Raptors forward used to be mixed martial artist
By MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency
|Raptors forward James Johnson smiles during a break in play against the Magic at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., April 3, 2011. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)
James Johnson will get an early Christmas present.
It will come in the form of Saturday’s UFC card at the ACC, a sport the Raptors power forward grew up in and one he enjoys watching the same way many of his fellow Raptors teammates enjoy every Sunday during the NFL season.
For Johnson, mixed martial arts was an integral part of his childhood and teen years.
From the age of 8 he began training in four different disciplines and by the time he was 19 he had a perfect 18-0 record.
A basketball scholarship to Wake Forest ended his fight career but certainly not his passion for the sport. He still finds himself returning to the gym for training every once in a while.
“When basketball training and running suicides in the gym, especially in the summer time, when that gets repetitive you don’t want to stop working out so I go back into the gym and do some martial arts training,” Johnson said. “I keep myself in shape plus it’s a love that will never leave.”
Having been inside the octagon, Johnson has no time for the sport’s naysayers who don’t give it the respect it deserves.
“If people don’t think this is a sport like any other sport where they train and dedicate their lives to their sport to learn every aspect then step up and get in the (octagon),” he said. “You have to learn all these combat styles,” Johnson points out having been through it himself. “It’s not just one. Or it’s not just ‘Hey, I’m strong. I’ll just get in there and beat him up.’ Kimbo Slice is proof of that. He was beating everyone up in those street fights. He was a YouTube hero for street fights and then he gets into the cage and didn’t win anything in there. It’s a whole different ball game.”
With UFC 140 happening in his own place of work this weekend, Johnson likely could have just about any seat in the house he wants, but you won’t find him in any of the private boxes this weekend.
He’ll be as close as he can get to that octagon.
“Those suite boxes don’t do it justice,” Johnson said. “I’m going to try and get some snot on me or something, try to get as close as I possibly can.”
And any Raptors that want to join him will be more than welcome.
“I’m going to take anyone who wants to go but it’s really all on them,” he said. “All they have to do is ask.”
BARBOSA IS HEART OF RAPTORS
If there was any debate about who is the glue on the Raptors’ 2011 roster, it ended yesterday when guard Leandro Barbosa walked into the team’s practice gym for the first time since last spring.
DeMar DeRozan, who seconds earlier had been busy running drills with teammates, broke away from the pack and made a bee-line to Barbosa, quickly engulfing him in a bear hug.
Then it was Jose Calderon’s turn, followed by Ed Davis, at which point Barbosa finally worked his way into the weight room away from prying eyes.
Barbosa may not like the cold temperatures here in Toronto — he swore it was the chief reason free agent and fellow Brazilian Nene likely wouldn’t consider the city in his future plans — but there is no question he is the heart and soul of the lineup.