Johnson primed for stardom

Kevin Iole

UFC heavyweight slugger Lavar Johnson jokes that getting shot in the midsection while attending a family reunion in Bakersfield, Calif., over the Fourth of July weekend in 2009 limited his job prospects.

"I've got such a big scar there now, I guess I'm not going to be hired as a stripper any time soon," said Johnson, who missed 10 months after being shot but returned to full-time duty as a mixed martial arts fighter with no complications.

And while he may be forced to continue to talk about the shooting now that he's in the more high-profile UFC, he hopes that it's his knockout power that gets most of the attention going forward.

The easygoing Johnson will take on Pat Barry on Saturday at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., in a three-round heavyweight match that could steal the show on the UFC on Fox 3 card.

Johnson is 16-5 and coming off an entertaining knockout win over Joey Beltran at UFC on Fox 2 on Jan. 28. Johnson entered that bout on a two-fight losing streak, having been submitted by Shawn Jordan and Shane del Rosario in back-to-back matches. Beltran, though, is not the type to ever think of a submission and that suited Johnson perfectly.

Beltran wanted to stand and slug, but it was a mistake against a guy who was talker, thicker, heavier and hit harder. Johnson put Beltran out with a series of uppercuts and earned a $65,000 Knockout of the Night bonus.

"That bonus was the best thing about that night," Johnson said. "I've never gotten paid so well in my life."

A win over Barry, who is pretty much a one-man highlight reel, would set Johnson up for plenty of big paydays down the road. He's trained with noted kick boxer Carter Williams to prepare for Barry and is confident of a win.

He's not willing to look ahead, though, even if it's tempting, because of the impact a win could have on his career.

Barry has been involved in some noteworthy slugfests of his own, but Johnson figures Barry will decide at some point it's no longer worth standing with someone who hits as hard as he does and that Barry will try to get the fight to the ground.

"If it's up to me, we'll stand and bang and see who lasts," Johnson said. "But [everyone in our camp thinks] he's going to think twice about that after I hit him a couple of times. We'll see what he chooses to do, but I'm pretty sure he's going to try to take me down.

"And I'm pretty sure I'm going to stand there and try to knock his head off his shoulders. It should be fun."

What to read next