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Kajan Johnson: I’m the kind of guy that likes to push the pace and bring it every second (Exclusive Interview)
The fight scene in my hometown of Vancouver is a very small world. Everyone seems to know everybody and we always seem to bump into someone we know all the time. I first met “Ragin” Kajan (pronounced Kay-Jaan) Johnson on my birthday at a popular night club last year. He was talking to my muay thai coach and they were discussing Kajan’s last fight from MFC 27 last November. I became a fan boy when I saw him at the club because he put on a hell of a performance against Ryan Healy and I’ve seen many of his fights on Youtube. He’s made a career out of being an exciting and dynamic fighter and is well-respected in the province of British Columbia and all across Canada. Kajan has trained along side some of the best in the world from Georges St.Pierre, to Forrest Griffin, Kenny Florian, and Bibiano Fernandes.
After eleven months of not being in active competition due to injury, “Ragin” returns to the ring battle ready to face TUF 9 veteran and Team Quest fighter Richie Whitson at MFC 31. Kajan takes time out of his busy schedule to address the Lowkick Nation. We talk about his humble beginnings, his upcoming fight, his interests outside of fighting, his boss Mark Pavelich, and he gives us the scoop on what Rory MacDonald is scared of. We spent a lot of time talking, but this is a must read for fight fans!
You started your professional fight career nearly ten years ago back in 2002. How did you get into the sport of Mixed Martial Arts?
I just got into it through a guy I knew who knew people who were doing what we called back in the day NHB (No Holds Barred). He said to me these guys were “Ultimate Fighters” and me being a skinny skateboarder and adrenaline junkie I wanted to give it a shot. I’ve tried things like boxing and stuff like that in the past. So I went and I tried it, I liked it, and kept training. I started fighting two months later, knocked the guy out, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
How old were you when you first started? I know you’re not that old; you’re like in your mid-twenties now aren’t you?
I’m in my mid to late twenties now. I had my first pro fight when I was 17.
Wow, you had your first pro fight at 17?
It isn’t super young by today’s standards. I got a lot of 14 year olds I train that fight now. Back then it was unheard because nobody was that young when I started out. I was looked at as sort of a phenom back then.
What a crazy transition, you went from skateboarding to knocking people out.
Ya, people think that’s its crazy, but it’s not as crazy as people think because it’s just another extreme sport really. I actually got more hurt skateboarding than I ever did fighting. In fighting when you get hurt it could be bad, but in skateboarding you could get hurt really, really bad. Like bad as in death. In MMA, you don’t get hurt everyday. In skateboarding, I got hurt every single day trying to do tricks. I got used to the pain; it’s not a big deal. The main difference of course is the lifestyle; it’s a way harder lifestyle when you’re fighting. In skateboarding, you just chill, hang out with your buddies, eat whatever you want, skate around, and do tricks all day.
I can imagine being in the fight life isn’t as glamorous as people think it is.
Ya, they only see the glamour aspect of it. In order to be truly successful, you really do have to live like a ninja. You gotta be willing to put yourself though an incredible amount of hardship in order to get to where you want to go. The same thing can be said about the entertainment industry, but it’s nothing compared to what we endure. It’s even harder. The diet, the stress, the amount of money we get paid, the injuries. It’s very difficult, it’s not an easy life but I love it. I know this is my destiny, I just can’t say no to that.
You’ve had the honor and privilege to be surrounded by some very experienced guys. Fighters like UFC veteran Bill Mahood, former DREAM featherweight champion Bibiano Fernandes, K-1 / DREAM veteran Kultar Gill, and even Chute Boxe / Vale Tudo legend Pele Landi. What are some of the attributes you’ve learned from these men and bring with you to your fights?
Everybody taught me something a little bit different. Kultar has given me a lot of my muay thai skills and he’s a very dynamic and athlete striker. He has an unorthodox approach to muay thai. Bill Mahood gave me incredible work ethic and toughness. Bibiano obviously helped me with my Jiu-Jitsu, but he has really helped me with the mental aspect of the game. He helped me become just a better human being. To me he’s like a little, mini Yoda / Jesus (we both laugh). He really is an amazing person and I’m very lucky to know him. Pele taught me a lot; I also learned that you shouldn’t spare Pele (laughs). He’s just crazy man, I mean really crazy! I mean he’s not crazy, as in crazy technical. I think everyone knows he was amazing back in the day, but he was a crazy pressure fighter.
It was that vintage Chute Boxe style. Pele helped mentor Wanderlei Silva back in the day.
