Bellator middleweight champion Johnny Eblen might not be the biggest household name in MMA, but that doesn’t concern him. “The Human Cheat Code” is just looking to stack wins, collect belts, and let his resume speak for itself, as he told Fighters Only ahead of his bout with Fabian Edwards at Bellator 299.
When you became world champion, what changed the most in your life? Or was it kind of business as usual for Johnny Eblen?
No, it’s business as usual, man. I don’t let my head get too big. I consider myself to be humble and people say I’m pretty humble, so it checks out. I just try to, you know, stay the same. I try not to change anything, as more opportunities opened up because people have seen my potential. But other than that, man, it has been business as usual.
You beat Gegard Mousasi to win the belt, a great of the MMA game, was there additional satisfaction from taking the belt from Gegard?
Yeah, I really solidified my name, and people started talking about me after that victory. I mean, he’s an MMA legend. It was nice to get that victory to look back at, and I can say I beat one of the best to ever do it to become a world champion. It’s nice.
Do you remember the moment when you first brought the belt back to American Top Team? That must have been a really special moment for you.
Yeah! I got an embrace from my team. Everybody was congratulating me. Dan Lambert, the owner of the gym, was super happy. Yeah, it was a great moment to bring that belt back to the gym and add it to the case.
Who’s been the biggest influence on your fight career so far as you’ve gone from young professional all the way up to Bellator world champion?
Man, honestly, the whole team at ATT. Like, all the coaches: Kimbo, Mike Brown, Steve Mako, Thiago Alves. The whole team – it’s hard to name everybody! Even fighters like Jorge Masvidal, Dustin Poirier, you name it, man. There’s so many guys I work with. They all help, and they’ve changed my life.
And including people outside of the gym, I work with a team at Functional Patterns that helped me get healthy and get back to being an elite athlete when I was injured all the time. So the team at Functional Patterns is a huge gamechanger for me.
And then also, there’s the people that entered in my life later on that really helped me become a better person, become more focused, and keep me on a path of progression. There’s too many people to thank, it’s a really long list!
You reached the goal of becoming Bellator middleweight champion. What goals are next on the list? Are there any other goals that you kind of got in your sights?
I just want to remain a champion, man. Multi-promotional champ, multi-division champ. I’m just gonna go out there, try to collect belts, collect W’s, become the GOAT, and just continue to win and impress people.
I just want to shock the world and be the best and just kind of prove all the doubters wrong, and prove all my supporters right. That’s it, I just want to showcase that I’m one of the best guys in the world and continue to get better.
You mentioned your doubters. Do you think you get the level of respect your achievements and your skill deserves? And if not, why do you kind of think that is? Does it frustrate you? Or do you take no notice of it?
Of course I take notice of it, I couldn’t not take notice of it, but it doesn’t really frustrate me. It is what it is, I’m not a huge name and that’s OK.
I’m not going out and talking a bunch of s**t, I’m not like being a clown on Instagram trying to get attention. I’m just doing it the old-fashioned way, I’m going out, beating people up, training, making sure I’m one of the best to ever do it, and just continuing to train hard and stay focused.
I’m just gonna let my body of work do all the talking. It might be a slower route and there might not be a huge hype train behind me, but I’m OK with that, because I’m really set in my ability to fight. That’s more important than having a bunch of hype behind you.
Looking at the middleweight division in Bellator. Who do you think offers the biggest threat and which potential matchup do you think offers you the most intrigue from a kind of stylistic point of view?
I think Fabian is the biggest threat and the best matchup. Honestly, outside of that, I mean, there’s no one else, really. I took out the biggest threat already in Anatoly Tokov. He’s the biggest threat in the division, honestly, but I already took out that challenge. The next biggest threat is Fabian Edwards, and when I make him look average, people are gonna be like, “Damn, this guy’s good! And who else could he fight in this division?”
I mean, the next best guy would be Aaron Jeffrey, and he’s just got a victory over my teammate Dalton (Rosta). So I’ll just take out every single threat in this weight division if I have to solidify my name even more, because that’s what bad motherf*****s do. No matter the weight class, they’ll go out and compete, and get W’s.
Up next, you’ve got Fabian in Dublin. Break him down as a fighter assess his skills in the key areas. What does he bring?
The man brings a lot to the table, you know? He has a skillset on the ground that a lot of strikers don’t have. He’s a great striker, very patient, very athletic and he moves well. He utilizes his skillset very well, but I’m just going to be too much for him.
Who have you been working with at American Top Team to give you the right looks to prepare for Fabian? Is there anyone particular that you’ve been working with?
Yeah, I’ve been working a lot with Artem Levin. He’s a world champion kickboxer and I’ve also been working with Josh Silveira. He’s a light heavyweight in the PFL, and he’s about to fight for a million dollars. But he’s not really that great of a striking look. He has a good counterboxing, he’s good. He has good boxing. So it’s just a different range. I also worked with Dustin Poirier. I’m working with southpaws just to kind of understand, there’s different defenses, different offenses.
You’re never going to get a perfect look for a guy, but Artem Levin is a better look than him. He’s a better striker than him. He’s literally a world champion kickboxer and Fabian is not half the striker this guy is.
So I’m finding guys that are better than him in certain areas and I’m finding guys that might not be the same look but they give me the southpaw look and they’re probably better grapplers than him so they’re giving me challenges in different areas. My whole thing is just like “I’m going to be better than you everywhere.” So I’m going to find the best striker I possibly can and train with him and I’m gonna find the best grapplers I can possibly find and train with them to where my grappling is just leveling up, my striking is leveling up. It doesn’t matter how good you are on the feet or on the ground, I’m gonna surpass you.
You’re fighting in Dublin’s 3Arena, which has the reputation of being one of the most atmospheric arenas in MMA. You’ve been there as a spectator, but how much are you looking forward to getting in there and fighting there yourself?
I’m really looking forward to it. When I was there for the Amosov fight they were showing a lot of love, and I can’t wait to be embraced by that crowd.
I’m part Irish so I can kind of feel it. The crowd, the fans, the energy, just everything about that arena and that setup is just awesome. I can’t wait to be a part of it.
And lastly, what can those fans in Dublin expect to see from you on September 23? How do you see this one playing out?
It can play out with a violent KO, me just f*****g beating the s**t out of Fabian and just pure violence for five rounds, if it goes that far. If it doesn’t, you’re gonna see a violent finish and just a spectacular performance.