John Howard posted a 6-1 mark after his UFC release. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
At one point, it seemed as though John Howard was going to fight his way to the top of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s welterweight division -- or at least come damn close.
“Doomsday” burst on the UFC scene with four consecutive wins over credible opposition, earning “Fight of the Night” and “Knockout of the Night” honors in the process. It seemed almost certain that Howard would soon find himself locking horns with some of the best fighters the 170-pound division had to offer on a routine basis. Then the situation took a turn for the worse.
A stoppage loss to the highly regarded Jake Ellenberger came first, followed by decision defeats to onetime title contender Thiago Alves and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 7 alumnus Matt Brown. In less than a year, Howard went from being one of the UFC’s more promising young welterweights to being released by the promotion.
Even though Howard saw his dreams swept out from underneath him, he never lost focus on his ultimate goal. Instead, he took all the negativity surrounding him, learned from it and made himself a better fighter. He knew someday he would be back in the Octagon.
“When I got cut from the UFC, I wanted to immediately prove to everybody that I shouldn’t have been [released],” Howard said in an exclusive interview with Sherdog.com. “I wanted to show the world that I was still a great fighter and that I belonged with the best.
“I was also going through some very tough times,” he added. “My grandmother had died, and it was very difficult on me because I was so close with her. I had a hard time staying focused because that was all I could think about, and that showed in my last performances [in the UFC]. I’ve gotten past that now and I’ve become a more dedicated, more driven fighter.”
Howard took inventory, which meant returning to smaller shows on the regional mixed martial arts circuit. He went 6-1 with five knockouts, capturing the CES MMA middleweight championship, his efforts drawing the attention of the UFC. All he needed was an opening and an opponent for UFC Fight Night 26 at the TD Garden in Boston.
“I called [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva up and asked to come back to the UFC,” Howard said. “I told him that I had been winning and just had a great knockout and [asked] what would it take for them to put me on the Boston card. He told me, ‘Listen, the card is stacked and there’s nothing we can do right now, but do me a favor and stay ready.’ I told him I would and kept busy.”
When Nick Ring and then Josh Samman withdrew from the event, Howard’s phone rang. He agreed to meet “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 17 finalist and former Ring of Combat champion Uriah Hall on short notice.
“Uriah is a known fighter,” said Howard, who on Saturday will tangle with Team Tiger Schulmann export. “He made it all the way to [‘The Ultimate Fighter’ final], so he’s a capable fighter. It’s a great matchup, too, because we are both strikers who like to bang and go for the knockout. It’s going to be two warriors going at it.”
Win or lose in the middleweight showcase, Howard believes he has developed into a much better fighter since he first appeared in the UFC. He adheres to a stricter diet, has fewer distractions and eagerly awaits his second chance to shine on his sport’s biggest stage.
“I come to fight,” Howard said. “I stand and bang, I’ll take you to the ground [and] I try to knock you out. That’s what I do. I am not the type of fighter who will take a guy down and just hold him there to make sure I win. I’ve never done that, and I never will. I want to go out there and fight, and if my opponent wants to fight just as hard, then even better.
“I tell people that I don’t fight to win or lose,” he added. “I fight to fight.”
Howard relishes the chance to compete in front of his hometown fans. He plans to enter the cage focused and relaxed.
“Even though I’m fighting in my hometown, the pressure is not on me, not at all,” Howard said. “The pressure is all on Hall. He’s the bigger fighter, the more popular fighter, and he’s taking on a late replacement. I believe I have more skill than him and I have more experience, so it’s a dangerous fight for him.
“All I want to do is fight in Boston,” he added. “If I lose, so be it. I am fighting in the Boston Garden; I know it’s the TD Garden now, but I’ll always call it the Boston Garden and I’ve always wanted to fight there. I’m going balls out to bang, like I always do.”