The rule is “no one wants to stand and trade with Thiago Alves”.
It is a good rule. “The Pitbull” is famously the most feared striker in the UFC welterweight division and for good reason. The 27-year old Brazilian bruiser has scored seven of his nine UFC victories by KO or TKO, most in highlight reel fashion like the flying knee that appeared to nearly obliterate former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes. Even in Alves’ lone fight for the title, the champ, Georges St-Pierre, kept the fight against Alves as much a grappling match as possible, knowing the safest road to a successful title defense was grounding “The Pitbull”.
But there is an exception to every rule. Meet John “Doomsday” Howard.
“I’m really excited about fighting a stand-up fighter like Thiago,” states Howard and, in all scary sincerity, he means it. “I'm really excited. I'm treating this fight like I'm going into a striking match. Just as I used to get ready for a boxing match, this is what I'm setting up for.” On December 11th, at UFC 124 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, it seems like the UFC brass will get exactly what they wished for: a 170 pound stand-up war.
“It's no secret - I'm not trying to take him down,” he says, and like music to UFC fans’ ears everywhere, Howard has zero expectations that either fighter wants this fight on the ground. “I have pretty decent wrestling, but that is definitely not my game plan. What Thiago has is a Muay Thai based game and I have Muay Thai based training, so we both want this fight standing.”
The 27 year old Bostonian trains in his hometown at the Wai Kru gym. Although they do train in all areas, the name “Wai Kru” signifies the ceremony Muay Thai fighters perform before a fight, which clearly denotes a certain expertise in one martial art.
John Howard will be entering the Octagon for the sixth time in less than two years, where he has quietly amassed an impressive 4 - 1 record against a set of scrappy grappling-based opponents. “Doomsday” has spent the majority of his time in the UFC cage defending takedowns, submissions and trying to get back to his feet to steal a moment or two for him to uncork his punching power. In those flashes, Howard put back-to-back wins together by knockout against Daniel Roberts and Dennis Hallman.
“I have real confidence in the power in my hands to end a fight at anytime,” Howard says and has also proven. That power earned him his last second victory KO over Hallman. Howard was only moments away from losing a decision to the veteran when the fight was restarted on the feet. “Doomsday” let loose with his dangerous hands and caught Hallman with a fight ending left hook at 4:55 in the third round. “I know anybody standing with me in my weight class, my hands hit just as hard if not harder. I know if I connect they're going out or at least severely stunned.”
John Howard is looking for the knockout, Thiago Alves is looking for the knockout, and that is exactly what Howard is hoping for, “Someone standing in front of me and exchanging is what I'm all about.” Howard explains that matching strength in the center of the Octagon is his comfort zone. “I consider myself a power fighter and I train with other power hitters, so this is a perfect fight for me. This is what I'm used to, this is where I come from as a fighter.”
But Howard knows that Alves and he won’t be a life-size game of “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots”, this will be a duel between two well-trained strikers. “The problem in fighting another elite striker like Thiago is, he is good at moving his head,” Howard continues about his strategy for attacking Alves’ face. “I have to time the punches more and I can't just power up and punch him. I have to use combinations instead of just sitting back and powering up, so it makes it a little more difficult.”
As much as his physical tools will play a role in this fight, Howard believes it is what he brings mentally that will be the deciding factor. “I have a similar knowledge of the Muay Thai game,” Howard emphasizes that his background and training will be able to negate Alves’ revered Muay Thai. “When Thiago tries to Thai clinch with me, I have the same knowledge of that Thai clinch. That's an advantage I have going against Thiago. Other fighters don't understand it - the method and the philosophy behind it - the way I do.”
One specific aspect of Thiago Alves’ vaunted striking style that scares other opponents, actually may be John Howard’s key to victory: leg kicks. “My advantage to his style is that I know how to check kicks,” Howard believes Alves has excellent kicks, but their effectiveness in past fights have been in-part his opposition’s fault. “A lot of guys in the UFC don't know how to check kicks necessarily right, especially against someone like Thiago kicking them.”
Also, “Doomsday” won’t be simply checking the kicks, he’ll be countering, “I feel I have an advantage that I know how to check Thiago's kicks and can counter with my hands.” In theory, Howard and Alves’ Muay Thai styles will cancel each other out, but it will be Howard’s boxing origins that will carry him to victory. “His Muay Thai is really good and I don't think it has any weaknesses, it is just my hands are a lot faster than his from my background in boxing. I think Thiago is well-rounded and very accurate with what he does, but I think my boxing is a key factor in this fight.”
On December 11th at UFC 124, John Howard is ready and willing to put on a Muay Thai clinic for the fans with the welterweight division’s most famed practitioner, Thiago “Pitbull” Alves. John Howard takes a moment to personally implore Thiago for this to happen:
“To Thiago, I have love and respect for you, but business is business. Just bring your A game and let's have some fun and fight. Let's make this a ‘Fight of the Night’. Let's show the UFC fans what real Muay Thai is all about. They don't always get to see it, but I want us to show the fans what real strikers are supposed to look like. It's a perfect fight for us to express our skills.”
John Howard also says, “Here comes the Doom,” which means he wants to knock you out.
No Secrets in Howard’s Gameplan for Alves
“To Thiago, I have love and respect for you, but business is business. Just bring your A game and let's have some fun and fight. Let's make this a ‘Fight of the Night.’"