Johnnie Morton and Mighty Mo will be featured performers on “Softbank presents Dynamite!! USA in association with ProElite” on Saturday, June 2, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Morton, who will make his MMA debut against Bernard Ackah, and Mo, who meets Mu Bae Choi, will fight in two of the fights that will be produced and distributed live by SHOWTIME® Pay-Per-View (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
The SHOWTIME® PPV fights will be preceded by a one-hour telecast on SHOWTIME® (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) that will feature some of ProElite’s EliteXC top performers such as Antonio “Big Foot” Silva and Jake Shields.
Johnnie, how is training going and are you looking forward to your MMA debut?
Morton: Training is going really well. I am really excited. I am at a point right now where I probably have learned as much as I am going to learn in two months. So I am trying to heal up and recover and just get mentally ready and focused for the fight.
Johnnie, you are a top athlete. What have been some of the biggest adjustments you have had to make for MMA?
Morton: I would say the full gamut as far as cardio, the endurance and stamina is a lot different from football. Football, you explode on plays and you have time to recover in between, whereas Mixed Martial Arts, you have to be focused for 15 minutes straight and be able to explode with endurance. So you cannot take time off and you cannot take a deep breath and get yourself back together. You have to be focused 100 percent of the time.
Since getting into MMA, is it what you expected as far as conditioning and training? Has anything caught you by surprise as you continue to learn on the job?
Morton: I would say it is a lot different than I expected. The cardio – and when I say cardio, I mean as far as the endurance and being able to keep going minute after minute – that is a 100 times harder than football. And also learning different moves and learning how to punch and defend yourself. I learn something every day. The hardest part is most football players, when we are in a game or practicing, we use a lot of physical exertion, where in MMA a lot of it is relaxation and technique. That will get you further. For instance, if you are on the bottom and someone is on top of you, it is better to technique your way out than to try to use muscle because you exhaust yourself. So I am learning everyday, every minute.
Do you know anything about your opponent or how he was chosen?
Morton: I am not sure how he was chosen, but I know his specialty is Tai Kwon Do. He is probably a little bit taller than me, maybe not as big, and he has a got a plethora of strikes and kicks he will be using. So I am working a lot on defending that.
As a football player, a person who really plays in a skilled position, how do you think having your athletic skills would be an advantage for you in Mixed Martial Arts?
Morton: I think by playing wide receiver in the NFL, because I had to learn so many techniques physically and mentally, it allows you to pick up a little bit more than I think the average football player because while you are learning MMA, there are so many different entities you have to learn from—ground, stand up, defense, offense. So I am constantly learning. Because I am used to that, I think it accelerates my learning process a little bit. Even though it has only been two months, I feel like I am a little bit ahead of the curve.
Is this your first foray into combat sport?
So you have not fought in amateurs, like Golden Gloves or anything like that?
Morton: No. I am 0-0, and underground, amateur and pro. Zero experience.
In football, there is time out, a huddle, half time. (In MMA), you can be in there for 15 minutes with a guy who is constantly on the attack. Have you prepared yourself for that, or are you going into the great unknown right now?
Morton: No, I have prepared myself for that. In football, sometimes I play games for three hours and I am not tired afterwards. But in MMA, to prepare for the 15 minutes of combat, I have had guys come at me, fresh guys who I will wrestle. (Then, I will) spar with somebody, and wrestle the fresh guys back to back to back. So they are constantly putting pressure and taxing my endurance.
Why are you doing this?
Morton: That is the No. 1 question.
Why not blend in with the stars?
Morton: It is just I want to live life in a way. I know there are other things to do like maybe surf, golf and do things on TV, which I probably will in the future. But right now, because I am still athletic and I am still young enough to do this, this is just something I want to try in life and explore and experience. It is something I have always been interested in. At least, when I am old, I can say I tried or I did it. It is just something I have wanted to do for a long time.
You are probably the biggest name from the NFL to come into MMA. Do you see anyone else maybe coming over, or maybe MMA becoming a sport where it could possibly be an alternative for athletes who might have otherwise gone into football?
Morton: I think it definitely will: one, because the market is growing. It is becoming a sport where the fighters are going to constantly get paid more and more because it is growing. I see the money rising there. Also, the NFL, the career has just jumped to a three-year career average, which means a lot of guys will be done and retire with the NFL at age 25 and 26. So they will still be young and athletic and I think many of the players will be able to transition into MMA as long as they have the desire and the discipline because the training is a lot harder. It is something that I might have second guessed knowing the training was going to be this hard.
Who are some of the other fighters that you are training with and what has been the toughest aspect of MMA to pick up on?
Morton: For me, I train with Mike Diamond, aka Joker. That is why I am training at Joker’s Wild (Fighting Academy in Lake Forest, Calif.). I am also training with an Australian Muay Thai kickboxer, Tony Bonello. I would say the hardest aspect of MMA for me personally is, I thought my striking would be a little bit more advanced than my ground work, but for me ground work is a little bit easier. Then striking is a little bit harder to pick up because of the hand speed. You punch – most people think they punch and strike an object or a target. But you have to bring your hands back just as fast. And I also think the endurance aspect, being able to go punch after punch, kick after kick, go on the ground and get back up. It taxes you. It just wears you out.
You are within the Japanese American community (where) martial arts is taken pretty seriously. How can you justify or explain your decision to go into something like this, which is sport, but has a certain degree of show business to it as well, as opposed to some of the pure traditional martial arts?
Morton: It does. It is revered in Japan, where in the United States; it is looked upon a little bit differently. I have had a wonderful opportunity to play the No. 1 American sport which is the NFL, and now I have a chance to go into the No. 1 Japanese sport, which is MMA. So it is kind of a chance to explore and experience different parts of my heritage.
You mentioned you will be in there for 15 minutes. There is certainly going to be a certain pain threshold as opposed to downs that are separated by breaks when you are playing football. What have you done specifically as far as endurance training?
Morton: Well, I stay in good cardio shape regardless if I am playing sports or not. But this is a whole other world because you do not get any breaks. Like you said, 15 minutes straight of aggression is really hard to deal with. So I usually just do a lot of cardio, a lot of drills and then train with guys one after another when they are fresh and I am tired. That really pushes you to build your endurance.
What is it like making the crossover to something like this?
Morton: It is hard because, for one thing, the biggest change was trying not to muscle everything and learn technique. But I have been playing football for so long that naturally I want to muscle people over or do things to them without technique. So the hardest thing is to relax and use a technique and train your body to do that.
What is the difference between MMA peak conditioning and football peak conditioning?
Morton: For instance, in the NFL, one time I missed about 90 percent of the training camp. I practiced for a week and I started and played the whole game at Denver in the altitude. (In) MMA, I do not know if you ever get in shape because it is just like you are put in this pit where your endurance is constantly being tested and you feel like you can never be in good enough shape to survive.
Comparing the two sports, how would you compare getting hit in football and taking a real shot to the face? Also, how do you compare playing a real team sport (as opposed to) an individual sport like this?
Morton: As far as getting hit, in the NFL, I think the blows are delivered in more of a blunt force, where sometimes you get hit in the body, sometimes unknowingly you get a shot to the head, but you have a helmet on so the force is disbursed a little bit differently. If you get punched in the face or the head in MMA, it is more of an acute pain so it stings you a little bit and it stuns you. But you get a little bit angrier when you get hit in the MMA.
What was your reaction the first time you took a real shot to the face?
Morton: Frustration because I am a perfectionist. So you learn many different things and everyone stresses to keep your hands up. So as soon as you get hit, it is because (I) did not have (my) hands up.
What is it like participating in an individual sport now after playing the ultimate team sport?
Morton: There is a lot more pressure and stress. I remember with the NFL, I usually would not change moods until the day before the game. But with MMA, because there is so much pressure on you, it all rides on your shoulders. You actually do have a team that you have to prepare with, and you are no good without your team. But when it comes down to it, when you walk into the ring, it is all you. So I notice myself changing my attitude maybe two weeks before. You do not want to talk to anybody, take phone calls, and talk to media. You just want to put yourself in the hole and think about the fight.
Do you like that feeling? The individual feeling?
Morton: I do. I am responsible for everything that happens. It is not like I can prepare fully and then go in the game and maybe the defense could pick it up, or the quarterback threw a bad pass. It is all on you. So if you lose, it is on you, but I think when you win, it shows a team effort because you cannot perform well in this without a bunch of guys that will help you prepare.
A lot of guys who played football as long as you did say they come out pretty beat up. Are you still in pretty good condition as far as not being injured?
