to him. They're like, “What?” Everybody's faces turned pale white. They're like, “Huh? Wait, wait, why is he afraid of you?” I was like because in practice I get the best of him. They're like, “What?”
So that was like my golden ticket. I was like, oh yeah, I can lie about this. Yeah. So I tapped him out. I knocked him out of the practice and all this stuff. Yeah, I do all the bad things to him. No one was, that's not true. They were just like, oh my God, he said and they listened to him. He has to be telling the truth. I was like, “Thank you for this moment,” he was like, “Yeah, I hiked it up as much as possible. I told everybody the biggest lie I've ever told in my life.” And it got me to like the fear status of the whole show because everyone's like, man, he must be hitting him hard.
And then it did help because Diego would be like, “Oh yeah, this one time in practice he hit me so hard. I was sore for like four days. I couldn't even think straight,” and I was like Diego, “Yes, thank you.” He was like hyping me up too. I was like… he made it sound like I was a mini killer. And I was like yeah, I got bazookas in these arms. Uh-huh. And I just kept on walking around mean mugging everybody like, “Yeah what's up? What you got to say to me? Say it. Say it to my chest.
Shane: Before we get to the fight of the finale with you and TJ, I got to ask you too about the coaches. This was the Michael Bisping and I think it was Jason Millard where the coaches, right?
Shane: Two personalities to say the least. Right?
John: Absolutely. And I thought Bisping was going to be like, the guy like, oh man, I need to go on his team. He's the guy that's been here before, and he's going to be like the best coach ever. Wrong. Man, Millard was the best coach I've ever had. It felt like I was had Greg Jackson in my whole team already there. Like, Jason was just like, so like, methodical, he was so cool, so calm and collected. He was like, my Greg Jackson, he was so just like, God, I was like, alright, cool. And then, like Parsons was like, was my Winkeljohn, I had [0:27:05] who was my multi coach. Danny Garcia is my boxing coach, and Kamaru Usman was my wrestling coach and we were already there. Like, everybody was sitting there where we're just like vibing. I would go out there and go hit with Mel [ph] and I go mess with Kamara Usman and then me and Jason will sit there and like try to get some things going on and he’s like, “You're just too little for me.” I was like, “Dude, I don't know how big you think I am, like your coaching bantamweights and I'm a flyweight.” He goes, “Yeah.” I was like, “Yeah, so I don't know how much you think I'm going to sit there and pick you up and carry you across the room.” He goes, well, you could. I was like, do I want to? No, that's too much energy. He’s like, you're just like a lazy fighter. I was like, I'm not lazy, I just overthink things.
Shane: That's kind of cool though that Kamaru Usman back then, he was helping along.
John: He was. He was one of the guys that helped me get to where I wanted to be like. He kept on being like that extra hype, man. I kept on calling him after the show and the same thing with Jason, I kept on keeping up with him too, because I wanted to just keeping connect with those guys. Those guys were the guys who were my building blocks to being that successful fighter in the house.
Shane: How much do you think that a guy like Kamaru training you at that time helps him become the guy he is now?
John: Seeing the process that I had to go through for the Ultimate Fighter made him so much easier for him to go out there and be so successful in his Ultimate Fighter. And then for him, he just got that success after that and his confidence status is just unmatched. That dude's mental state and mental capacity of being great is ingrained in him that something that can’t be taught. He just knew that from the beginning, from the get go and just anybody that kept on mouthing off to him, he just kept on telling himself and remind him that he is who he is.
Shane: Yeah, I mean, and right now he's the undisputed welterweight champ pound for pound, top pound for pound fighter in the world. So let's wrap up the Ultimate Fighter period, it ends just the way that you almost wanted it to begin from the sounds of it.
John: Yeah, I want to knock out TJ in the beginning and all of a sudden they had to wait till I do it on the Ultimate Fighter. But I mean, after the Ultimate Fighter season finale, I can't get too mad because I got a nice hefty bonus for that knockout of the night for that one.
