Travel is one of the most important and enriching activities in an individual’s life. Too many people never venture outside of their homeland.
Legacy Fighting Alliance flyweight Charles Johnson grew up in the Midwest. Even just in his hometown, he experienced different worlds. The Missouri native had no idea what else was out there.
“Growing up in St. Louis — [Missouri]’s called the Show Me State, but it’s rough depending on where you’re from,” Johnson told Combat Press. “There’s a lot of systemic racism and a lot of issues still going on. There are some of the oldest laws still in place. There was the Ferguson incident with Mike Brown — you know, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ In some areas, there is a lot of friction with police, municipalities and neighborhoods. So, depending on where you’re at, it can be easy living or rough, and I’ve been in both.
“But, St. Louis, you know, you can get to the university, you can get out of St. Louis, and you can make it out of most places.”
Fortunately, Johnson had a good upbringing. He was an athlete his whole life, competing in cross country and wrestling. He was even an AAU national champion in track and field.
“I have Marines as parents, so it was pretty chill,” Johnson explained. “They provided a lot of structure I needed. Living with my mom was different, but when I came to live with my dad and my stepmom, who both raised me — they were both in the Marines, so it was a lot more structure. I have an older sister, one year older than me, so I had a little companion to run around with. Once we got into track around [age] six or seven, it gave us something to blow out energy on.
“I was the type of kid that was always into stuff. [I was] pretty smart, but I was always running into things. I was a pretty lively kid. Track gave me something to fuel my energy towards.”
It was in high school that Johnson started wrestling. However, it was cross country and track that came to the forefront when he got a scholarship to University of Arkansas – Pine Bluff. After he lost his scholarship, he shifted gears.
“I came home for a summer and linked up with an old wrestling teammate who had been fighting,” Johnson said. “After training for a couple weeks, I ended up fighting. It was on the same card he was fighting on for a belt. I fought some guy as an amateur, won, and I got hooked.”
Johnson had a successful amateur career before turning professional in June 2016. He went 6-0, including a debut win with the LFA, to kick off his pro career. By the second half of 2019, he was 8-2 in MMA while also getting a couple of pro boxing bouts under his belt.
In 2019, Johnson tried out for the Tiger Muay Thai team in Thailand. He had never had a passport and never before been outside of the United States. The coaches liked him and offered him a one-year sponsorship, which included room and board, training, and a meal plan. Prior to that, he had spent some time as the assistant wrestling coach at his high school and also worked in an auto shop, so the sponsorship was very valuable.
“While I was in Thailand, I trained with [now former UFC bantamweight champion] Petr Yan for two of his fight camps,” said the Missourian. “I was one of his main training partners for his Urijah Faber fight and his fight after that. It just gave me so much confidence that I can compete with the best in the world. Now that I’m back home, I feel there are not a lot of flyweights in the world that can compete with me.”
Johnson’s time in Thailand ended up getting extended due to the travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He finally made it back to America in late November and immediately tried out for the new season of The Ultimate Fighter. While he didn’t make it onto the show, he still wanted to get back into the cage soon. He hadn’t had an MMA fight since September 2018.
“In January, I went out to Abu Dhabi and cornered Joaquin Buckley,” Johnson said. “When I got back, I had a fight for LFA in February.
“My management, SuckerPunch, has been on the phones, getting me into a great position to make a run at things here. But Thailand was an almost two-year stint, and it was a blessing. It’s a beautiful place [with] good people, and it’s like my second home now.”
Buckley, who is also from St. Louis, hooked up Johnson with Murcielago MMA in Lansing, Mich. Murcielago is his sole camp for now, but he plans to eventually cross-train between there and Thailand. It was an easy move for the 30-year-old fighter, who spent time in Detroit in the past for both boxing and track.
In February, Johnson served as the co-main event on LFA 100. He ended up handing Karlee Pangilinan his first loss with a second-round anaconda choke. It was Johnson’s first MMA win in over two and a half years. It set him up for an interim flyweight title bid against Yuma Horiuchi. That fight takes place at LFA 110 on Friday night, July 2, in Shawnee, Okla. The two were originally slated as the co-headliner, but a last-minute injury withdrawal in the main event put Johnson and Horiuchi in the spotlight.
“I always look at myself as the main event, to be honest,” Johnson admitted. “My last fight, I was the main event. After the title fight after us, everyone said my fight was the most exciting. I always have a great fight. I just feel that now I’m in a position to put on a great show. Everything happens for a reason. My dad always said that. He always preached that to me. It’s a blessing to be in the spotlight. I’m just excited to put on a great show.”
The 23-year-old Horiuchi currently sits at 8-3 as a pro. However, his last two losses were split decisions. His last fight came in April at LFA 104, where he picked up a second-round submission win over Donavon Frelow. Horiuchi has won most of his fights by stoppage, a combination of both submissions and knockouts.
“He looks like a karate-style guy. [He’s] pretty technical,” said Johnson. “He has a pretty annoying fight style, but nothing I haven’t seen. It’s going to be a good fight to showcase my skills.
“That’s the beauty of the flyweight weight class. We have the most skill, the most technique, and the most mixed martial arts. When flyweights fight, the fight goes everywhere. It’s fast, and the fight goes everywhere, so you have to be well rounded to fight at the highest level as a flyweight.”
Johnson plans to follow teammates Buckley and Khaos Williams to the big show. The current composition of the UFC’s flyweight division allows for a fighter to realistically climb the ranks in a short amount of time.
“I’m four fights away from a UFC title, in my opinion,” Johnson explained. “If, and when, I get signed after this fight — I’m not looking ahead, but when that happens and I’m in the UFC — I see myself only needing three fights to get to where I need to be.”
Johnson has come a long way since growing up as a track-and-field star in St. Louis. He’s been fighting professionally for over five years now, but he is arguably just getting started.
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