It looks like The Ultimate Fighter 10 is going to showcase the first wave of former college football and NFL heavyweights trying their hand at the big leagues in mixed martial arts. If the guys on some of the leaked lists on the Internet have the skills, it makes sense from a size standpoint. Defensive ends and linebackers certainly have a fighter's mentality. Would the same apply to a hoopster? Say a power forward? We may find out down the road if James Johnson's NBA career is shortlived. The 6-foot-7, 257-pounder from Wake Forest is expected to be a first round pick on Thursday so he's guaranteed a few years in the NBA. He's got a possible backup plan if it doesn't work out ... fighting. Don't scoff. We're not basing this solely on size. Johnson comes from a big martial arts family in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Johnson's father Willie is a sixth-degree black belt kickboxer and his mother, Vi is also a black belt. He's one of nine children, eight of whom are black belts. His 10-year old sister Kiandra is only a blue belt. Willie runs J & P's martial arts in Cheyenne.
James Johnson is already 20-0 as a kickboxer and has MMA fight under his belt. That came as an 18-year-old against 31-year-old Damond Clark.
SI asked about that fight back in 2006 but presented it in the past tense, Johnson responded by saying he's still a fighter:
"I'm not done fighting," he says, throwing a few air jabs while exhaling sharply for effect. "I think about fighting all the time."
His family's involvement in martial arts is insane:
James was called Little Ali because of his footwork, but nicknames are standard in the family. Willie won five world and 10 national karate titles as Tuqik (pronounced TOO-quick). Vi, a Samoan immigrant who began street fighting as a teenage gang leader of the Krook City Bloods in Oceanside—"I would go after the bullies," she says, "and beat up more men than women"—won five nationals as Vicious. Joseph (a.k.a. Baby Boy), 32; Jearamie (Hot Nickels), 28; Jessica (Bam-Bam), 26; Pal'e (the Legend); Scott (Nudo), 20; Mino (the Professor), 18; Nikko (Tuqik II), 15; and 10-year-old Kiandra have all also won national titles or been runners-up.
"[J&P's] was like our playground: Every night we'd go there and work on stuff," says James. "Going to other people's houses was weird for me. I'd be like, What do you guys do after dinner?"
Don't believe James is legit? Ask Wake Forest alum and NBA all-star Chris Paul:
The Hornets point guard was teasing Johnson, saying, "I keep hearing about your fighting, but you're way too big to be a fighter." Johnson told Paul to stand still directly in front of him, and said, "I'm not going to kick you; I'm that good." Then he did a roundhouse kick within inches of Paul's face, causing Paul to step back and say, "O.K., I believe you."
That's all great, but how did he do in his one real MMA fight? He beat the 31-year-old Clark in less than 90 seconds. Clark shot for a takedown early and slammed Johnson. Clark went for the mount, Johnson transitioned to top control where he pinned down one of Clark's arm and smashed him with a few punches for the finish. Good thing there's millions waiting in the NBA, otherwise Johnson may be the prospect gaining fame from crushing Kimbo Slice on TUF 10.