When you receive a compliment from Pat Miletich, you know you’re good. This is exactly the case for Taylor Johnson (5-0), who was referred to as “The Genghis Khan of MMA” by the former welterweight champion.
The middleweight savage spoke to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock about his upcoming fight at the Contender Series, training with Jocko Willink, and being a natural-born finisher.
Natural born knockout artist
At the age of 28, Taylor Johnson is only five fights into his professional MMA career but has been making short work of the regional talent, as he has already compiled a finishing rate of 100 percent.
It was only a matter of time until the UFC came knocking at his door, and on August 6, he has the opportunity to earn a contract to fight in the world’s leading mixed martial arts promotion.
Although he is only three years into his professional career, the middleweight standout has been fighting all of his life. He told John Hyon Ko that combat sports have been a part of his family’s lineage for decades.
“I come from a family of boxers and judo fighters. My grandfather was a black belt in judo, jiu-jitsu, and he boxed professionally, as well. My dad also learned from him [although] he didn’t compete so much, but he’s definitely handy and I kind of played around with that most my life and ended up wrestling,” Johnson said.
Johnson wrestled throughout high school and into college and has used this experience to thrive against competition once inside the cage.
He spoke about his transition to MMA and how his style of wrestling benefits him once face-to-face with his opponent.
“I mean it was very easy. My style of wrestling too – you see some guys who are very good wrestlers but the style that they choose to wrestle, whether it be defensive, some guys are offensive, top wrestlers, different stuff – it doesn’t always benefit them in their MMA career.”
I kind of noticed I like to wrestle upper body, I like easy takedowns, sweeping people, foot sweeps – basic stuff [that] I don’t need to put a lot of effort in. My style of wrestling actually carried over really well to [mixed] martial arts because I like to wrestle more upright, and so now all I’ve got to do is put my hands up and I’m ready to go.”
Johnson has since become a fierce knockout artist due to his heavy hands and sniper-like precision. Before the Contender Series, all five of his victories have come via knockout.
“I absolutely am a knockout artist – that’s my favorite thing to do. You’re never gonna see me try and submit somebody unless they just fall into it. Which is funny because I train with some of the best jiu-jitsu fighters in the world and there’s nothing I’m not familiar with as far as jiu-jitsu goes.”
He trains out of Victory MMA in San Diego, California, which is known for being one of the best jiu-jitsu schools in the state. His training partners are of the highest standard. One of those is especially known around the world.
Jocko Willink is a retired Navy SEAL who received the Bronze and Silver Star for his service in the Iraq war. For a time, he was also the commander of a SEAL Team Three Task Unit. Since retiring, Willink’s celebrity status has elevated profoundly. The American is a top-ranked podcaster, highly respected author and well-known jiu-jitsu practitioner.
Willink trains at Victory MMA and has been apart of Johnson’s life since the very beginning of his career.
“Jocko is a great man. He’s taken me under his wing; obviously, we have Dean Lister and Jocko there, some of the bigger names in the jiu-jitsu world [but] Jocko’s known all over. Jocko has actually been a sponsor of mine since the beginning. He’s believed in me and I consider him family now. He’s definitely taken care of me and been a huge inspiration.”
When you mix Willink’s knowledge with Victory MMA jiu-jitsu coach Dean Lister and striking maestro Tony Palafox, it makes for an extremely well-rounded corner who has seen it all as far as MMA goes.
The 28-year-old attributes his imposing stand-up to Tony Palafox, who works tirelessly to mold Johnson into the perfect knockout artist.
“My striking coach is Tony Palafox, he’s one of the best humans I’ve met in the mixed martial arts world. He’s more worried about seeing his fighters all the way from amateur to pro. The guy just travels around with all of us [and] doesn’t expect anything from you, except work your ass off and give it your all. He gives us his time, he’s molded me as a striker.”
Taylor Johnson is one of the most intimidating prospects on the regional circuit. Due to this, the 185-pound fighter has discovered that finding an opponent often proves more difficult than the fight itself.
“I’ve had guys back out after weigh-ins. I guess it comes with the territory [as] I have decent credentials in wrestling – not a Division I champion but an NAI champ – I have a knockout in eight seconds, [so] some people are like ‘I can’t beat him grappling, he could maybe KO me on my feet.’ I’ve actually had five pro fights that have [fallen] through last minute.”
“I’ve actually gotten used to it which is the terrible thing.”
On August 6 in Las Vegas, Taylor Johnson has the opportunity to add his name to the UFC roster.
He will be facing Andre Muniz, a dangerous Brazilian with over 20 professional bouts. He last competed at the Contender Series in 2018, picking up a unanimous decision victory but no contract. The dangerous jiu-jitsu practitioner will be looking for redemption this time around.
“From what I’ve seen he’s not the most technical striker. He’s obviously got 11 or 12 submission wins, [and] he doesn’t have any submission that he just really taps people with, he just kind of all-around hits people with subs. If he tries to wrestle and do jiu-jitsu with me I don’t think that’s going to work for him at all, and him standing he’s gonna be in danger the entire time,” said Johnson.
“I think his best chance will be to try and put me in deep waters, but I train my ass off, and I’ve trained to fight for 25 minutes so any place it goes he’s gonna be in trouble.”
In spite of the fact Muniz, his opponent, has over ten submission wins, he has been known to ‘stand and bang’ with opponents. This is a gameplan Johnson is praying he walks in with come August 6.
“I’ve seen him be willing to stand and exchange with people on the feet.”
“If he wants to stand and exchange with me I have one-punch knockout power and I actually hope he does. Most of my opponents when I start coming forward, they retreat. Maybe he will come forward and challenge me.”
What separates the Contender Series from every other event an athlete will partake in is the atmosphere. Per Dana White’s request, there is a small crowd of mostly family and friends of the fighters, and no walkout music.
This is a new experience for the majority who are invited onto the show, and many struggle to perform under these conditions. Contrary to most, Johnson believes that the silence within the arena will benefit him.
“Honestly, I’ve thought about it a little bit and I know it’s kind of awkward but it’s just like sparring. We have a cage at Victory and we just get in [it], it’s quiet and it’s just me and another dude, or a couple of dudes rotating in. I think it’ll actually be more comfortable man.”
“I kind of like that [silent atmosphere]. I don’t have to deal with all the chaos and all the loud music and the nonsense. It’s part of it but I’m excited [for] the silence – you get to hear me crack somebody, like actually hear the sound of it. So that’ll be cool.”
The middleweight is ready to leave his mark on Dana White and the matchmakers watching ringside, and collect the UFC contract he so rightfully deserves.
“I’m exciting, I’m here to do exciting stuff. I’m not here to just win; my philosophy is if I don’t knock you out, it’s not really a win in my book.”
“Once I’m in the UFC I’m going for highlight-reel finishes. I want to take the blessings I’ve been given by God and the people who have helped invest in me – I wanna showcase that. If you’re not trying to finish the guy then what’s the point of you being in the UFC?”
Steven specialises in MMA and Lethwei. He loves a good 1-2 down the middle.