Standing on top of the podium as a Kansas high school wrestling state champion, Miles Johns had reached his dreams in the sport as a senior at Newton in 2012.
Everything he had trained for had culminated in that title. The victory was sweet and the thrill of victory was even sweeter, but Johns is an adrenaline junkie. He was already thinking about what came next.
“In wrestling, there’s a cap to it, so when I won that state championship in high school and achieved the one goal I had growing up, some of that fire kind of died out,” Johns said. “I needed something else.”
Mixed martial arts was the answer.
Johns first fought in 2013 and became hooked. It turns out, he’s a pretty good fighter as well. He improved his professional record to 8-0, which earned him a chance earlier this summer fighting on Dana White’s Contender Series in Las Vegas.
Solely winning in front of the Ultimate Fighting Championship president does not guarantee a fighter a contract with the sport’s largest company. A fighter must win with a certain kind of flair that persuades White.
Johns did exactly that, winning a unanimous decision with White offering the 25-year-old a UFC contract on the spot. White called Johns “an absolute savage” and now Johns’ first UFC bantamweight fight is scheduled for September 14 in Vancouver against Cole Smith (7-0).
“After you get that first taste of fighting, it’s so much more of an extreme and you never want to go back,” Johns said. “After you have that first double espresso coffee, you’re not going to want to go back to a single shot.
“It’s kind of surreal right now to be able to get that first UFC fight. It’s been a long journey here. I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing.”
After graduating from Newton in 2012, Johns wrestled one year at Newman. But he was injured and not motivated, so he decided to give up the sport. Not long after, a friend told him about an amateur fighting event coming up and Johns took a fight on the spot on three weeks’ notice.
“I was a little nervous just because it was my first fight,” Johns said. “I remember watching so many old UFC videos, just trying to learn. MMA is kind of its own world, so I tried to take in as much as I could. When the trainer was wrapping my hands for the fight, it kind of hit me that I really had no idea what I was doing.”
Johns knocked his opponent out in 13 seconds.
It didn’t take long for Johns to join Fortis MMA in Dallas. He trained for over a year in Dallas before taking his first professional fight. That amount of time tested Johns’ patience, but it has been rewarded with his undefeated start to his career.
“I would describe my style as fast pace and in your face,” Johns said. “When I step in there, a switch turns on and I want to take my opponent out. I guess you could say I’m a mix between a boxer and a wrestler. I’m just trying to hit you hard and make the fight as exciting as possible.”
Johns has developed in the mixed martial arts, but he credits his time in the wrestling room in Newton for part of his quick development. He singled out former Newton assistant wrestling coach J.J. Thaw, who died last year, as one of his biggest mentors.
“I was blessed with so many great teammates and coaches in Newton,” Johns said. “Growing up in a small city, I always dreamed of going somewhere bigger and doing something big. I was always motivated there, so that’s why I love going back home and visiting and trying to give back as much as I can. Newton has definitely played a role in my life and I’ll always keep that in my heart.”
Johns has spent the past five years dreaming of fighting for the UFC.
Now that he’s set to make his debut under the UFC name in September, he has a new dream: win a UFC belt.
“I want to be a UFC champion one day and I know that’s going to take a lot of work, but I’m ready for it,” Johns said. “I still feel like I haven’t really been tested in my fights. I’ve always controlled the fights. I know the UFC is a whole different beast and I know I’ll be tested now. But I’m still learning every day and I’m still growing into my man strength and it’s a perfect time for me to jump in and start mixing it up.”