Shane: There you go. And you know, both you and TJ went on to have really long careers in the UFC. I mean, TJ is still fighting in the UFC.
John: Yep, he is. And you know what, more power to that dude. I wanted him to keep on having a great successful career until I come back and go ahead and get that title from him because I know TJ is going to get that title. There's no doubt in my mind. I think TJ's actually going to go back at 135. He fights with Aljamain Sterling or if they give TJ somebody else to fight, he's going to go out there, climb the ranks and get that title again.
Shane: Do you think that will happen and you think he's going to get it?
John: Oh absolutely. I think that he's going to. I just can't wait to go ahead and take it off from him.
Shane: There we go. I can't wait to see that fight. Through your UFC career, there's another guy then that you know that we've got to talk about and your previous shots at the title, Demetrious Johnson. You had your shot at him the first go around. Talk to me about that first fight with Demetrious.
John: Man, that first fight against Demetrious Johnson, I was just so starstruck, being the main event for the first ever Fox title fight. Like they kept on telling me how important this fight was going to be, how momentous it was going to be. And we were the first 125 fight to fight on Fox and there's a free card. So I was like, “All right, cool. DJ versus JD.” And then everybody kept on saying, “Yo, Mighty Mouse, Mighty Mouse, Mighty Mouse.” I thought DJ was around me, no, and they were talking to me and I said, “No, I am The Magician, you guys, I'm JD, JMD not DMMD. J, my bad. You guys look the same. I was like, “I have no tattoos and he has a beard.” Like yeah, you could have shaped. It was like, hmm, cool. I'm going to make you remember my name after this fight.
And that first time we first go around. I hit with that first knockdown, I didn't know that was he was going to go down so easy. I was like, no that's a lucky shot. And I just kept on reminding myself that this man is one of the greats, like he's been a part of the UFC for so long fighting the WC. I was like, there's no way I could touch him this easy and I should have believed in the energy I had going into that fight and knock him out because I didn't just have one sometime I missed at five different occasions. I brought them once in the first round, twice in the second, three times on third. And they're like, “Yo, John what are you doing?” I was like, “I don't know.” I was like apparently I just won the first three rounds so I can't lose this fight. Lo and behold, the judges proved me wrong.
Shane: They say don't let it go to the judges. That must have been what you were thinking at the end of that.
John: Yeah. But apparently the judges were looking at me as the same way as they kept on looking at the fans looking at me. They thought I was Demetrious Johnson with all the knockdowns. No, it was John Dodson who had all the knockdowns and they just scored the card just wrong.
Shane: So you really feel like that first title shot you got robbed?
John: Oh absolutely. I had Dana White coming up to me after the fight and I applaud it because I was like, you know what, you have to really beat the champion to be the champion and that's what I was getting great in my head. You got to beat him. Like the only way you can actually successfully win this title is like finishing this dude. Not just dropping a bunch of times and like show booty, no, I went out there and I got controlled the 4th and 5th round because the first time I ever went to the 4th and 5th and I was just done for, I was like, well he doesn't hit that hard, I'm not going to go to sleep. I'm definitely going to sit there and survive these next two rounds and I should just try to go out there and push more and submit to the fact that I was the champion. And since I couldn't, he won.
Dana White came up to me and saying, “Hey man, you won the first three rounds, you should be in our champion. Don't worry, you'll get another shot.” And I was like, oh another shot at this, I can definitely deal with that.
Shane: So did that make it easier to kind of swallow them to know that hey, Dana felt like I won and he's saying I'm going to get another shot. I guess makes it easier to kind of move on and move forward?
John: To tell you the truth what actually made it easier to swallow is hearing the crowd's reaction because before Dana even talked to me when they announced that Demetrious Johnson was the champion still everybody booed and when they heard me get on the mic, everyone cheered. That made me feel like more of a champion than anything else than having that belt around my waist because of the fact that I became the people's champion and everyone knew how strong of a fighter and competitor I was in that division. So as he progressed and becoming the legend of mixed martial arts that he was for the flyweight division, I became the ultimate rival to Demetrious Johnson.
