Alvarez, Johnson not short in motivation heading into respective ONE Japan fights

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By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

TOKYO — Doing mixed martial arts for quite a long time now and succeeding and having practically won everything in it, one would think that it is all going through the motions now for legends “The Underground King” Eddie Alvarez and Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson.

But that is hardly the case, more so that they are embarking on a new journey in their illustrious careers.

Part of ONE Championship’s first-ever event in Japan, “A New Era,” happening at the Ryogoku Kokugikan here on March 31, Messrs. Alvarez and Johnson said they remain go-getting and excited to showcase their talent in this part of the world.

The two fighters, who last fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), are to take part in the ONE Championship Grand Prix in the lightweight and flyweight divisions, respectively.

Mr. Alvarez (29-6) of the United States will battle Timofey Nastyukhin of Russia while American Johnson faces up with hometown bet Yuya Wakamatsu.

“So 13 years ago I had my first trip to Japan. I was a 23-year-old kid and I just remember being in a plane going here, excited to go on another country to fight to a different audience and see you new things. Fast-forward to 13 years and I still have the same excitement inside, There is a new feeling inside and the excitement of winning another world title,” said Mr. Alvarez of his upcoming fight, his first with ONE after signing with the promotion last year, at the press conference for A New Era held on Thursday at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel here.

“I would like to thank ONE for bringing me back here. This is where I made a name for the first time, in front of the Japanese audience, representing America. This is where exactly I’ll be, right here,” he added.

The 35-year-old Alvarez went on to say that the “mission” is still the same for him, which is to dominate and win.

“It’s always my intention to dominate my opponent. I’m here to dominate from start to finish. I’m super focused on the grand prix. I’m not thinking of anything. I have my eyes on the world title. It’s something that I don’t have,” said Mr. Alvarez, who was last seen fighting in the UFC in July 2018 against Dustin Poirier.

For longtime UFC flyweight champion Johnson (27-3-1), meanwhile, his fight with Mr. Wakamatsu is something he is viewing with much significance, particularly how it is part of his evolution as a fighter.

“For me this is the next step as an evolution of an athlete. My opponent is a great athlete and it’s going to be interesting. It’s long time coming to fight in front my Japanese fans,” said Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Johnson, 32, said that he is not leaving anything to chance and is working hard with his team to come up with a favorable result in his ONE debut.

Like Mr. Alvarez, the Kentucky native Johnson hooked up with ONE Championship last year after spending eight years with the UFC where he spent majority of the time as the flyweight champion, successfully defending his title 11 straight times before losing it to Henry Cejudo in August last year.

Headlining ONE: A New Era is the world lightweight title clash between champion Eduard Folayang and challenger and former champion Shinya Aoki of Japan.

Co-headliner of the fight is the champion-versus-champion battle between women’s strawweight world champion Xiong Jing Nan of China and women’s atomweight champion Angela Lee of Singapore for the former’s belt.

Also part of the card is the middleweight world championship collision of champion Aung La N Sang of Myanmar against Ken Hasegawa of Japan as well as the world bantamweight title clash of champion Kevin Belingon of the Philippines against Brazilian Bibiano Fernandes.

Filipino flyweight Danny Kingad is also set to see action in one of the brackets in the flyweight grand prix.

The event will be available live for viewing on the ONE Championship app while in the Philippines it can be seen at ABS-CBN S+A beginning at 6 p.m. and iWant Sports.