Oh ya man, he used to tell me stories of how they used to knock each other out three times a week. He just taught me how to beat people using pressure and aggressiveness. His main style of fighting was driven off his opponent’s fear of him. If you didn’t fear him, it wasn’t very difficult to beat him. But if you begin to fear him or let him get any momentum, bad things happened right away.
I also understand you work with a boxing coach named Tony Pep. For those that don’t know, Tony Pep is considered one of Canada’s greatest boxers. He’s fought the likes of Floyd Mayweather and Ricky Hatton. How has he improved your hands and footwork?
Oh ya for sure, all my footwork and hands come from Tony Pep. He was the first specialized elite coach I’ve ever had. Bill Mahood has always been a great coach and mentor to me, but as the years passed by we became more training partners. But he did teach me a great deal. The vast majority of my boxing and footwork came from Tony Pep. I believe footwork is one of the biggest fundamentals of a being mixed martial artist. The best offense and best defence comes from the feet. It allows you to exploit all your opponent’s weaknesses and avoid danger in the easiest way possible which is just to not be there for the shot to hit you. I’m very thankful to have been able to work with him.
You have an upcoming fight with Team Quest product and TUF 9 veteran Richie Whitson at MFC 31. To me this has fight of the night written all over it, what have you been doing and where have you been training to prepare for this bout?
I started my camp by going out to Vegas at Xtreme Couture in July. I was there for over a week, then came back to prep here in Vancouver. Trained out at Mamba MMA, Tony Pep’s, Versus Training, Tactix, The Fight Pit, pretty much every major gym in the area. Even went to Simon Fraser University (one of Canada’s top schools for wrestling and NCAA Division II school) for my wrestling, the RAW Academy, and even went back to my old gym Revolution. I went to the Tristar gym out in Montreal for over two weeks at the beginning of September to do my final preparations. I learned that’s where I want to move to and that’s one of my biggest goals after this fight to make that move happen.
Early in your career you’ve already fought top competition. From former Strikeforce lightweight Champion Josh Thomson and current UFC welterweight prospect Rory MacDonald. I understand you and Rory are friends and train together at Tristar, but would you be open to a part two?
I’ve entertained the thought in the past of fighting Rory again. You can never say never but it’s personally not something I’d go and look for. Especially since that guy is HUGE now, I don’t ever think we’d even be in the same weight class again. If we ever fought again, I’d be giving up a crazy weight / strength advantage. I am a little bit faster, but dude that guy hits like a truck! You just can’t be in the bottom with that guy; his wrestling is so good now too! I don’t know, I don’t think I’d ever fight him again. I used to think I would, but now I wouldn’t fight him anymore. Not unless it’s for twenty million dollars or something. We are good friends now; we’ve already fought, and got that out of the way. I wouldn’t want to put a strain on a good friendship. The only way we’d probably do it is if it’s for a crazy amount of money and if only we were both completely into it. I don’t think he would be into it. He’s not the kind of guy that likes to punch out his friends too much, even though he does it all the time in the gym (laughs).
What do you think of Rory’s rise in the UFC so far? He’s beat top guys like Nate Diaz and was very close against Carlos Condit at UFC 115.
Man….He’s really seized the moment and rose to the occasion. He totally was beating Condit in that fight until of course the finish. But he was beating him good. I think his rise has been amazing, but I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what we’ll see from him in the future.
Now a win over Richie Whitson this Friday does it make you a contender for the MFC lightweight strap in your mind?
Definitely it does, but I’ve been told that McKee has been scheduled to defend his belt at the next event. I want to be in the next show too, so I won’t be fighting for the belt immediately. I know a win over Whitson definitely makes me a contender for sure though.
On the subject of the MFC, what is like having Mark Pavelich as your boss? From my personal interactions with him in interviews, I find him to be a very cool guy. But to many fans he is misunderstood, could you clear the air for the people who don’t really know him as well as you do?
Ya man, there’s many mixed emotions about Mark Pavelich. Me personally, I think he’s dope. He’s always been a straight shooter, has always told me exactly how he feels, he’s a fan of mine, and he likes my style. All that guy cares about is that your exciting and that you win fights. As long as I keep doing that, he’ll never have a problem with me. That’s perfect because all I care about is fighting the best people and making money. As long as those two are provided for me, we’ll always have a good relationship. A lot of people misunderstand him because he speaks what is on his mind at all times. Sometimes it’s very difficult to be completely honest at all times. Sometimes people like to tell little white lies and stuff. I don’t think that guy tells little white lies, I don’t think he even knows how. He has no “white lies switch”, there’s no filter on his mouth. He just says whatever he’s thinking, whenever he’s thinking it. That’s lots of people that can’t handle that, but I respect the hell out of him man.
