Little that could happen at the Los Angeles Coliseum would be unfamiliar to Johnnie Morton.
He's been elbowed in the head there, whacked in the ribs, kneed in the face and all the other things that occur at the bottom of a pile in a football game.
But when Morton walks to the center of the Coliseum on Saturday, the former NFL wide receiver who starred at the University of Southern California won't be wearing shoulder pads and a helmet and he won't have to worry about a free safety looking to break his ribs.
Morton will, however, have to concern himself with Bernard Ackah trying to cause him as much pain as humanly possible in his professional mixed martial arts debut.
The fight has been plagued by a series of promoter missteps and fighter injuries. Ticket sales have been so slow that promoters have asked the California Athletic Commission for permission to give away 70,000 tickets. But little of that concerns the 35-year-old Morton, who said he wanted to try the sport while he could.
"It's just that I want to live life in a certain way," Morton said. "I know there are other things to do in life like maybe surf, play golf and do things on TV, which I probably will do in the future.
"But right now, because I am still athletic and I am still young enough to do this, this is just something I want to try in my life and explore and experience."
Morton said contact is contact, though he conceded he got angry in sparring the first time he was hit in the nose.
But he said the difference in contact between the sports is significant.
"As far as getting hit, in the NFL, I think the blows are delivered in more of a blunt force," Morton said. "Sometimes, you get hit in the body. Sometimes, unknowingly, you get a shot to the head, but you have a helmet on, so the force is dispersed a little bit differently. If you get punched in the face or the head in MMA, it is more of an acute pain. It stings a little bit and it stuns you.
"You get a little bit angrier when you get hit in MMA."
Because it's his pro debut, Morton's fight will consist of three three-minute rounds instead of the normal MMA rules of three five-minute rounds.
He said he feels comfortable as a fighter, though he's taken to submission fighting much quicker than striking, and feels that his ability to grasp the complexities of an NFL playbook have helped him transition to MMA.
"By playing wide receiver in the NFL, I had to learn so many techniques, physically and mentally, it allowed me to pick up a little bit more than the average football player," Morton said. "While you are learning MMA, there are so many different entities you have to learn: Ground, stand-up, defense, offense. I am constantly learning.
"Because I'm used to that, it accelerates my learning process a little bit. Even though it's only been two months, I feel I'm a little bit ahead of the curve."
The first hour of the card will be on Showtime, beginning at 9 p.m. ET. At 10 p.m., the card switches to pay-per-view, where viewers can find Morton's fight and former WWE champion Brock Lesnar's fight against Min Soo Kim.
- Johnnie Morton