When the topic turns to heavyweight prospects, Tony Johnson Jr.'s name has been consistently coming up for several years. There comes a time though, when potential has to give way to proven success and for the American, that date is long overdue.
He hasn't stepped inside a cage to compete for almost two years, but says this absence has been due to reasons beyond his control and Johnson is hoping to make up for lost time after signing for Singapore based promotion ONE FC.
"I haven't fought since 2011 because of contract issues with Bellator who had a matching release clause and would not release me from that contract. I signed to ONE FC because because my manager and I heard nothing but great things about this organization and also it gives me an opportunity to do some traveling."
Johnson will be making his promotional debut at ONE FC: "Rise to Power," which is set for the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila on May 31, 2013. He is going up against Tim Sylvia and believes a win over the two-time UFC heavyweight champion will help him take his career to the next level,
"I haven't followed Sylvia's career very much, though I am familiar with his accomplishments. I am excited about this fight, it's a great stepping stone for my résumé."
Sylvia probably wouldn't appreciate being referred to as a "stepping stone" but Johnson is no stranger to competing against top class opposition. His record currently stands at 6-1 and the aforementioned resume includes wins for both Bellator and King of the Cage (KOTC) with the sole loss coming at the hands of Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier.
While Johnson has been denied the opportunity to take on the top heavyweights in the world in recent years as he waited for his Bellator contract to expire, he has at least been training alongside some of them including the only man to ever beat him.
"I train with SUCO and AKA. My training partners are Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, Todd Duffy, and others. Great team, great coaches, great management. Couldn't ask for more."
In the modern era, successful heavyweights tend to be huge and Johnson has to cut weight just to get down to the 265-pound limit. He's far from the biggest fighter in the division, but says he has no qualms about taking on heavier opponents such as Tim Sylvia.
"I am weighing 280 right now. I'm hoping not to have to cut weight before the fight, I would like to come in the cage around 270. The weight difference does not matter to me. I wrestled in high school at heavyweight which was 275 when I was weighing 215. I'm not worried about someone being potentially bigger then me."
Johnson seemed destined to be a successful sporting professional from an early age but MMA never seemed the most obvious option. Instead, he had been on track to make it into the NFL, but with this dream drifting away, he decided to return to his wrestling roots instead.
"My American football career was great, I played high school, college and pro. I just fell out of love with the sport. I wanted to get back to wrestling somehow and get paid for it and MMA is the closest thing. So now my new love is fighting."
He made his MMA debut in 2008 and has gone on to beat some big names including future KOTC Heavyweight Champion Tony Lopez and future M-1 Heavyweight Champion Kenny Garner. The only thing holding Johnson back at this stage, aside from his solitary loss to Cormier, is the infrequency of his competitive appearances.
There is nothing wrong with his record, as Johnson wins 85 percent of the time, but his appearances in the cage have been few and far between with only seven fights to his name in just under five years as a professional mixed martial artist.
Johnson simply hasn't competed frequently enough for fans to be able to gauge whether he is good enough to become one of the best heavyweights in the world, as many predicted he would, but it's a situation which he is hoping to redress having recently put pen to paper on a ONE FC contract.
"Now that I am signed with ONE FC I hope to fight regularly, hopefully every couple months. I would like to stay busy. and I am hoping to fight for the ONE FC title. I will take it one fight at a time."
Johnson is renowned for his speed and athleticism and it is these characteristics which caused him to catch the eye early in his career with the former All American wrestler reportedly registering some eye-catching sprint times during physical tests for American football.
He believes it is these athletic attributes which will help him to secure what would be the most eye-catching win of his entire career on May 31 and Johnson is confident that Sylvia will be unable to deal with his superior speed.
"My key to victory for this fight will be my cardio, heart, and determination and I am confident that I will be faster than Tim."
The ONE FC heavyweight division is in its infancy but with the likes of Sylvia (31-8-0-1) as well as Rolles Gracie (8-1) and Paul Cheng (3-1) already on board, there should be plenty of opportunities for Johnson to realize his undeniable potential and he plans to start by beating a two-time UFC heavyweight champion in Manila later this month.