Shane: Would you consider that moment a career highlight?
John: Oh absolutely, that one and winning the Ultimate Fighter were definitely one of my career highlights of all time because of the fact that I set out to do something that I never thought I could by winning the Ultimate Fighter and becoming a UFC fighter. And then not only sitting there having a chance to be in a champion, I became the people's champion and where everyone who didn't like 125 in that flyweight division, I solidified saying that we are one of the most entertaining divisions out there in the planet.
Shane: The pace at which the fights take place in those divisions, flyweight, bantamweight, it's just unreal.
John: Oh man, I know. It's just phenomenal to see the technical aspects of what we have to go through. Hate to say it, but heavyweights, you just have to be really strong. You hit somebody one time and they’re dead. Knockout’s easy. The flyweights, you got to make sure that you have to be accurate, speed, and you also have to outsmart the other opponent. So you have to go out there and be better at all aspects of the game versus just being good at one.
Shane: Right, just being strong. Dana says you're going to get another shot and a couple of years later you get that second shot at Demetrious. So talk to me about that second fight with him.
John: So I just got off ACL surgery. Me and my wife are expected to have a kid for the second fight. I flew out to Vegas to fly back to Albuquerque to deliver my baby girl, my daughter, Delilah Dodson she was born on the week of my second title fight. We got there September 1st, we went there, flew in, had to fly back and I caught her in my arms. I sat there having the whole thing that the UFC sat there captured it for inside the Octagon and they have my whole daughter's birth captured on camera like I ran from the airport, I ran straight all the way there so I can get to my brother's car. We ran from the consular car, drove as fast as we could to go to the hospital and then I want to go to deliver a baby.
And my wife came out with me, her mom and my mom watched by our newborn daughter and our son went out there to fight so that they're trying to knock out Demetrious Johnson and ingrained in my head I was already the champion. I can go ahead and knock him out with one punch and I don't know why I just didn't follow up on with multiple punches. If I would have stayed with the game plan and just through gazillion punches at the dude, I would have won the world title. But since I was banking and being so self-confident that I could put him to sleep with one punch, I lost the fight thinking of because I never got to throw that one punch.
John: No, I just thought I was going to drop him with a body shot or a head shot, but it wasn't just a head, like knock him out with a clean head shot. I was trying to hit with body punches. I just thought I just need one instead of following up and create an opportunity to go ahead and follow through with a knockout. I wanted to go ahead and just end the fight with one punch, one kick, one something and I never got that one thing because I need to go ahead and create the opportunity that I never did. So I get my hats off to Demetrious Johnson he came for the game plan to make sure I wasn't going to get that opportunity for one punch and he won that fight decisively. That's the one fight I know I definitely lost in my UFC career.
Shane: Where did you go after that fight? Where was your head space at? And what were you trying to take away from it?
John: What I took from that fight is, man, like if this is the second shot at this title and I didn't get it, I can't stay at this division even they kind of told me, I was peeing blood as soon as the fight was over and they're like, “Hey, did you get hit in the body?” I was like, “No, I think my kidneys turned off again.” And they gave me the option of going to stay there or moved to 135 and I just moved to 135 and try to go ahead take a shot at that. I had a real strict diet plans to help me out with the 125 weight cuts so my body was like just fluctuating too much.
Shane: So there's a lot going on then in the lead up to that fight and around that fight and first the birth of your daughter and all of the distraction that comes with that. And then also the issues with the weight cutting and fighting in the weight class.
John: Yeah, those are like real distractions, but if you want to be a champion, you can't sit there and say that's a distraction. You should be prepared for all that type of things and you should be mentally there. So he was mentally there, I wasn't. I’m just out there. I can't blame nobody but myself. And I should have stayed focused to go out there and do the things I wanted to do. I just got excited. In my head, I was just so excited to knock out one punch. So that's why I'm blaming it on -- I don't blame my wife, I don't blame my kids, I don't blame anything besides the fact that I was too confident in punching the dude with one strike that was going to end it all for me and I never got the one strike to end it all. I blame myself.
