As both a fan and a journalist, it’s easy to like John Howard.
When the cage door closes, the Boston native is a fire hydrant waiting to blow; a compact welterweight with a dangerous Muay Thai attack. He’s just 5’7″, Howard makes up for his lack of height with the heart of a lion and a willingness to trade with anyone.
Last time out, the 28-year-old took the best perennial contender Thiago Alves had to offer for 15 minutes and smiled his broken-toothed grin at the end of it. That true warrior mentality is what makes it easy to be a fan of Howard inside the cage.
The straight forward, no-nonsense approach Howard exhibits in competition carries over outside the cage as well. There are no cliches or safe answers when you sit down to talk with the man known as “Doomsday.” No matter the question, no matter the subject, Howard says what is on his mind. He’s a dream come true, at least when it comes to conducting interviews.
Sunday night in Pittsburgh, Howard returns to the Octagon against Matt Brown on the main card of the UFC’s fourth appearance on Versus. Originally scheduled to face Martin Kampmann, Howard admits that he was surprised to receive a main card slot against and a place opposite “The Hitman” in light of his current two fight losing streak.
“With back-to-back losses, usually you get moved down. You go to the undercard, so I don’t know what it is. Maybe the UFC just likes me, really appreciates me, putting me on the main card for a third time. I’m not going out there to lose, that’s for sure, but I was shocked to find out I was fighting Martin Kampmann; at the time he was ranked sixth or seventh. Just to be fighting a top ten guy was an honor.”
Though he’s no longer fighting a top 10 contender, the truth of the matter is that the stakes may be higher for Howard now than they were before Kampmann was replaced by Brown.
Losing a third straight to a fringe top ten opponent is somewhat excusable, especially if Howard displaysthe same heart and moxie that carried him through his bouts with Alves and Jake Ellenberger. Despite taking a beating in both, Howard never took a backwards step, and protested the stoppage against Ellenberger despite his left eye being swollen shut.
With the switch, however, Howard now faces Brown, a veteran of The Ultimate Fighter who also comes in with his back against the wall. The Season 7 fan favorite has dropped three straight bouts, all by submission, and is most certainly fighting for his place on the roster. So too is Howard, most likely, and he knows it.
“It could,” Howard answers when asked if another loss could be the end of the UFC line. “It sucks, but that’s the reality of the fight game. You’re only as good as your last fight. It is a tough situation to be in, but you’ve got to go out there and try and do your best. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
Howard is a guy who prides himself on putting on exciting fights for the fans, but the reality of his situation is that even a less entertaining victory will do more for him than a third consecutive defeat, no matter how thrilling. It’s a reality Howard has wrestled with heading into this fight, and while he believes an entertaining bout is on the horizon, he admits he’s ready to do what is necessary to secure a victory.
“Right now I need the win more than anything. I definitely don’t want to produce a boring fight — and I don’t think this makes for a boring fight – but if I have to choose because of the situation I’m in, I would, but I doubt it because the way I win is to finish my opponent and try and have a good fight.
“I don’t believe it’s going to be a boring fight at all. If I have an opportunity to seize a safe win, unfortunately — and at least I’m going to admit it – I’m going to do it. But I doubt [that will happen] because the way Matt Brown fights, he stands and bangs, and I stand and bang too, so I’m not going to be boring about it. I’m going to try and get that win as exciting as possible.”
Though Howard says he’s willing to seize the chance to secure a win on Sunday night, he passed up the chance to seize an opportunity he’s been patiently waiting for last month at the Fighters Summit.
It’s no secret that Howard and fellow welterweight Anthony Johnson do not like each other.
The feud between the two goes back a couple years now, stemming from heated words between the two following Howard turning down an opportunity to fight Johnson early in his UFC career. Since then, the two were signed to fight last March, but Johnson was forced from the bout due to injury. Though they’ve yet to meet in the cage, the two have exchanged verbal jabs on a number of occasions. Howard says they may have even come to blows last month if they hadn’t noticed an interested observer watching them square off with each other in Las Vegas.
“I saw him at the Summit. This is how it happened,” begins Howard, retelling the story of their run-in at the Red Rock casino, a resort owned by the Fertitta brothers. “I see him. He sees me. We square off. But guess who is right down at the corner? Freakin’ Dana White, and he looks at both of us, gives us this look like `If you even dare, I will drop you so fast.’ He was right there, he looked dead at both of us.
“We looked at each other; he walked his way, I walked my way. It was the funniest shit ever. It was a stare-off, a good five minute stare-off. One of us was going to jump, but with Dana White just looking at us, we were like, `We ain’t doing this.’ That broke my heart. No sense in getting fired.”
Deciding not to throw hands in the hallway with the UFC President watching is certainly one way to ensure you don’t get fired. Another approach some fighters have been taking recently in hopes of prolonging their employment has been dropping down in weight.
After stalling out in the lightweight division, Kenny Florian made the successful move to featherweight a couple weeks back in Vancouver. This weekend, a trio of former contenders will make their debuts at new addresses as well, with headliner Nate Marquardt joining Howard at welterweight for the first time, while Joe Stevenson and Tyson Griffin join Florian in making the move from lightweight.
Though Howard concedes the potential of a three-fight losing streak and his short stature stand as logical reasons to ponder a move down the ladder, he’s also quick to put the question to rest.
“Hell no!” booms Howard, an amused laugh following close behind. “I’m a 170 pounder. If I have to go 155, I’m going to have to quit. Really, it will never happen, but hell no. No. No way. 155? No way. That’s too detrimental to my body. No. No. Making 170 isn’t easy. Making 155? I don’t even want to consider something like that. No. I ain’t doing it.”
Still laughing at the thought of shedding an additional 15 pounds in preparation of a fight, Howard breaks out the philosophy to further explain his reasons against becoming a lightweight.
“Listen, part of life is enjoying food. There are three things in life that you’ve got to experience and enjoy. One is money. You’ve got enjoy it, you got to experience it. Even if you make it and lose it, you’ve got to experience it. Two is sex. You’ve got to experience and enjoy that. Three is food. You have to enjoy food. There is no way I could eat [what I eat when I diet] 24-7, every day. No. I have to get fat and eat my food. Eat some unnecessary greasy stuff, a big giant bucket of chicken. I just have to enjoy at least three months or four months out of the year, so there is no way.”
“There are a few things you’ve got to enjoy and food is one of them. Trust me — going without good food for like a month and a half sucks. It really sucks. It’s borderline depressing. You see these guys, they’re so depressed. Not eating isn’t worth it.”
And if there were one thing Howard could eat without penalty, a personal favorite he could consume on a regular basis without worrying about his diet?
“A cheeseburger,” he answers without hesitation. “It could be Burger King, McDonalds, Fridays, doesn’t matter. Just nice, big cheeseburger with some fries and a big, giant Sprite. I love my food. That’s heaven right there.”
But more than a cheeseburger combo with an ice-cold Sprite, heaven for Howard would be putting on a show on Sunday night and coming away with a win, and that’s just what he predicts will happen.
“I see a knockout, second round. If not, I see me winning a decision after three rounds. I see a Fight of the Night because he’s going to stand and bang; he doesn’t back down for nothing.
“It’s going to be a back and forth. Very little ground work. I think I’m going to be the stronger person, and I think he might be the faster, but it doesn’t matter. We’re going to see who is going to connect first, and I think I’m going to connect first and that’s going to be the end of that.”
Textbook Howard – straight forward, pulling no punches, inside or outside the cage.