How many NBA players can transition to professional fighting and do well in the UFC? From what we’ve seen though the years, not many. One such player believes he’s the exception, and can beat UFC heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
This is a tad different from bodybuilder Bradley Martyn trolling MMA fighters. This NBA Player says he’d beat Jon Jones not just because he’s big and athletic, but because of his background in Karate and MMA.
NBA player James Johnson claims he’d beat Jon Jones
James Johnson, a 36-year-old 6-foot-8 forward, who last played with the Indiana Pacers, believes he’s a better striker than Jon Jones. He claims he would only need a year of grappling defense to beat the UFC heavyweight champion in the cage.
“I think I could beat him for real. But like I said, with a year of training defense. I just need ground defense,” NBA player James Johnson boldly claimed.
“(Jon Jones) started learning how to use your hands and your feet, what? After college? Like, I’ve been punching and kicking since I was five or six years old,” Johnson said. “The same thing for me though is the opposite for him, because he’s been wrestling for that long, learning all these wrestling moves and things like that for that long. For me, I started learning the wrestling game and all that in middle school. The jiu-jitsu. You know, he has a big advantage there because no one wants to get on the floor.
“But as long as I can keep him from going on the floor, I win,” he said.
James Johnson switching to MMA after NBA career?
In 2019, Johnson spoke about “absolutely” wanting to get that call from Dana White after he steps away from basketball.
“MMA, I train it all. It’s a great workout me, but the only down part about that is I know I’m not training to compete. I’m training to get in better shape, have something different than running lines on a basketball court,” Johnson said.
“All of it. Brazilian jiu-jitsu, my stand up game is nice,” Johnson said about which style he prefers. “I’ve been fighting my whole life. It’s just been nothing but training (growing up).”
“Absolutely, I would love that (if Dana White called me after my basketball career). That’s my first love, my first passion. That fighter mentality, that fighter heart, it never goes. You see guys right now still trying to kick away, like Chuck Liddell and Anderson Silva, guys that just can’t get way from the game.”
Is James Johnson really 7-0 in MMA and 20-0 in kickboxing?
Even prior to all this talk about Jon Jones, there’s been multiple reports of Johnson having records of 7-0 in MMA, and 20-0 in kickboxing for years. ESPN also repeated this when he got in that infamous scuffle and punched Serge Ibaka in 2018.
Johnson comes from a family of Karate black belts, and holds one of his own as well. Being an incredible athlete, it wouldn’t be too surprising if he indeed compiled a lengthy winning record in some point fighting competitions growing up.
The closest info I can find is from one of his MMA fights. An old Sports Illustrated article called Johnson a Karate “world champ” and (weirdly) described a May 15, 2006 win against “Damond” Clark in 2006. Tapology records show an amateur MMA bout with a “Damon” Clark on the same exact date and location.
That James Johnson tapology profile is listed to have a 3-0 amateur MMA record. Digging deeper on the two other wins after the bout with Clark, and it looks like it’s bouts belonging to a different person. Both fights happened on Valley Fight League, and their website archive shows a different, Super Heavyweight champion.
A separate “James Johnson” on Tapology is listed to have beaten Strikeforce vet Scott Lighty light heavyweight in an amateur kickboxing bout 1999. That’s likely a different fighter too, as Lighty would’ve been 21 then, and Johnson at just 12-years-old.
All in all, there are no videos or information on Johnson’s extensive fighting records. That being said, really old amateur MMA fights are also obviously less documented and harder to verify than newer professional ones.
How would Johnson do in the UFC?
Without video of any fights or even training, it’s really impossible to judge the level of his technique. Even if he really did well and won 7 fights in MMA and 20 in kickboxing, those were all just amateur bouts. Perhaps more importantly, they happened almost two decades ago.
Johnson’s been (rightfully) focused on his far more lucrative basketball career, and MMA has evolved and changed completely since that time.
We’ve seen with the likes of NFL washout Greg Hardy that at heavyweight, being big and strong can lead to some success. Experience and skill level from years of training will always matter at the highest levels, and Hardy soon his ceiling and eventually washed out from the UFC as well.
For Johnson’s case, being very big and mobile, while also having a striking background can help him find success in MMA fights. But against the elite talent like Jon Jones, and just with one year of training? Athletes typically have unreal self-belief, but that’s obviously just crazy talk.
Johnson’s lucrative NBA career
Perhaps if Johnson dedicated himself to the sport from the start, he could’ve accomplished big things and some of these outrageous claims in MMA. Until UFC pays better than these major sports organizations though, the overwhelming majority of the elite athletes that are big and mobile would still choose places like the NBA or NFL.
While pretty much being a role player and NBA journeyman that’s played with 11 NBA teams and had two G-League stints in his career, Johnson still managed to make over $82 million in contracted salaries alone.
Johnson is best known for his three year stint with the Miami Heat, where he averaged 12.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in his best season in 2016. He has bounced around various teams since. The 36-year-old played 18 games with the Indiana Pacers last season, where he averaged just nine minutes a game.
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