Shane: So, you end up moving up, you move up to bantamweight and you continue fighting in the UFC and you're finding success, but a couple of close fights here and there once you say that maybe I shouldn't have gone to the judges or the judges should have gone a different way, but you were finding some good success in the bantamweight division.
John: Yeah. You know what? I found some great success of the bantamweight. Like, literally when I fought Marlon Moreas, I didn't fight nobody that wasn't a top contender or pretty much someone who's contending for a title. Like I was fed to the wolves every chance that they gave me. Like everybody that they threw in front of me, that's where they’re like, “Oh hey, this one of the top guys you need to fight.” I was like, “Okay, cool. Why not?” I don't back down from anybody. I don't turn down any fights. I was like, “Okay, I'll take that dude.” Are you sure? Yeah, sure. Why not? Marlon Moreas, that dude was the champion of the world series fighting. Let's go ahead and do this. I thought it'd beat him and then he'd becoming the guy who fought for the title and then fought for the title again and then had numerous occasions he was always in the top 10. And then also the same thing with Petr Yan. They're like, “Hey, this young guys coming through, you want to fight him?” I was like, “Yeah, I'll fight him.” Again, I thought I'd beat Petr Yan granted I was [0:39:21] fight, but you had to cheat, I pulled my hair and doing some nastiness, but it's okay. You got it. If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying. He tried hard. He tried harder than I. And the one that bugs me the most was when I was like literally headlining main event against John Lineker. I landed 473 strikes, he landed 129 and I lost the fight. I was like, how do you lose a fight when you land more punches and he looks like Frankenstein and I came out looking like handsome?
Shane: That's insane, 400 plus strikes. That should win you a fight every time.
John: Absolutely. But it's okay. Like the UFC let me go at number 6. And then I don't know why the number 6 fighter in the world got released. They just need to go ahead and pay some bills. That's not why. I’m just out there and say they need to pay some bills. I want to make sure I can go ahead and prove my status of becoming better.
Shane: So that's kind of how you're sort of rationalizing why they would have cut you because I was wondering the same thing. I mean this guy is still up there. He's still winning fights. Yeah, he's got a couple of losses on the record. But you know what? Like you’re still putting on great shows at the highest level of the game, and yeah, they still let you go.
John: Yeah, they let me go because I wasn't performing the way we wanted to. They want to see more knockouts and I need to go ahead and put it on that showcase. So me as a fighter, I got to go ahead and prove that I can do it. So that's why I said, “Wait till I come back.” I'm making sure I can do that every chance of the step of the way, showing that on the same John Dodson that they all fell in love with and I never went anywhere.
Shane: That's where XMMA now fits in a sort of the road back to the UFC.
John: XMMA wherever, I can go ahead and get some fights. I was trying to fight [0:40:55] and then COVID happened and then they're like, hey, you're American. Yeah. And? Like we're not taking any foreigners into our country. Like, oh, got you.
Shane: The pandemic, just really kind of derailed things for sports in general.
John: The COVID series in my last fight and I was like, it's so weird. It's so quiet in here. It's way worse than the Ultimate Fighter. At least I had some teammates that were cheering for me. Here, there's nothing.
Shane: You're still one of the top bantamweights in the world, certainly one of the most exciting to watch in the world. There's another guy who held the bantamweight title in the UFC also planning his own comeback. What are your thoughts on Henry Cejudo returning to competition?
John: If Henry Cejedo comes back, I'll be more welcome gladly to introduce him back into the UFC or actually in any organization that he wants to step into. I already know that he's trying to go back to the UFC to go fight Volkanovski at 145 because he wants to literally be the triple crown king taking the 125, 135, 145 title and I don't see him going and doing that. I wanted to be… yeah, gung ho about him in his return, but he's just a smart man on what he wants to do. He got his organization, he has his gym, he pretty much solidified himself as being a very, very smart fighter to making money after his life of a fighter. So I don't think he wants to really return. He just wants to put that seed in people's minds and say, hey, I'm still around.
