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Tim Johnson on his Bellator 208 fight with Cheick Kongo: ‘If all goes well you may see me in jail’

Timothy Johnson interview

Bellator 208: “Fedor vs. Sonnen” takes place this Saturday night (Oct. 13, 2018) at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The other half of the promotion’s Heavyweight Grand Prix final bracket comes down to “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (37-5, 1 NC) and “The American Gangster” Chael Sonnen (31-15-1) in the Paramount Network-televised main event.

They’re not the only Heavyweights with something to prove in Uniondale this weekend, though. And, interestingly enough, both men have a Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history ahead of their Bellator bout.

Cheick Kongo (28-10-2) owns a six-fight promotional win streak that probably should have earned him a slot in the Grand Prix ... yet somehow didn’t. Perhaps knocking out Javy Ayala in May reminded both the promotion and fight fans that “The Darkness” can fall on any opponent he faces at any time — the 13th knockout to date of his lengthy career. Meanwhile, the hard-hitting Timothy Johnson (12-4) also departed UFC for the sunny shores of Bellator, but unlike Kongo, this is bout marks his promotional debut. With four wins by submission and five via knockout, Johnson is a dual threat who is well met by the seasoned Kongo as he looks to be just as impressive and stamp his claim to challenge the tournament winner. recently spoke with Johnson about his decision to join Bellator and how excited he is to take a fight with Kongo on a key card for the Heavyweight division.

“Yeah, I don’t think anyone could ask for a better debut than to be on this card, so I’m pretty happy about it. No it’s not (an easy fight), but I more than welcome the challenge. I’ve been waiting a long time to fight some kind of big time name, and just kind of give it a shot and see if I’m there or not.”

One reason Johnson feels that way is that he thinks UFC was unwilling to match him up with the top Heavyweights of the division during his three years in the promotion.

“The only thing I’ve really been vocal about exiting UFC has been that after my third UFC fight, I cracked the top 15, got as high as 12 and never dropped out (before I was released). After every one of my wins I’d be asking for big names like Stefan Struve, Alexey Oleynik — apparently they offered me to him and he declined it. I asked for Derrick Lewis multiple times and they’d never give me the opportunity to fight any of the guys that were in (or) around like that Top 10 area, so that kind of sucked.”

What makes it worse for Johnson was that he would end up fighting unranked fighters in their promotional debuts, which offered him zero chance at upward momentum.

“So, I finally just got sick of hearing it because they’d tell me, ‘No no, those guys aren’t available, but we’ve got this debuting Heavyweight, that’s all that’s available right now,’ so I’d have to always get stuck fighting debuts, and never got a chance to get the opportunity to crack the Top 10.”

It’s also a little bit strange that UFC didn’t renew his deal after a win in February when it seems to prefer to cut contracts or grant releases off of losses. It could be related to him turning down a short notice fight, though.

“The only opportunity I got was a missed opportunity. It was a short notice fight. They did offer me Andrei Arlovski, but I was laying in bed with the flu, and it was like four weeks away in Denver. I was like, ‘Guys, I’m not going to be ready for that fight.’ So they did offer me one (big fight) if I’m being honest.”

That would, of course, be the infamous fight in Denver, Colo., during which Francis Ngannou gave Arlovski a monster uppercut that left fans wondering if his head (and shoulders) were still connected to his body.

Johnson is not bitter about his missed opportunities ... or lack thereof. He sees a whole new world of opportunities opening up for him with this Cheick Kongo fight — possibly even a world title shot after the Grand Prix.

“You know I wouldn’t shy away from that. It’s definitely something that is a possibility because Cheick is an alternate in the tournament, so he’s right there right now. You know when I was thinking about it for either one of us, we’d probably be fighting when the tournament comes to a completion and probably one of us would be fighting on that card as well and get the winner of whoever wins it all.”

The good news is the date and place for the finals has already been set — Jan. 26, 2019, at The Forum in Inglewood, California. The bad news is after Kongo’s first round finish in May, Johnson knows his size and power isn’t to be slept on early in a fight.

“Oh yeah, no for sure. You’re going to have that at Heavyweight no matter what. You’ve definitely got to be ready to go the first [five minutes]. The first round is always dangerous at Heavyweight no matter what.”

So where does Johnson feel he has the most advantage in the fight and the best chance to negate Kongo’s strength and power?

“Probably the clinch. Probably my clinch game, my dirty boxing type stuff. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I overpower them but it’s a gritty mentality area, and that’s an area where I like to be, because if you can impose your will on somebody there, you can impose it anywhere.”

Even though Johnson isn’t a fan of predictions (and he explains why) he did offer a little bit of a preview for the Kongo fight.

“I don’t like making predictions because then it makes you look like an idiot if you’re wrong {*laughing*}. But, it’s either going to go to a decision or — if things go very well for me — you may see me in jail.”

Now that’s an epic cliffhanger. To find out which way the pendulum will swing this weekend be sure to watch Bellator 208 live on Paramount Network this Saturday night.

Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Sonnen vs. Fedor” resides here at MMA Mania all week long.

To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.

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