John Dodson emerged as a polarizing figure on Season 14 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” | Photo: Dave Mandel
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- They are teammates at one of the world’s most respected camps, both on the verge of life-altering moments in their fighting careers.
On Saturday, Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts products John Dodson and Diego Brandao will attempt to capture the six-figure UFC contract that comes with winning their respective bouts at “The Ultimate Fighter 14” Finale at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Dodson battles T.J. Dillashaw at bantamweight, while Brandao takes on Dennis Bermudez at featherweight.
Despite the common ground, their paths to this summit have been quite different.
Dodson moves as if a permanent Red Bull IV flows through his veins. Nicknamed “The Magician” for his sleight of hand -- and foot -- in the cage, Dodson’s now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t act has allowed him to become one of the best flyweights in the world. The 125-pound division has been a speck on the Zuffa LLC horizon for what seems like forever now, but Dodson has been able to adapt, moving up in weight when opportunities arise. The UFC is expected to add the flyweight class sometime in 2012. If it takes longer, Dodson figures to keep himself busy.
“I’m always aiming for flyweight because I want to be the champion at flyweight, bantamweight and featherweight,” he says. “I just want to hold all three titles at the exact same time. I walk around at 156 [pounds]; it’s only a 10-pound cut [to featherweight]. If Frankie Edgar can fight at 155, I can definitely fight at 145.”
Supremely confident without a hint of pretense, Dodson is also one of the friendliest members of Greg Jackson’s dojo. The former New Mexico state high school wrestling champion is quick to break the ice, prefers hugs to handshakes and flashes an ear-to-ear grin with regularity. It is not hard to imagine Dodson holding court at Chuck E. Cheese, which is where he worked before deciding to make MMA a serious endeavor.
Despite a perpetually good-natured demeanor, Dodson has emerged as the unofficial villain of “The Ultimate Fighter’s” latest go-around. His role as Team Bisping informant in early episodes drew the ire of fans who viewed the show’s orange and blue jerseys as the equivalent of a blood allegiance. Dodson’s happy-go-lucky approach also alienated those who prefer their competitors go about the day-to-day grind of training with all the joy of an accountant at tax time. The Ultimate Warrior Challenge veteran took all the negative heat in stride.
“Every show needs a villain, and every show needs somebody to hate. If they need to direct all that hatred toward me, I’m more than willing to let that happen. It gives people a reason to talk, and, for me, that’s all I need,” Dodson says. “I can’t hate on anybody for their opinions, because TV is TV, and they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do best. They did what they needed to do to get those ratings. I’m glad they have attention toward me.
“They love me. They hate me. They still have some type of emotion toward me, and that’s better for me,” he continues. “Sooner or later, they’ll realize that I’m a nice guy, and they can really appreciate what I do and what I’ve become.”
If Dodson personifies cool, calm and collected in the face of criticism, then Brandao is his smoldering opposite. The fiery native of Manaus, Brazil, announced himself to the world in the season’s opening episode, blasting through Jesse Newell in such devastating fashion that even UFC President Dana White was taken aback.
Brandao was portrayed as temperamental and confrontational on the show, but much of that comes from his intense desire to succeed. Whereas such an outburst is understood by his extended family in New Mexico, when it occurs on national television in a household of complete strangers, not everyone is able to comprehend him.
“Sometimes the kids don’t get it. I want it more than you,” Brandao says. “Kids think I’m angry; kids think I’m crazy. No, bro, I just want to win and do my job because I have a lot of my family in Brazil. I need training. This is my time. I want to prove to the world, and I want to stay in the UFC for a long time.”
Brandao came to the United States from Brazil approximately three years ago. While pouring his energies into training and furthering his career, Brandao has not been able to return home to see his family. A UFC contract will be the big break for which he has been waiting, one that allows him to send money to his mother. With that goal in mind, Brandao made it a point to steer clear of much of the shenanigans that went on with his roommates.
“There’s these kids in the house, [and] they don’t know where I’m coming from. They don’t know my past,” he says. “If you come to [Jackson’s], you’re gonna ask, ‘Who’s this kid?’ I’m here [at Jackson’s] two years. I just be quiet, I train, I try to help everybody I can. And the guys in the house come mess up. [Are] you kidding me?
“This is the opportunity to make money to go to Brazil,” Brandao adds. “I haven’t seen my family for three years. I don’t let it get away, because I think this is my time. I think nobody can take it. God wants it.”
Having Dodson in the house helped Brandao with more than training, even though they were on opposite teams.
“I felt more calm and I felt more safe to be there with Little John,” Brandao admits.
It worked both ways, because Dodson benefitted from the setup, as well.
“Having a real teammate in the house was a good thing for me, because I had someone I could look out for. It also gave me someone I could train with even if we were on opposite teams ... more of a real friend versus some of the guys that were fake friends,” Dodson says.
Being together in the same situation allowed Dodson and Brandao to achieve a higher level of concentration as time progressed.
“Even when we were not in the house, we were trying to keep each other calm, making sure that our minds were right and focused on the task at hand instead of trying to play around with all the other games that everybody else was playing,” Dodson says. “Everybody was looking out for themselves. I don’t care what they were saying. They were playing for themselves, while me and Diego were playing for each other.”
It is no secret that a fighter does not have to win “The Ultimate Fighter” in order to carve out a solid career in the Octagon. Numerous success stories come from competitors who did not make through the season unscathed. Still, it feels better to win it all. Despite their differing approaches, Dodson and Brandao would say the same. Too much is at stake to concede defeat.
“It’s that time,” Dodson says. “I’m one of those guys that does better under pressure and likes having the spotlight on top of me. Once they have the spotlight on me, it’s showtime. I’m just going to do what I do best: have fun and just go after it.”
His cohort, perhaps burdened by the weight of expectations, does not mention fun in anticipating his UFC debut, but he does expect a similar result.
“It’s one more fight. When I get this one more fight, I made it -- complete,” Brandao says. “This is what I want to do. I deal with a lot of things, but catch this: I’m gonna be a better fighter when I sign with the UFC. I’m gonna be able to train and send money for my mom. I’m gonna be able to think about myself and my fights. I’m gonna be a great fighter.”