By winning his UFC debut this spring, Tim Johnson showed he was ready for the big time.
Saturday, the Minnesota National Guard sergeant finds out whether he's ready for prime time.
Johnson defeated unheralded Russian heavyweight Shamil Abdurakhimov via first-round stoppage on April 4 during a UFC Fight Night event in Fairfax, Virginia, although "fight night" was a bit of a misnomer — the heavyweights squared off so far up the preliminary card that most fans hadn't eaten lunch yet.
But the win, and the "Performance of the Night" bonus that came with a check for $50,000, earned Johnson a spot against Jared "The Big Show" Rosholt on the main card of Saturday's "UFC Fight Night: Teixeira vs. Saint Preux," which airs live from Nashville, Tennessee, on Fox Sports 1 beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern.
Tim Johnson celebrates after winning his UFC debut -- one that earned him a Performance of the Night bonus ... and some notoriety for his facial hair.
Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports
"It's quite a feat," said Johnson of his move up the ranks. "It makes me go, 'Oh, actually, the UFC wants to try to push me.' I've just got to do my job and follow through with it."
The UFC contract allowed Johnson to free his schedule up a bit — he had been working 60-plus hours as a trucker and a bouncer in addition to his MMA and military pursuits, but has since dropped the trucking gig. Aside from that change, Johnson (9-1) said he's attempted to keep his fight-prep methods similar to what's worked in the past: He enters Saturday's showdown on an eight-fight win streak, with none of his victims reaching the end of the second round.
Abdurakhimov didn't make it out of the first, with the referee stopping the bout three seconds before the bell. Rosholt (12-2, 4-1 UFC) has almost the exact opposite reputation, with three of his UFC wins coming via decision and the fourth reaching the third round before a ref stoppage. A UFC regular since late 2013, Rosholt is about a 2-to-1 favorite according to most betting lines.
"Jared's been a powerhouse wrestler," Johnson said of the three-time All-American at Oklahoma State. "I kind of leave the tape-watching to my coaches ... I don't really like watching a lot of film on the guys I fight, it's just not my thing, I guess. ... I think maybe my wrestling will be good enough where I can negate his main shots."
Johnson, 30, fights out of North Dakota, where he trains at Fargo's Academy of Combat Arts, but serves in the Minnesota Guard's 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion, part of the 34th Infantry Division (better known as the "Red Bulls"). Aside from a few extra questions about life in the octagon from his fellow soldiers, Johnson said his UFC debut didn't change much when it came to military service, and he's still not sure whether he'll re-up when his current contract expires.
"I just had my one-year counseling with all of our admin guys," said Johnson, who enlisted in 2007 and deployed to Kuwait in support of Operation New Dawn. "They were picking my brain pretty hard [regarding re-enlisting]. I couldn't give them an honest answer just yet."
Guard duty did interfere with one of Johnson's fight plans: After receiving praise from Marine officer-turned-UFC commentator Brian Stann, among others, for the mustache he sported in his April fight, Johnson intended to enter Saturday's bout with an even more pronounced facial growth, telling UFC.com that he had "an awesome pair of handlebars going."
Then came a drill weekend, and out came the razor. The heavyweight said he intends to sport a more subtle 'stache instead.
"You've got to find a little bit of a niche," he told Army Times on Thursday. "I figure that the mustache is bigger than me, so I've got to represent it a little longer."
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.