Tim Johnson’s transition from the UFC to Bellator was very smooth — and perhaps a little surprising, too.
The heavyweight signed with the Viacom-backed promotion in April after a three-year, seven-fight run in the Octagon. Johnson alternated wins and losses his entire UFC stint, ending his career in the premier MMA promotion with a 4-3 record.
In his last fight of his most recent UFC deal, Johnson defeated Marcelo Golm at UFC Fight Night 125 in Belem, Brazil this past February. He grinded out the slight betting favorite for a decision win. The 33-year-old wasn’t actually aware he was about to fight out his contract when he step into the cage to face Golm.
“I didn’t know until afterwards; I thought I had one more fight,” Johnson told BloodyElbow.com. “I called for a fight against Andrei Arlovski in Chicago, and then my agent got back to me. He’s like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna be shopping around for a little while.’ That’s how I found out my contract was up.”
The UFC didn’t offer to renew Johnson’s contract heading into the Golm bout. So he had to finish his deal whether he wanted to or not. That’s not awfully surprising, considering Johnson was knocked out by newcomer Junior Albini prior to the Golm win.
The Endeavor-owned company didn’t have much interest in re-signing Johnson after the victory, either.
“From what I understood, it was mild, and we were on the open market.” he said.
After getting his hand raised in February, Johnson didn’t expect to be no longer calling himself a UFC fighter two months later. That was OK, though. Johnson said he’d before talked about possibly moving on from the UFC. He never ended up making the jump until last month.
Johnson quickly signed the dotted line with Bellator. He considered PFL’s heavyweight tournament, and weighed the idea of facing Vitaly Minakov in Russia, but ultimately, signing with Bellator was the right choice for him, Johnson said.
“I didn’t even really listen to anyone else; I got the numbers I wanted from Bellator and took it without really thinking twice about it,” he said.
Johnson said PFL’s format intrigued him, but he didn’t sign with the league because he didn’t want to be fighting during midsummer. In North Dakota where he lives, summers are rather short, so he wants to enjoy the warm weather when he can.
“It probably would’ve (interested me), if it would’ve been happening in October,” Johnson said of the PFL. “I wanna get a fight early summer, and then be able to enjoy the weather. My last couple years here, I’ve always had a fight in the middle of summer, so I’ve missed out on time with my family, my nieces, my nephews out at the lake and stuff. That’s something for me that I wanted.”
Johnson is satisfied with his deal with Bellator. Financially, it’s better than his last UFC contract, plus he believes he’ll have more room to grow as a brand while part of the Bellator roster.
“It’s more than my most previous deal with the UFC,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot more room to build up. The biggest thing with me was, I’ll be able to brand myself a little bit. There’s so many people who don’t know anything about me. A lot of people don’t know I’m a combat veteran, I grew up on a farm, and I’m from a town of 700 people.
“Now, I’ll have a little more freedom to exercise all that. UFC’s the UFC. The UFC is first, that’s your label. In Bellator, you’re the fighter fighting for Bellator — if that makes sense.”
Johnson also liked the vibe he got when talking to Bellator officials.
“Talking to a lot of their higher-ups, it’s a little smaller, it seems a little more one-on-one friendly,” he said. “It’s not so business, business, business. When you’re talking to someone, it’s a little more personal.
“I’ve always thought Bellator is for MMA. For any business, a monopoly isn’t good, and Bellator is the main competitor. It makes the UFC better, it makes Bellator better. If I was gonna be somewhere else, Bellator was always the option I wanted to go to.”
Johnson’s contract will last four fights. He hopes to stay more active than he did in the UFC and finish those four fights within the next 12 months. In an ideal world, he’d like to debut in June.
“There was a handful of times (in the UFC) that I was looking for fights, called, ‘I want this guy, I want this guy,’ and never got a phone call back on those guys,” Johnson said. “(I sat) back on the back burner a couple times. Hopefully that doesn’t come around this time.”