This is number eighty-one in Jack’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature UFC middleweight, John Howard. Howard, a veteran of the UFC, had a record of 4-3 in his seven fights at welterweight in the promotion. Howard has not fought in the UFC since losing to Matt Brown in June of 2011, but since then he has returned to middleweight and gone 6-1 in regional promotions. He is extremely excited to be making his return to the UFC this Saturday, August 17th, at UFC Fight Night 26, in his native city of Boston. He will be facing TUF 17 finalist, Uriah Hall, in a battle of exciting and talented strikers. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
John Howard: My very first experience was with boxing when I was 10 or 12. I always had good hands, but the problem was that I was poor. I came from a poor neighborhood. I couldn't afford to train, and that's why I didn't go anywhere with it back then. My first experience with MMA and grappling came through Job Corps. I was 18 or 19 years old, and I met this guy, James Stokes. He was a great grappler, amazing, and I didn’t even know what grappling was. I told him that I would box him, but that I didn’t know what grappling was. He said, “All right, let’s go spar.” So he took me down and tapped me and just destroyed me on the ground. So I asked him, “Can you teach me what you’re doing to me?” He showed me some of the basics of grappling and wrestling, and I ran with it.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, a decision win in Revere, MA, back in 2004, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
JH: That was a crazy fight. Back then, I had a good hip-toss, some good grappling, and some ground and pound. So all I kept doing was hip-tossing him and getting on top of him. But he kept getting back up and it was a back and forth fight. I got the decision victory, and it was a great moment in my life.
JB: You were 5-0, undefeated, until you lost via armbar in your sixth fight, in 2006. How did you react to the loss?
JH: It sucked, man. I was fighting Alexandre Moreno, who was a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. I was like at a white belt or blue belt level. He put me in rubber guard and I had never seen that before. I stood up the wrong way and he put me in an armbar and broke my arm. He didn’t break it, but he tore the ligaments.
JB: By the time you entered the UFC in 2009, you were 10-4, you had dropped down from middleweight to welterweight, and you had fought tough guys, like Charlie Brenneman, Dan Miller, and Nick Catone, in regional promotions. How ready were you for your "Fight of the Night" promotional debut at UFC 94?
JH: I was ready, man. I was excited to be in the UFC. I was a kid then. I was just happy to be there. Once I got in the cage, I said to myself, “You know what? I’ve been doing this long enough. Let’s see what happens. F--- it!” I went for it and let my body do what it does best. Chris Wilson, the guy I fought, was a tough fight. It went the distance and I got the split decision. It was a great experience.
JB: You were 4-3 in the UFC, winning your first four, and then losing your next three. Was there ever a guy that you really wanted to fight that you didn’t get a chance to face at welterweight? I recall that you and Anthony Johnson used to have words back and forth in those days.
JH: Not really. Anthony Johnson, I did want to fight him, but that never happened. It’s all good. Stuff happens. There’s not anybody that I really wanted to fight in the UFC. It think I was satisfied with the guys I got to fight. I fought guys of all kinds, from the lowest level of the UFC to the top tier. It was a great experience. I think I got my fair share of guys and I was happy to be in there.
JB: In retrospect, what was your most satisfying moment from your first stint as a UFC fighter?
JH: I think that my best performance in the UFC was against Daniel Roberts. It was a 2-minute knockout in the first round. It was a flying left hook in an open guard situation. That was my most satisfying one right there because it was something I trained but never thought I’d do. Because I trained it so much, it just happened. I think that was my most satisfying fight ever.
JB: Since leaving the UFC, you have returned to middleweight and you have gone 6-1, with your last five wins all coming via stoppages. What's accounted for your success during this period of your career?
JH: Knocking people out is what is working for me. And being at 185. People don’t understand that I’m a short person but that doesn’t mean that I’m not heavy. I walk around at like 210. Right now, I’ve been training every single day, three times a day, and I’m 197. And that’s training hardcore, sweating, and training with some of the best guys. What people don’t understand is I train hard and I still retain weight. When I used to make 170, it sucked. I would train and still have to cut weight. I used to not eat properly. I just had like rabbit food and salad. Now I’m eating right and getting my protein. At this weight, it’s so much better now. I’m loving it.
JB: When I originally contacted you to do this interview, your return to the UFC was just a possibility. Now that it’s a reality that you’ll be fighting in the UFC again, how do you feel?
JH: Great! I feel unbelievable! It’s the perfect fight for me, striker vs. striker. I love the matchup.
JB: How exactly did the fight come about?
JH: Joe Silva called Kru John Allan, my main instructor, and then John Allan called me and told me that I was back in the UFC and when I had to fight. I was like, “Yeah. Sounds good to me!”
JB: When Uriah Hall’s season of The Ultimate Fighter was on, season 17, did you watch the show at all?
JH: I saw half of it. He’s a special striker, man. He’s good. That knockout was crazy, man. I think the reason that he landed it was that the kid didn’t have a lot of experience, but he landed it. It was a credit to him. He’s a good striker. I personally think he’s overrated. People think that he’s like the next world champion. I don’t think he’s all that yet, but I think he’s good though.
JB: Is Jorge Rivera in your corner for this fight?
JH: Yes. Jorge was a middleweight and a well-respected UFC fighter. I had asked him to help me out training because I wanted someone with experience and good striking. And Jorge hits hard! So I had him working with me and I said to him, “Since you’re working with me, sparring with me, can you be in my corner?” I wanted someone with a high level of experience. John Allan will be there and he has a lot of experience too, but the more experience in my corner, the better that is for me.
JB: How about the rest of the card? If you were just a fan in Boston going to see these fights, what fights would you be most excited to watch?
JH: I want to see that Matt Brown vs. Mike Pyle fight! Of course I want to see the main even too, the Chael vs. Shogun fight. And I definitely want to see Joe Lauzon. Joe Lauzon vs. Michael Johnson is going to be a great fight!
JB: So now that you’re a middleweight, who in the division do you particularly respect or admire and who are you interested in eventually fighting?
JH: I respect Anderson Silva a lot. He has great Muay Thai, and I’m a Muay Thai fighter, so I like his style. I try to mimic it, but I can’t because I’m kind of short. There’s nobody right now that I’m going to call out to fight. I probably have one or two that I will call out, but not until I get through this fight. I can’t look past Uriah Hall because he is a good fighter. For now, I’ll stay humble.
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and fighting?
JH: I don’t go out in the city much when I’m training because things get hectic. But my thing I love to do when I’m not in fight mode is dance. I love dancing. I also love playing video games. Call of Duty or Tekken, I’ll play all night long. That’s how I pass my time when I’m not training.
JB: Last question, John, and thanks for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
JH: It means a lot to me to be a fighter. I’ve been fighting basically all my life, just surviving in the neighborhood when I was growing up. I love it now because it’s something I get paid to do. It’s just fun. It’s not an easy life, but it’s enjoyable. I love it.
Thank you so much for reading and please follow John Howard and Jack Brown on Twitter.
Visit JackJohnBrownMMA on Facebook for links to all of Jack’s past interviews. Previous interviews include: Dan Hardy, Rose Namajunas, Joe Lauzon, War Machine, Tom Lawlor, Bas Rutten, Chris Leben, Phil Baroni, Julie Kedzie, Michael Bisping, Duane Ludwig, Sara McMann, Matt Lindland, Duke Roufus, Pat Miletich, Jens Pulver, Dan Severn, Nate Quarry, Ken Shamrock, Matt Serra, Jeremy Horn, Ray Longo, and dozens more.
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