Morton: Yes, in a lot of ways I feel like I never played in the NFL because my joints are all functional. I do not have any pain. I do not limp out of bed. I feel like I did not even play. I think that is due to my conditioning and taking care of myself.
Do you follow the Lions at all anymore? How do you feel about your days in Detroit?
Morton: I wish I could be there. I want to play. After the fight, I am going to (go) over to training camps and see if I can get in somewhere.
They always love another receiver, right?
Morton: I do not know if Matt Millen wants me there. I do not know why.
You might like to see him in the ring?
Morton: Well, I would challenge him for charity. All the money would go to charity.
You are in different weight classes though, right?
Morton: We do not even need weight classes.
As far as what you are planning, is this a one and done situation for you? Or do you plan to stay in MMA?
Morton: I do. What I am going to do is have this first fight and go from there. I do not like to plan too far ahead, especially with something I have not done before. But I am looking forward to more fights in the future.
People look at you as a football player and will probably take the position of this being an opportunity to see how football players would do in MMA. Do you feel whether you succeed or not that people will use you as a barometer? Do you feel any pressure to represent the NFL?
Morton: In some ways, I do. I wish I had more time to prepare. I have only been doing this for two months, but I try to learn at an accelerated rate. But I am sure that I will be someone who represents the NFL and many guys, due to my success or what have you, will either make the decision to try it or not.
You have only been doing this for two months; can you describe a typical day in your life?
Morton: As it gets closer to the fight, basically, wake up, eat, train, sleep a little bit and think about the fight. I watch a lot of fights, a lot of fighters that I like to emulate, then train again, eat a little bit. I pretty much keep to myself, especially as it gets closer to the fight. I just kind of stay home. I am a homebody anyway, but you notice yourself not wanting any outside contact. You just want to be with yourself and just kind of go over fights and strategies and get yourself mentally prepared.
As far as conditioning each day, is it general conditioning or specific types of conditioning and training?
Morton: Different types. For instance, when I do stand-up, there is a different conditioning than if I roll around on the ground with guys and work on submissions. It is a lot different. Then sometimes I go out and run. I do sprints and run miles. There is a lot of different types of cardio. A lot of different ways to make yourself tired.
What do you know about your opponent and have you had a chance to view any video on him in order to develop a specific strategy for your fight next week?
Morton: Yes, I have a strategy for him. I have watched a video probably 50 times already. I know what his strengths and weaknesses are. I am sure, (however), without him knowing exactly what I represent, he will probably work on some new techniques. But I do know what his strengths are.
Prior to your training, what martial arts experience background did you have?
Morton: It was just off season, casual, May Thai kickboxing training. Nothing like this. There is a difference between training for fun and training for a fight.
With your debut just one week away, are you nervous?
Morton: I do not really get nervous. Right now, I am working on recovery because I have been training hard. So I am trying to recover now. I am working on techniques and to get my body back and get massages and just get mentally focused.
You spent the bulk of your career in Detroit. How do you look on that phase of your (life)? Was it the best of times, the worst of times?
Morton: No, best of times. Definitely best of times. I think about being there daily and just because I can still play, I wish I could go back there and play. But I am sure it would have to be in the absence of Millen. I love playing football and especially to play back there. I would donate 100 percent of my salary to charity to play back there.
Do you have any closing thoughts or comments?
Morton: I would just like to thank everyone for their interest and I will do my best to make an exciting and victorious fight on June 2.
Can you just give us some opening comments on your fight June 2?
Mo: It is just another day at work, that’s about it. I take every fight seriously. I am ready to compete.
What do you know about your opponent and what kind of fight do you expect?
Mo: First of all, KO. I have seen him fight other guys before. (I do not have) to worry about him. As far as matching up with me, I do not think he can handle my strength and power.
You are really a tribute to not only MMA, but to all sports in regard to what you have gone through and how you support your family. Can you tell us about that?
Mo: I grew up in a rough life. I grew up around crime and my parents were not too educated, but they tried and did their best. Out of all the mistakes, I tried to learn. So I am trying to raise my kids better than I was raised. My brothers are going through their trials in their lives (so) I am trying to be there as a positive impact in my nephews’ lives. I am just there to support them and hopefully let them know that life is what you make of it. I want to set a good example for my kids and my nephews and nieces. You get what you get out of life, if you work hard for it.
