Why heavyweight Timothy Johnson prefers Bellator's 'small business' to UFC
Timothy Johnson remembers many of his conversations with UFC matchmakers didn’t amount to much.
He’d beat an upcoming prospect and ask for an opponent with a bigger name. And he’d be told, in not so many words, that he was considered a gatekeeper.
“I was always asking, ‘Give me someone around that top-10, top-eight area,’ and I would never get an opportunity,” Johnson (12-4 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) told MMAjunkie in advance of his main card fight against Cheick Kongo (28-10-2 MMA, 10-2 BMMA) at Bellator 208. “They’d say, ‘Ah, we can’t really do that, but we have this debut heavyweight you can fight, and that’s all we have on the table.'”
After a while, that started to eat at him. Beating opponents with little upside and a whole lot of downside started to feel like a road to nowhere. Then there was the issue of pay, which wasn’t exactly promising.
Prior to his most recent fight in the octagon, cash was so tight he needed a GoFundMe drive to fly another cornerman out to the event’s host in Brazil. That might have been the final straw.
Johnson decided to run out his contract and see what the market would bear for someone of his experience. As it turned out, Bellator was ready to make an offer.
At first, Johnson said he was booked against a Russian heavyweight he didn’t even know, a bad sign for his first appearance with his new promoter. But an injury took him out of the running, and when he recovered, he got a match with Kongo.
Going from unknown to well-respected vet is just the type of opportunity Johnson hoped for when he defected from the industry leader. Fighting for Bellator, he also got the sense that the Viacom-owned promotion was working with him and not against him.
“It’s more small business oriented,” he said. “They’re talking to you and not a number, so to speak.”
Now, all Johnson needs to do is perform. He’s determined not to let the moment get to him when he faces Kongo on the Paramount-televised and DAZN-streamed main card of Saturday’s event at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
On the money side of things, Johnson said he’s not quite where he wants to be. But he’s getting closer, and that’s all he can ask for.
“I’m still not good at that column, but we’ve picked up some good sponsors and a win, and that will only make it better,” he said.