Timothy Johnson returns to the Bellator cage for the promotion’s first-ever interim title fight this Friday at Bellator 261.
Johnson (15-6) earned his title shot by rattling off three wins in 2020. In February, he knocked out Tyrell Fortune, knocked out Matt Mitrione in August, and took a split decision from Cheick Kongo in October. That, in enemy territory in Kongo’s native France.
While he is on a nice three-fight streak right now, he started his Bellator career 0-2, being finished on both occasions. Johnson said he had to make a change if he wanted to become champion, and to even stay in the promotion.
“After my first fight with Cheick Kongo, I was still training in Minnesota. I really didn’t have any big guys to train with, so I had to make a professional decision,” Johnson said to Cageside Press in an exclusive interview ahead of his main event title fight. “I had to uproot myself and my family. I moved out to Las Vegas and started training at Extreme Couture full time. I think that had a lot to do with me turning my career around. It took a couple of years for the results to start paying off, but you can see the results now.”
Johnson is about to fight in his second straight main event this Friday. It was one of the numerous goals that he set for himself once he left the UFC in 2018.
“I signed to Bellator because I wanted— I had goals and aspirations. I wanted to make it to a title fight and be a main event fighter,” Johnson said. “I didn’t want to be fighting down, you know, no up-and-comers. I want to be fighting the big names. Unfortunately, the first few fights, I didn’t show up and had to refocus and motivate myself.”
Johnson fights Valentin Moldavsky at Bellator 261 for the interim heavyweight title, while champion Ryan Bader fights in the light heavyweight grand prix. This will be the first time Bellator has ever put an interim title on the line.
“It makes me feel great that Bellator is doing an interim title fight with me. You know, me and Ryan [Bader], we were going back and forth on social media, and we kind of had a gentleman’s agreement that we were going to make the fight happen in January or February,” Johnson said. “And, you know, Bellator got off to a late start, and then they announce they were going to the light heavyweight tournament. So then, that kind of put the heavyweight division on hold there, especially for the top three or four guys. So I was kind of given a chance to, I guess, sit and wait around until [after] the tournament, then we do the title fight. I don’t like waiting around, so we’re fighting.”
That said, Johnson is considering this as more than a fight for stand-in gold. “I don’t consider this the interim title. To me, it’s a title fight. Moldavsky is a title-caliber fighter, and I think I am too. No matter if there’s the interim title in front of the fight, this is a title fight.”
The man he is fighting is undefeated in Bellator, riding a five-fight win streak, and is coming off the destruction of Roy Nelson.
“He is one of the few fighters that fight pretty much identical to how I do. So you can look at a couple of ways. Either I should know exactly what he’s going to do, but on the flip side, maybe he does what I do that much better. It is a fascinating match-up. He probably knows that my style is similar to his too. So maybe he’s got something up his sleeve, and I got something up mine,” Johnson laughed.
“I see the fight going 25 minutes just because of how we both fight. I will come out victorious.”
Timothy Johnson fights Valentin Moldavsky this Friday at Bellator 261. The event airs live on Showtime in the U.S., following prelims right here on Cageside Press.
For more from Timothy Johnson, here’s his full Bellator 261 virtual media day scrum: