John Dodson seems to have the world fooled.
The Albuquerque fighter is an ever-smiling Energizer Bunny, whose fists and feet are among the fastest in the fighting world. His mouth sometimes struggles to keep up with the furious pace at which his mind wants him to speak, and he has an outward persona of a hyper-active kid who hardly seems capable of honing in on a singular task at hand.
Focused is not the word that immediately comes to mind when describing the 30-year-old Dodson, whose flyweight championship rematch with Demetrious Johnson headlines Saturday’s UFC 191 pay-per-view event in Las Vegas, Nev.
But his outward chaos, those close to him will tell you, only masks a calm, inward determination to accomplish one singular task: beat Johnson.
“I’ve never seen John Dodson more focused and more committed to victory than I have right now,” said Greg Jackson, one of Dodson’s team of coaches from Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA who are with him this week in Las Vegas.
“A focused John Dodson is a very dangerous John Dodson. You don’t want him focused. You want him not relaxed. You want him uptight. If he’s focused and happy, he’s a very dangerous individual.”
Dodson’s fight week focus on Johnson was dealt a heavy does of distraction, and perspective, on Monday night.
While warming up for a workout in Las Vegas, Dodson’s phone rang. His girlfriend, Chelsea Chavez, was going into labor – something the couple thought might not happen until this weekend or sometime next week.
“I’m going to go deliver this baby, real quick,” a clearly nervous Dodson told a camera crew filming UFC’s behind-the-scenes fight week show “Embedded.”
The camera crew followed him on his flight home to Albuquerque in time for him to help deliver his 7-pound, 0.2 ounce daughter, Delilah Skye Dodson, early Wednesday morning.
By Wednesday night, after a short nap on a couch and at least one daddy/daughter diaper change, Dodson flew back to Las Vegas to get back to work.
“He’s even more focused now – 100 percent,” striking coach Brandon Gibson said Thursday afternoon. “I think it worked out better this way. The most important thing is they got through this healthy and happy and now his focus is back on getting a new piece of jewelry to take back to Albuquerque for his baby girl.”
It isn’t a stretch to say that piece of jewelry – the UFC flyweight (125 pounds) championship belt – has pretty much consumed Dodson (18-6, 6-1 UFC) since the moments after he lost a unanimous decision to Johnson (22-2-1, 10-1-1 UFC) on Jan. 26, 2013.
He admits it’s almost all he’s thought about since walking out of the octagon after the loss – a defeat that fueled him through three wins since and through the grueling rehabilitation of a torn ACL in 2014.
So what went wrong in that fight? He ran out of gas.
Dodson, who has the highest knockdown rate in the UFC’s flyweight division history, was able to knock Johnson to the canvas three times in their first fight. But he was unable to finish off the champion. And as the fight wore on, especially in Rounds 4 and 5 (UFC championship fights are five, 5-minute rounds), Dodson grew less and less able to fend off Johnson’s takedowns.
“What I learned from that first fight is that Demetrious doesn’t hit that hard,” Dodson said. “He doesn’t do anything too interesting that I’m afraid of. I’m not afraid of his takedown ability because I defended it when I was fresh. In the later rounds, that’s when it was harder for me. I made sure this time around, I have pushed my cardio beyond belief and I’ve worked on my wrestling ability.”
While he’s training for the possibility of another five-round battle, there’s no denying the primary goal is to try to utilize Dodson’s striking advantage early and often.
“He lost as far as the judges are concerned last time he fought Demetrious Johnson, but he’s getting it back this time,” said coach Mike Winkeljohn. “He dropped Demetrious three times last fight. He’s focused on dropping him early this fight and finishing him.”
THREE DIVISION CHAMPION? Win or lose, the immediate future for Dodson includes plenty of family time. But when he does get back to fighting, there’s no clear indication who, or even what division, he’ll set his sites on.
“Little John could be a three division champion,” said Winkeljohn. “It’s incredible how strong this man is. He could go from 125 (pounds) even to 145. He already beat (bantamweight champion T.J.) Dillashaw and he wants to do it again. But he has to go through Demetrious, first.”