No. 1-ranked Bellator middleweight contender Johnny "The Human Cheat Code" Eblen (11-0 MMA, 7-0 BMMA) is preparing for the biggest fight of his life, a Bellator championship matchup against reigning champion and MMA legend Gegard "The Dreamcatcher" Mousasi (49-7-2 MMA, 7-1 BMMA) on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Eblen, 30, began his mixed martial arts journey as a wrestler. His grappling acumen was elevated to new heights at the University of Missouri, a wrestling program that has produced such talents as MMA champions Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley and Michael Chandler. In college, Eblen was a 2015 NCAA Championships qualifier and a two-time Academic All-MAC Team member.
During his MMA tenure, Eblen has been a longtime member of the prestigious American Top Team gym in Coconut Creek, Florida, where he trains regularly alongside standout talents such as Bellator welterweight champion Yaroslav Amosov, Jorge Masvidal and ranked Bellator contenders like Alexander Shabliy, Danny Sabatello and Sabah Homasi, among others.
"The Human Cheat Code" rattled off four straight first-round finishes to kickstart his MMA career, catching the eye of Bellator scouts and signing with the promotion in 2019. It has been a rapid ascent up the middleweight rankings for Eblen ever since.
Eblen kept his momentum rolling inside the Bellator cage with unanimous decision victories over opponents far more experienced than him in Chauncey Foxworthy, Mauricio Alonso and Taylor Johnson. However, it was in 2021 that he truly cemented his status as one of Bellator's most promising up-and-coming talents.
2021 saw Eblen notch another three dominant victories, including his first two Bellator stoppages. In May, he charged at Daniel Madrid and dropped him with a thunderous left hook before swarming him on the canvas with fight-ending ground-and-pound strikes in the first round of their Bellator 258 affair.
He followed up the emphatic victory with another unanimous decision win over former heavyweight Travis Davis in July, outclassing his opponent in the wrestling exchanges and showcasing his continued growth in the striking. The Bellator 262 main card win marked Eblen's first appearance on a Bellator main card, a status Eblen has maintained ever since.
To close out the year, Eblen scored yet another first-round knockout, this time over a highly-touted prospect in Collin Huckbody. Huckbody, a potent submission threat who at one time held the Cage Fury Fighting Championships title and was signed to the UFC, was no match for the crushing punches of Eblen up against the cage fencing. The December win put an exclamation mark on Eblen's stellar 2021, setting him up for a high-stakes matchup with recent title challenger John Salter to kick off his 2022 efforts.
Salter had just come up short against middleweight kingpin Mousasi entering the fight with Eblen, indicating just how significant the matchup would be for Eblen's burgeoning title aspirations. Despite an experience gap of over 15 fights – five more than Eblen had even competed in himself – it was Eblen who fought to a clean 30-27 unanimous decision across all three judges' scorecards, notching yet another high-caliber win and securing himself a crack at Mousasi.
Dethroning the champion will be no easy task for Eblen, as the Bellator middleweight kingpin has defend his title twice during his current reign. Both defenses, against Salter and previously-undefeated Austin Vanderford, were wrestlers. Mousasi noted this, explaining at the recent Bellator 282 virtual press conference, "The last two opponents were [of a] similar style, wrestlers, so basically, I've been training for a fighting style similar to Eblen for almost a year now."
That doesn't phase Eblen, who said at the same press conference, "Every fight I've prepared for is like a title fight in my head, I approach everything the same. Obviously, I'm fighting Gegard Mousasi, so it's different, but this is why I prepare the way I do, for moments like this."
Eblen is confident in his abilities, and he believes a win over Mousasi will both entertain and surprise fans as well as jumpstart his legacy in the sport.
"This fight is going to solidify my name and start my legacy. This is going to put a big exclamation point after my name – people are going to be talking about me. Especially with what I'm going to do against Gegard, I'm going to punch him in the face, I'm going to take him down, it's going to be fun, I like his style, but there's things I can do based off his style. It's going to fun and exciting, don't just think I'm going to wrestle you," he warned the champion.
Saturday's Bellator 282 main card, which features the Mousasi-Eblen title fight and two Bellator bantamweight world grand prix quarterfinals bouts, airs live on Showtime beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
The talent-stacked preliminary portion of the Bellator 282 card, which features an eye-popping nine ranked contenders and other exciting matchups, will begin at 6 p.m. ET and will air live free-of-charge on the Bellator YouTube channel, the Showtime Sports YouTube channel, as well as Pluto TV.