Before you got into MMA, you were in construction. Now you are in the business of destruction. How has life changed for you since you began your career in MMA?
Mo: It just made me explore more of my skills and what I know I am capable of. I want to bring something new to the table with my fight skills and my mentality and my athletic ability. )I can) adapt to anybody’s style of fighting.
Who do you typically train with for your fights and who trained you for this fight?
Mo: Well, for this fight, I have been training at different gyms because I really want to open my own gym. I am not a young fighter, so I have seen a lot and I have been around a lot of people. I have adapted to my own style of fighting and I know what works for me and it is what brought me to this level of fighting. I teach myself. I have people there just to look at my lazy points and let me know that I have to focus on those lazy points, like my hands being down, that I need more cardio, that I need to stretch this and lose weight here. But overall, I am a fighter and athlete trying to compete at the highest level. As far as the people I have around me, they are people like Jamie Fletcher. He helps me on my MMA and my kickboxing skills. Then I have a couple other Tai brothers who help me with my stand-up skills. Basically, it is just I am an older fighter and a student of the game. I try to expand myself to be a better athlete and a better competitor in this level of sports and competition.
Mo, it sounds like you really enjoy fighting. Is that true?
Mo: Well, to me, nobody enjoys fighting, but I would say I enjoy the competition, the competitive side of the sport. It is a sport and I am a very competitive type of person and an athletic type of person, and this happens to be where my ability is and I enjoy supporting my abilities. I always felt in my heart that I was an athlete. I tried football. I have been a football player and a wrestler in my life, but this is where my athletic ability landed at so I will make the best of it. Competition is everything and I am a very competitive person. Hopefully, in this athletic sport, I will show my best to the world.
Besides winning, what do you remember about the night you knocked out three guys in three fights?
Mo: I just remember that I was looking for their weaknesses in them and just taking them one fight at a time. I picked them apart. I saw what their weaknesses were and showed them my strength. I got the best of the competition.
Do you like to study tapes of your opponents?
Mo: Yes, I do. I like to study their weaknesses. I may watch films just one time to see their weaknesses. Then I know they have a weakness. There is one thing about fighting, you cannot just go to that weakness, not like football. It is more like you know this guy has a weakness, but it all depends on the moment. You have to be able to read your opponent and adjust to his style of what he is doing.
Style wise, how does your opponent’s Greco Roman style play with your style?
Mo: Well, Greco, you got to pass the red zone when you are standing up, the red zone for a striker. Once he passes that, then I would have to adjust his style on the ground. One of my strengths (is that he weighs) that much. I doubt his skill level will match my strength because I am a very strong individual and that has helped me a lot. Plus, I have done pretty well in collegiate wrestling as a youngster. So I have some ground game for him too.
If Hong Man Choi cannot fight and if you were approached, would you have a problem stepping up to fight Brock Lesnar next week?
Mo: I would have no problem fighting Brock Lesnar. He would look good on my resume.
How do you feel you match up style-wise with Brock? Obviously, he has not fought before in MMA, but he has a very strong wrestling background. Do you feel like your skills will negate his wrestling?
Mo: It depends on what opportunity he gives me. If he gives me an opportunity for me to strike him, then you can consider the fight over. If he is smart enough to get across that red zone and slick enough, then he might have a chance with me. But he has to pass that red zone as far as me striking him, I feel, like most wrestlers, they do not really strike, especially me. I am a very, very heavy striker. So if he is smart and slick enough to get past that red zone past me, he might have a chance. He might.
Is there any update on Man Choi and if that has been finalized whether he can compete next week?
Mo: No. I just heard that they are going to go through one more doctor to find out what the deal is on that and then I guess today or tomorrow I will find out what the deal is on that.
You are a perfect 2-0 in MMA. You have experience and a knockout over Hong Man Choi. Are you thinking that you will go right through your opponent?
Mo: No, I am not thinking I am going right through him, but I just know what I have to bring to the table. Of course, I do keep in mind that he has some ground skills, but basically I do not want to put that type of pressure on myself as far as what he is bringing to the table. All I know is I am strong enough in my defense. Whatever he gives me on my offense; I will take advantage of that.
Any closing comments?
Mo: Just look out for Mighty Mo, he is coming with the bomb.