Brooklyn Nets' power forward James Johnson has spent the last 13 years of his career in the NBA. However, he was a formidable MMA fighter with seven MMA matches to his name and an unbeaten record of 20-0 in kickboxing prior to that.
Johnson has a second-degree black belt in martial arts. He had his first MMA fight at the age of 18, reportedly dominating and finishing his opponent in just 97 seconds. He earned the moniker 'Little Ali' because of his notably fancy footwork during fights that resembled that of the late Muhammad Ali.
The love for MMA runs in the blood of Johnson’s family. In fact, his parents and siblings have black belts in mixed martial arts as well.
Throughout his NBA career, Johnson was often asked about his MMA background. He was commonly quizzed to explain how it relates to basketball.
According to the 6-foot-7 forward, fighting and basketball are almost the same. For Johnson, the only difference is that MMA is an individual sport and basketball is a team sport.
In a Dallas Mavericks press conference in 2020, he said:
“In fighting, you’re always training for that one person and it was just you versus him. But in basketball, it’s a team sport, so you have to do what’s needed. But me walking onto the court or me walking into the [MMA] game felt the same.”
Watch Johnson's full interview below:
James Johnson is open to joining the UFC after his NBA career
James Johnson is 35 years old and is now playing his 14th season in the NBA. While he still plays almost 20 minutes per outing to date, 'Bloodsport' knows that basketball is a young man's game.
When asked if he would be open to exploring a UFC career should Dana White call, Johnson said he'd be more than happy to return to his "first love." In an interview with Fanatics View in 2019, he said:
“I’ve been fighting my whole life… That’s my first love, my first passion. I would love that [to fight for the UFC after my NBA career]. The fighter mentality, the fighter heart it never goes. I still see guys right now still trying to kick away, [like] Chuck Liddell, [Anderson] Silva. You got guys that just can’t get away from the game.”
Check out Johnson's full interview below: