CHICAGO – Welcome to the big show, Lavar Johnson.
Johnson, the first Strikeforce heavyweight to compete in the UFC following the recent Showtime-Strikeforce television deal, managed to accomplish something no other UFC fighter had ever done to Joey Beltran: stop him with strikes.
The fight took place on the FUEL TV-televised preliminary card of Saturday's UFC on FOX 2 event, which took place at Chicago's United Center.
"I've been told I hit really hard," Johnson told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) following his performance, which earned a $65,000 "Knockout of the Night" award.
Johnson's thudding right hand to the body dropped Beltran early in round one, but the "Mexicutioner" eventually made his way back to his feet. However, from the outset, it was apparent the power and size of Johnson – who had a 24-pound weight advantage in the bout – would likely be too much to overcome.
"Joey came in pretty light," Johnson said. "I've never seen him at 228 (pounds). I thought he was going to be a little faster and move around, but he's not built really good, so I went to his body (early in the fight)."
After Johnson stuffed a few takedowns from a desperate Beltran with ease, he began to take his time and land his jab at will on his opponent's chin.
"I saw him getting tired," Johnson said. "I was calm the whole fight and just waiting for my opportunity. I didn't chase him. I just kept him in front of me and allowed him to come in and make mistakes. And he did."
The ending came at the 4:24 mark into the opening stanza as Johnson connected with a big right hand and followed up with a series of uppercuts that put Beltran out.
It was Johnson's (16-5 MMA, 1-0 UFC) first win since October 2010, when he knocked out another undersized heavyweight in Virgil Zwicker. Meanwhile, Beltran (13-7 MMA, 3-4 UFC) is now 1-4 in his past five fights and likely headed back to the regional circuit.
Johnson came into the night on a two-fight losing streak after losing to Shane Del Rosario and Shawn Jordan, both by submission. A win he needed, and a win he earned.
"It's been a big 180 (degrees), coming off of two losses thinking those were guys I probably should have beat," Johnson said. "I really needed a win. I had two losses, and this didn't sit good. You're only as good as your last fight no matter what."
And the fact that it all came together for him on a FOX card and in front of a sold-out arena was simply icing on the cake for the newcomer.
"Chicago is a great city," Johnson said. "I had a good time here. To me, being able to perform where Michael Jordan played and everything, it's awesome. It was a tremendous experience."
So when will we likely see him make his return trip to the octagon?
"As soon as possible," Johnson said. "My knuckles are a little sore. He has a really hard head. Other than that, I'm ready to go.
"I'm going to keep my cardio and keep training back on Monday. If they call me in two weeks, then I'll be ready."