Kajan Johnson believes his back is always up against the wall, but not for the reason one may think.
Johnson, who defeated Adriano Martins by third-round knockout at UFC 215 earlier this month in his return from a two-year layoff, has been outspoken throughout his career in the Octagon. A member of the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association (MMAFA), Johnson caused ruckus at a Reebok summit at the May UFC athlete retreat. His complaints regarding fighter pay have been very public. “Ragin” is speaking his mind for every right reason, of course, but sometimes that upsets the bosses.
Despite his controversial actions, Johnson doesn’t think he was in danger of being released if he had lost to Martins, a large betting favorite. But he said he always needs to perform well, because if he viciously comes up short, it could be all over — by choice.
“If I did lose that fight, it was very likely that it was going to be with a knockout. And I’m not down to get knocked out again. So if I did get knocked out, I probably would have quit, anyway,” Johnson told BloodyElbow.com’s The MMA Circus. “My back’s always kind of against the wall, because I’m not down for more brain damage.”
For Johnson, the possibility of retirement is always looming. Perhaps it motivates him and keeps him going. Whatever the case is, it’s realistic. Johnson has been finished by TKO six times in his veteran career, and he never wants another stoppage loss on his record.
Johnson said that he’s already noticed small deficiencies in his brain due to the ever-growing issue of head trauma in MMA, something he does not want to take lightly.
Former Bellator fighter Jordan Parsons was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease caused by head injuries, last year, months after his death. He was the first MMA fighter in which CTE was found. Parsons died in an unrelated hit-and-run accident.
“I would have really had to assess everything. I don’t want another knockout (loss). I don’t want to have consecutive knockouts. I already got knocked out twice in a row; name a fighter who’s come back from that? I don’t know any,” he said. “Because I did that, there has been a lot of brain damage that has occurred. I’m 15 years deep; my brain isn’t what it used to be. I stutter more, I stumble along words more. I already notice these little things. I’m not down to continue to incur massive amounts of damage in this sport. If I get knocked out again, I would probably step away.”
Johnson beat Martins and subsequently did not retire after Edmonton’s UFC 215, but even moving forward, he plans to fight smarter — and that has been noticeable in his last few fights, all of which he’s won.
“I’m not there to bleed for people,” Johnson said. “There’s no amount of money that’s worth my blood. I’m sorry. I’ve done it, I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I’ve taken millions and millions of hits in order to produce exciting fights. Now I’ve reached a realization where I understand that’s a misuse of the martial arts. We, as martial artists, are not supposed to do things like that; we are supposed to take the least amount of damage possible and be as effective as possible. If fans like that, awesome. If fans don’t like that, awesome. I don’t really care.
“If you don’t like watching high-level martial artists use the martial art in the way it’s meant to be used, then maybe you should go watch a Tough Man competition. Or go watch a lower-level pro show. And you’ll see a whole bunch of guys that aren’t as good down to get in the middle of the cage and get bloody. But that’s not me; I’m not here to bleed for you.”
Even removing the option of a knockout loss and immediate retirement, Johnson has pretty exact plans for when he’ll step away. According to the British Columbia native, 35 years old has always been the magic age. Whether or not he does retire when he turns 35 in about a year and a half depends on his standing in the lightweight division.
“It really depends on what happens in the next couple years, but I’ve always said 35 was my cut off,” he said. “That really depends on where I am when I hit 35. I’m 33 already; I’m turning 34 in April. That’s pretty close. But if I turn 35 and I’m in striking distance of that title, I’ll stay the course. But if I turn 35 and it’ll take me another five years to get that belt, I’m sorry, I’m gone. I’m done.”