Shane: So you think maybe he just comes back for a short period tries to grab that title if he can. He has that status that no one else has and to kind of build his brand building his gym?
John: Absolutely. Like why wouldn't you? You go out there and make a name for yourself and then you start falling off. You’re only remembered for the last thing you did. And he did win a title, but then he left and kind of abandoned and they're like, well you’re old. That's what every kid says, you're old. Like, wait, but when was the last fight? You know, like a few years ago then you're old. Like, no, no, no, no, I'll go back and go do it. And Henry was one of those dudes who want to go ahead and take that challenge step up to and be like, you know what, I can still do this. I'm good enough. I'm the king of cringe and we're going to do it again.
Shane: Old? I mean, the guy's like 35.
John: I know.
Shane: We were just talking about this with guys that are in their 40s that are still going on it.
John: I know that's what kids keep on saying that we're old though. They're like, they think like fighter's life are like shortened because of the fact that how much abuse we take. But if you're a smart fighter, you want to sit there and do them things right, like it's already like with the rehab, recovery and then also the training status. If you're going out there taking a bunch of abuse, of course your life's going to be shortened as a fighter. But if you go out there and train properly, making sure that you're recovering just as well as you're doing the training, man, you can sit there and fight for as long as you want.
Shane: There's been a real, in all of sports moving towards being able to extend that career by just taking care of yourself.
John: Yeah, look at Bernard Hopkins, Manny Pacquiao, they're still doing it. Granny's taking like charity fights against like Jake and Logan Paul. Like even when Tyson went out there, go fight, so everyone was like, oh man, Tyson’s going out there and murder him. And we all saw that intention from Tyson and we saw how fast he was still being able to move and the footwork that he still has at the age that he has. So man, like this Tyson is kind of scary. If you still want to go out and be a professional boxer who wouldn't let this dude live out that live action Rocky movie come back to fight the champion heavyweight? I mean, I could actually see him fight Mike Tyson versus Tyson Fury.
Shane: And we’d all watch it.
John: Oh. Yeah.
Shane: There’s a Pay-per-view.
John: Tyson versus Tyson and on the poster will be like ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson then all versus all the other ones like Tyson, the Gypsy King Fury. I think that would sell more than Francis Ngannou versus Tyson Fury.
Shane: Francis Ngannou it would be amazing to see in the boxing ring.
John: It would be amazing to see a lot of us mixed martial artists go into boxing. But when is the day that they're going to go ahead and step out of their comfort zone and come into ours?
Shane: Yeah. You know it. That ain’t happening, man. I know that you’re shaking your head, no.
John: I mean, look? Rodtang did, he sat there went into the mixed martial arts realm and had a super fight with Demetrious Johnson. Why can't we do a super fight like that for boxing, for a boxing versus MMA bout.
Shane: I would love to see a boxer step into the MMA cage especially a big name boxer, somebody who's well established to do that. Hey, who knows? Maybe Dana will work on something.
John: I love Holly Holm. She was like the preacher's daughter she's in her hometown, like hero of boxing, legend. The best female boxer out there to go out there from boxing and into mixed martial arts world. But let's be honest, she was part of mixed martial arts for a very long time and that's why it was so easy for her to make that transition. Because she had sparring partners like me. She came out there gunslinging, beating up everybody and I was like. Yes. She's a legend. I helped her out. I got my butt whipped by her.
Shane: No shame in that.
John: No. And everyone's always like, man, “Did you get beat up?” Like, yes, I did. Like, I can't even lie to you. She's like 7 ft tall and she gets longer limbs. I'm trying, we're in the same weight class, but that's cheating.
Shane: She's a world class fighter and that's great that you got to help train with her.
John: All the time, I still train with her being down, she's trying to get ready for this fight coming up next and I'm making sure that she can go ahead and be the best Holly Holm as we know.
