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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
Lavar Johnson picked up a big win earlier this month at UFC on Fox 3, earning extra bonus money with a "Knockout of the Night" win over Pat Barry on the May 5 card in New Jersey. Despite already picking up his second win in the UFC, when they called him this week to offer him an injury replacement fight against Stefan Struve with less than two weeks to prepare, he didn't hesitate to accept.
"I heard [Wednesday] night there was a chance I could get this fight, and I accepted right away," Johnson said on Thursday in comments released by the UFC. "I got the final word this morning. I am good to go, I weight 250lbs, and I've got a lot of confidence in my ability right now. You don't get chances like this too often in life, so when you are lucky to get this kind of opportunity you got to make the most of it."
Johnson said things may have been different in the past, where he'd get a bit out of shape right after a fight. However, he says he handles that aspect of his game in a much more professional manner these days, and because of that he's able to take advantage of an unfortunate injury to Mark Hunt to get into this event.
"I took one week off after the Pat Barry fight and then went back to the gym," Johnson said. "I used to have some drinks, gets some BBQ in my belly, and get a little out of shape right after a fight. But I feel that I am now at a level where I need to be in shape all the time, so I stayed in shape and I can now seize this chance."
The fight will take on a decidedly different dynamic for Struve, who was preparing for a fight against a much, much shorter opponent. Instead, he'll take on a fighter with a very similar reach to his, and Johnson thinks that works in his favor.
"Struve is a great fighter. He's a skilled guy with a lot of heart but I am not worried about his size," Johnson said. "His reach is 83 in. and mine is 82 in., and he doesn't use his height. He always gets the crap beat out of him, he refuses to quit, then his opponent gasses or has to let up and Struve comes back to win. I am a fan of his actually, and I've cheered for him because of his heart. The only way to beat him is to put him out cold. That's what I have to do next week and I will do it."
Even though he's got a bigger opponent to face next week, Struve is nonetheless confident in his preparations, and he's just happy he's still fighting on this card, which features the first all-heavyweight pay-per-view card in UFC history.
"Johnson has looked impressive in his first two fights in the Octagon since coming over from Strikeforce, but I'm gonna look even more impressive next week," Struve said. "I really want to thank him for stepping up on such short notice - I really wanted to fight on this all-heavyweight card - but he's gonna face the best Stefan Struve you've ever seen. The change in opponent doesn't bother me at all, Mark Hunt was a big puncher too and I have trained too hard for this to affect me."
Penick's Analysis: Considering there's only eight days until the event right now, the UFC managed to get one hell of a replacement for this fight. Johnson has a chance to boost his stock the same way Chris Leben did in 2010 when he defeated Yoshihiro Akiyama just two weeks after stopping Aaron Simpson. For Johnson, who has impressed with his power in two fights in the Octagon, it's a no-lose proposition, as he'll either score his third straight win, or he'll take his first UFC defeat in a fight he's only had nine days to prepare for. Struve is an immensely talented fighter, but his chin has been a liability in the UFC, and that's going to be a very real issue for him in this fight. Regardless, this is an exciting fight.
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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