If John Howard ever forgets how long he’s been fighting, all he has to do is walk into any gym in New England and let the young guys tell him. They don’t mean to make him feel old. Actually, they’re trying to show their respect.
“They do it by accident,” Howard (24-13) told MMAjunkie. “They’ll walk up to me and say, ‘Man, I was 12 years old, watching with my father when I saw you in the UFC.’ I’m just like, ‘Oh man, don’t tell me that.’”
But then they say the other thing, about how seeing a Boston fighter clocking knockout wins in the big show gave them hope that they could do it too, or how “Doomsday” Howard inspired them to get in the gym and chase that dream for themselves.
“Then I feel honored,” Howard said. “How can I not be? I’m honored and proud.”
Now, after a year spent intentionally avoiding MMA in favor of a more regular kind of life, Howard is coming back home to find out if he still has what it takes. At tonight’s CES MMA 46 event (AXS TV, 9 p.m. ET) in Lincoln, R.I., Howard will headline a local card for the first time in more than four years.
At Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I., just a little more than an hour from where he grew up, he’ll take on Roger Carroll (16-14) in front of a crowd peppered with family and friends, many of whom are likely to be asking themselves the same questions Howard faced in his year away from the sport.
How long is he going to keep doing this? And after all this time, where is he trying to go with it, exactly?
For Howard, the second question is easier to answer than the first. In 13 years as a professional, which included two stints with the UFC and one with the organization now known as PFL, Howard never got a crack at a major title. He’s won regional belts but never even got within sniffing distance of something bigger. Now that he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning, that feels like unfinished business for him.
“I know I have an expiration date,” Howard said. “I know time is not on my side. But I want to get back to the big show, where the big dogs hang. I feel that’s where I belong. Being the big fish in a little pond, that doesn’t do anything for me. That doesn’t boost my ego. I want to look for the biggest fish I can find and go after him just to see what I can do.”
But it gets frustrating sometimes, this MMA business.
After debuting in what was then WSOF in 2016, Howard won his first fight against Michael Arrant and then lost his second via unanimous decision to Abubakar Nurmagomedov, a cousin of UFC lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov. When WSOF rebranded as PFL, Howard wasn’t sure if there was still a place for him in the organization. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted there to be one.
“I had to take a year off to see if I really wanted to do this,” Howard said. “I had to let my body heal, let my mind get right. You can fall into this sport and before you know it go a whole different path that you never wanted to follow. I had to fall in love with the sport again. Sometimes in this sport, the aggravation, the BS and the politics that come with it, I was getting frustrated. I had to remember why I got into the sport.”
In the meantime, Howard said, he went back to his old job as an electrician, working for Google Fiber. He tried to be a regular guy, working a regular job and keeping regular hours.
Old friends, like former coach Mark DellaGrotte, had their doubts.
“All fighters, when they start looking at post-career life, they face these questions about how they’re going to make a living,” DellaGrotte said. “But some guys are just not cut out to be regular guys. I think ‘Doomsday,’ he’s just an intense dude. I don’t think someone like like ‘Doomsday’ belongs installing Verizon in residential homes. He needs to be locked in a cage where he can do his thing.”
Howard couldn’t stay away completely. And he when he got back into the gym, pretty soon he started getting the itch to fight again. Time away only stoked his passion for the sport, and the chance to headline a card for CES MMA, where he won the middleweight title in 2012 and defended it four times before heading back to the UFC for a second time in 2013, seemed like too good a chance to pass up.
And on the local scene, the return of “Doomsday” Howard was enough to create a bit of a buzz.
“I was a little surprised to hear he was coming back, but also excited,” DellaGrotte said. “I think it’s passion-driven and not just money-driven, which is good. That shows me that he’s not just looking for a paycheck. And I know the level he can compete at, so I feel bad for any local opponents who get in there with him.”
For Howard, that sense of local support is a big part of the appeal of this fight. His time in the UFC saw him bounce from Las Vegas to Abu Dhabi. Coming back to the same Rhode Island casino where he used to defend his CES middleweight title reminds him of his roots, he said. It gives him a chance to fight in front of the people who’ve been there for him all along. Maybe it will even help him remember why he loves this sport so much that he can’t stay away from it.
“Being a fighter, there’s a lot of frustration and disappointment,” Howard said. “But if you love, something you deal with that just to do it. With this, I want to do it until I can’t do it any more, however long that is.”
For more on CES MMA 46, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.
Filed under: AXS TV Fights, News, PFL, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie