Johnnie Morton's MMA Debut: Lessons Learned

Johnnie Morton
Johnnie Morton Photo Credits: TOM CASINO / FEG

Many have wondered what would happen if athletes as gifted as those in the National Football League decided to devote themselves to mixed martial arts. Johnnie Morton played football in college for University of Southern California and many teams in the NFL over a twelve year professional career. Though he had only spent time casually learning some muay-thai in the past, in 2007 he decided to enter the world of mixed martial arts, and signed with K-1 to fight in their Dynamite!! USA event held on June 2 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The eyes of fans and curious NFL players were on Morton on Saturday to see how he would fare. Morton was asked about the added pressure of such scrutiny in a press conference call on May 24th, and he responded:

I wish I had more time to prepare. I have only been [formally training MMA] for two months, but I try to learn at an accelerated rate. But I am sure that I will be someone who represents the NFL and many guys, due to my success or what have you, will either make the decision to try it or not.

When Morton was presented to the fans at the LA Colisuem on June 2, he received a very hearty and warm welcome, as this was the same venue he played football in college and Los Angeles is his hometown. His opponent was Bernard Ackah, a fighter from the Ivory Coast with one fight on his own professional MMA record. However fortune was not on Ackah’s side Saturday evening. Just thirty-eight seconds after the bell rang, Ackah delivered a right hand that sent Morton to the mat. Morton was knocked out cold and left the ring several minutes later on a stretcher and wearing a neckbrace.

Bernard Ackah
Bernard Ackah

After the fight Bernard Ackah said this about Morton:

He was a very good puncher. He surprised me. I had to change my tactic to punching. Johnnie is good, a big guy with muscles, he was faster than I thought. I had to go from kicking to punching. He needs more experience.

Morton, who reported having a desire to withdraw prior to the fight and not share his thoughts with the media, was certainly not immediately available after the fight for comments due to his being brought to the hospital. Further worsening Morton’s plight is that the California State Athletic Commission has indefinitely suspended him and will hold onto his $100,000 purse because Morton has refused to take part in a post-fight anti-doping test from the CSAC, according to Sherdog.

While still early and we are not sure if Morton will try his hand again in the sport, Morton’s disappointing entry into the world of MMA is not likely to be remembered as a role model for others with NFL backgrounds to emulate. More probable is that it will be remembered as the way to not make the transition. NFL players, while athletic and accustomed to making a living from professional sport, cannot skip steps and jump into professional competition without the proper preparation that other mixed martial artists spend years working on. Like anyone else, there are techniques to learn that take years to adequately master. Johnnie Morton’s trainers Mike Guyman and Renato “Babalu” Sobral will have to carefully consider their next steps if Morton decides to return to the ring. In the meantime other NFL players considering making the crossover to MMA will likely be well-served by putting in significant time in the ring and on the mats before accepting a professional fight.

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