Lavar Johnson in for Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Struve at UFC 146

Mark Hunt after a UFC 144 win over Cheick Kongo (James Law/HeavyMMA)

Johnson will fight again three weeks after last win

Throughout all the changes to the UFC 146 main card over the last month, the Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Struve fight had managed to be the only one to remain intact. So much for that honor.

Hunt has suffered an injury – reportedly to his knee – and it was announced Thursday night he is out of the bout against Struve just nine days before the fight. Stepping in to take his place is Lavar Johnson, who will have a quick turnaround time after just fighting May 5 against Pat Barry.

UFC 146 takes place May 26 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and is the first all-heavyweights main card in UFC history. The main event is a heavyweight title fight between champion Junior dos Santos, defending the belt for the first time, and former champ Frank Mir, who was moved into the bout from the co-main event when Alistair Overeem was pulled and subsequently not licensed by the Nevada Athletic Commission.

Johnson (17-5, 2-0 UFC) came to the UFC from Strikeforce in January and made a quick impression, becoming the first fighter to knock out Joey Beltran. He took home Knockout of the Night honors at UFC on Fox: Evans vs. Davis in January for his brutal stoppage of Beltran in the second fight on the prelims, but quickly was moved up the ladder to face Barry in the opening bout of UFC on Fox: Diaz vs. Miller just 13 days ago.

Against Barry, as a roughly 2-to-1 underdog like he was against Beltran, the 6-foot-4 Californian came out slugging from the opening bell. But Barry took the fight to the ground and nearly finished Johnson with an Americana armbar. But Johnson battled back to his feet and finished Barry in much the same fashion he finished Beltran – with his opponent pushed against the cage and covering up while he unleashed big bombs. The result was a second straight Knockout of the Night bonus.

“I heard (Wednesday) there was a chance I could get this fight, and I accepted right away,” Johnson said in a statement. “I am good to go, I weigh 250 pounds and I’ve got a lot of confidence in my ability right now. You don’t get chances like this too often in life, so when you are lucky to get this kind of opportunity you’ve got to make the most of it. I took one week off after the Pat Barry fight and then went back to the gym. I used to have some drinks, get some barbecue in my belly and get a little out of shape right after a fight. But I feel that I am now at a level where I need to be in shape all the time. So I stayed in shape and I can now seize this chance.”

Struve (23-5, 7-3 UFC) has won two straight and four of his last five, all by stoppage. The Dutchman, the tallest fighter in the UFC at 6-11, stopped Dave Herman by second-round TKO in February. In October, he picked up a Submission of the Night bonus when he got Barry with a second-round triangle-armbar.

“Johnson has looked impressive in his first two fights in the Octagon since coming over from Strikeforce, but I’m gonna look even more impressive next week,” Struve said. “I really want to thank him for stepping up on such short notice – I really wanted to fight on this all-heavyweight card. But he’s gonna face the best Stefan Struve you’ve ever seen. The change in opponent doesn’t bother me at all. Mark Hunt was a big puncher, too, and I have trained too hard for this to affect me.”

Johnson said size won’t matter against Struve, even though he’ll be at a seven-inch height disadvantage.

“He’s a skilled guy with a lot of heart, but I am not worried about his size,” Johnson said. “His reach is 83 inches and mine is 82 – and he doesn’t use his height. He always gets the crap beat out of him, he refuses to quit, then his opponent gasses or has to let up and Struve comes back to win. I am a fan of his actually, and I’ve cheered for him because of his heart. The only way to beat him is to put him out cold. That’s what I have to do next week, and I will do it.”

UFC 146’s main card has been perhaps the most shuffled in company history. dos Santos’ fight with Overeem became dos Santos vs. Mir. Mir, as the new title challenger, was moved out of a top contenders fight with Cain Velasquez in the co-main event. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva was moved up from his fight with Roy Nelson to meet Velasquez. Gabriel Gonzaga was moved up from a fight against Shane Del Rosario to fight Nelson. Gonzaga got hurt and Dave Herman was moved in to face Nelson. And Stipe Miocic was brought in to face Del Rosario once Gonzaga was moved up.

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