Shane: It's just incredible to me because whenever I've seen you on TV in your post-fight interviews and even now through this whole interview with me, your attitude and your positivity is like infectious. I think people feed off of it and it's so interesting to see because you operate in a world of hyper aggression, hyper masculinity, a lot of anger, smack talk, Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal scenario, and that's kind of the image that that people kind of have of MMA. And you're like the opposite to all of that. How do you keep that positive attitude all the time?
John: One, I get to beat up everybody let all that aggression out. So I doesn't matter if it's a bag, sparring partner, anything that's going on that I got something to go ahead and take out all my aggression and hatred and anger on something else. And then I can go back to being positive because anything that can't be as worse as the suffering that I have to go through the training, like getting beat up and doing all the hard stuff like that's ruling attention. Like I don't want to sit to be mad and hate the rest of the world. I'd rather sit there and enjoy it the best way I can. Like if I can survive through painful near death experiences sitting there working out, dreading it day in and day out and wondering why I put myself through all this torment, I should enjoy the things that I can control. And that's going out there and living life and smiling, introducing myself to new people and be one to go out there and be different.
Shane: It makes sense. But then there's all these other fighters out there that are doing the same stuff you are but then they get on the mic and it's a lot of anger, a lot of smack talk and it's a lot of aggression.
John: It's not me. The person who I grew up being is just knowing that no matter how much the world hates you, you've always got to put on a smile and just be yourself and you'll enjoy it. I'd rather be a positive person than negative one any day of the week.
Shane: It's reminding me of the beginning of our conversation or near the beginning of a conversation and your time in high school.
John: Yeah, like, if I can overcome anything like that I grew up with, it reminds me of who I am today, like, I can't sit there and just let anybody's negativity change who I want to be and what I want to be is someone who's successful and who can sit there and just look back at his life and say, hey, these are the fun times I had versus those people who always sit there and remind themselves of all the bad things or bad experiences that they have in life. I don't want to dwell on the bad things. I want to sit there continue on growing and being happy and trying the new things and be adventurous for now my kids. We want to go out there and go do amazing things, so I try to take them out to go do anything wild and crazy and I was just telling them, like, “Yo, stop crying, let's go do this. Like, no, like, you can do this. If I can do it, you can do it.”
We're all going to fly. This is my thing I always tell my kids, they get so mad, they’re like, “Dad, how old are you?” I was like, 593, I'm immortal. This is what we're doing, we'd live forever, we're going to keep on doing great things all the time. We are immortal, like, but you have a cutter knee it's because I'm immortal. That's why I don't have a [0:49:19] I didn't die from it.
Shane: That is very much a dad, is it hospital or no hospital? That's what I always say to my kids.
John: Exactly. They're like, “Oh, do we need to cut your finger?” What do you mean? It's just a splinter. I was like, “Yeah, does it hurt that bad that we need to cut it off?” Like, “No,” it's okay, cool. Then let's go. I'll pull that splinter later, we'll be fine.
Shane: But listen man, I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. This was great. I had a lot of fun talking to you, man.
John: Oh no man, I appreciate the time that you took the time out here and tell me that how amazing I am, relieved some old stories. And not only that, thank you for bringing me part of Millions, man. Like, this is an amazing thing for me to go ahead and be a part of this platform, so then I just really appreciate it.
Shane: Hey, we love having you on it, we love having all of the athletes on it. Tell your friends about the platform, tell your friends about the podcast.
John: Of course I'm going to tell my friends, tell everybody and then I'm going to make sure that everybody can go ahead and pick up that shirt. You know this one right here.
Shane: There you go, MILLIONS.co. Guys go out there, grab the shirts. All the other merch out there too, hats, hoodies, whatever you want.
John: Oh absolutely, you guys go out there please.
Shane: There we go. Alright John, thanks a lot bro. Great talking to you, man.
John: Great talking to you too, brother.
You can ask Dodson anything and you can support him by shopping for his merchandise. You can also follow his fight journey by regularly checking out the MILLIONS blog. You can also follow him on instagram @johndodsonmma and on Twitter @JohnDodsonMMA.