For fans that follow you on Facebook a few days ago you left a status on your page talking about the sacrifices in your life that you’ve made and the kind of things that you’ve done to achieve your goals. How close do you feel personally to reaching your dreams?
Well I know that my dreams are starting to come very quickly now. I have a feeling that I’m about to break through something. I’ve been struggling for a long time now and I feel that it’s my time now. My dreams and my end goals are still far into the future. I can’t see myself reaching my end goals within the next year, not even in two to three years. I still have a lot to do in this sport. I don’t set the bar low; I set the bar very high for myself. It’s just up to me to rise to the occasion and become what I know I can be.
We’ve talked a lot about serious stuff, let’s switch up the tone and do some fun questions. For those that don’t know, you are an aspiring rapper, actor, model, you can even cook, and we already know you can skateboard. What can you not do?
Math! (both laugh) I’m terrible at math. Personally, I like to try a lot of stuff that is out of my comfort zone. A lot of people are scared to try something new; I don’t have too much fear. My only fear is the fear of failure and that’s something I struggle with from time to time. A lot of people are afraid of heights or spiders. Rory MacDonald is so scared of spiders; I had to kill a bunch of those for him at the Tristar house (laughs). None of that stuff bothers me; I don’t really have any phobias. The last phobia I used to have was claustrophobia, but training in Jiu-Jitsu killed that really quick being stuck in weird positions.
If you weren’t an MMA fighter, what would you be doing right now?
If I wasn’t an MMA fighter, I’d probably be a stunt man, or be involved in movies or in music. If I decided to retire right now, I’d definitely get into movies and be a stunt man or something. That’s kind of something I’m looking to do after I’m done fighting.
That’s good that you are thinking ahead to when your fight career is over.
Well it’s not the most reliable career option but that’s just me man. People used to think I’m an idiot for not going to school and focusing so much on my training. Now look at where I am now compared to some people out there hating their lives stuck behind some desk. Banging away at some computer on their desk all day, swinging a hammer in the middle of the cold rain. I’ll be honest, my life is hard and I’m still broke but I know the end result will be great.
Back in 2007 you had a Carlos Newton fro! I am very jealous that you could grow something like that; by any chance will we see the Sideshow Bob hair return?
I’ve actually thought about growing dreadlocks again. It’s not suitable when I’m fighting and probably not afterwards especially when looking for movie roles. Who knows man; maybe I could get into the music thing, and grow a head full of dreads again.
If you could fight any historical figure or fictional character who would it be and why?
The first person I would like to fight is Christopher Columbus! He deserves an ass whooping for all he’s done (laughs). Second person I’d love to fight would be Bruce Lee. I think it would be amazing to face someone as powerful as him and I think I could beat him!
(Laughs) Wow big words!
Well he has no ground game or wrestling and he’s a lot smaller than me. Unless he knocks me out with his one inch punch right away, I think I could take him down, and pound him out.
Well he has a little bit of grappling, he did trained with legend “Judo Gene” Gene LeBell before he died.
Ya bro I know that, but I’m sorry my grappling versus his grappling would win the fight for me (laughs).
Let’s play a quick game of word association. I’ll say a name and you’ll tell me the first word that comes to mind.
Mark Pavelich – Ummmmm…..Promoter? (Laughs) I’m sorry man I can’t say this one….Ummmmm….No comment? How about that? (Laughs).
Rory MacDonald – Bad ass!
Your hometown Prince George – Gnarly.
Bibiano Fernandes – Jesus.
Here’s one from left field, what do you think of Drake? – Dope. That guy is wicked; he’s one of my favorite artists. I’m going to shout him out when I’m a UFC champion one day!
For fight fans that have never watched you before, what can they expect from “Ragin” Kajan Johnson?
You can just expect an exciting fight. I’m the kind of guy that likes to push the pace and bring it every second. I’ve realized that’s what creates results. Really, I’d love to sit back and coast through the fight and knock the guy out with a really pretty shot and not have to do too much work. But that never works man. So what I do is I just let myself go and allow myself to just flow and throwdown and be proactive at all times.
This was a lot of fun Kajan, all the best this Friday. Would you like to make any shout outs before we close?
Shout outs to my teams! Mamba MMA, Tristar Gym, my manager from Echelon Fighter Management. My sponsors Elite Organic Nutrition, Alberta Star, Corefit Living, VanCity Original, Ephin Apparel, Stompdown Killaz, Stateside.
Special thanks for my good friend Darcy McBride from Echelon Fighter Management for helping set up this interview! You can find out more about “Ragin” Kajan Johnson at kajanjohnson.com and follow him on Twitter @iamragin.