PLYMOUTH — Ed Johnson found Mixed Martial Arts as a way to cope with the pain of his father’s loss.
The sport that started as an outlet quickly became a passion, but when he awoke one morning to discover two herniated lumbar discs 10 months ago, he thought he might have to give up that passion forever.
Fortunately for Johnson, that’s not the case.
After a tough and uncertain rehabilitation, the 20-year-old Plymouth High School graduate will make his return to the cage April 7 in a 155-pound bout at the Century Center.
“I’m still taking it one step at a time. I’m about 100 percent,” said Johnson. “Just getting back in it is amazing. I’ve got a fight set up April 7. That’s going to be huge for me. I can’t wait to just get back and just go all out and let go of everything that has been bottled up inside me for nine months.”
It was through tragedy that Johnson originally found MMA roughly three years ago.
Johnson’s initial introduction to fighting sports came through his father, Robert, in the guise of boxing. When Robert passed away from a sudden heart attack at the age of 54, the young Johnson found himself angry and without direction.
It was around that time in 2009 that fellow Plymouth fighter and friend Ricky Miller got his start in Mixed Martial Arts under the tutelage of veteran local fighter Travis Smith at Smith’s gym in Plymouth. Johnson soon began training with Miller and Smith and after two years the trio left for Midwest Martial Arts, an Osceola gym run by Todd “Bulldog” Brown that specializes in Muay Thai kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, two of the most prominent disciplines in the sport of MMA.
For Johnson, discovering MMA was like a revelation.
“I had done some boxing and my dad passed away, and I had some stuff going on, some related issues,” recalled Johnson. “My buddy Ricky had started around the same time as me, and he said ‘Come over, it’s kind of like boxing, mixed martial arts.’ I thought I’d check it out, and I developed a passion for it.
“When my dad died I had gotten into some trouble in high school. I really needed a direction. I was very angry. Starting MMA was kind of what freed me in getting that anger and that frustration out because I took the passing of my dad really hard.”
Since Johnson’s initiation into the sport, he’s earned a 2-1 record fighting on the local circuit. MMA has given him both an outlet for his frustrations and a dream as he hopes to turn pro one day.
But that dream and that outlet were nearly taken away when Johnson awoke last March to discover he couldn’t even get out of bed. The young fighter had suffered two herniated discs in his lower spine, and his future in the sport that had become his passion was now uncertain.
“It was just a normal morning, but I woke up and I couldn’t get out of bed. I had two herniated disks, my L4 and L5 were herniated in my lower back. For a week and a half I couldn’t get up by myself,” he said.
“When you go from training every day and that’s been your life, that’s your dream to make it, and you just wake up one morning and it’s gone it’s crushing to you. You can’t put in words what it does to you. You have everybody asking when are you going to fight and telling you you’ve got to get back in training, you’ve got fights coming up. I felt a lot of pressure. People are wanting to see you fight, and you’re not fighting. It hurts you, even now it hurts.”
After debating surgery, an option that might effectively have ended his burgeoning fight career, Johnson decided on less invasive options.
Johnson’s nurse supervisor Lori Ruggles suggested he use an inversion table, a devise that helps to stretch out the spine by hanging users upside down or at an inverted angle, while another friend, Barb Miller, referred him to a nutritional drink called Zija Smart Mix, a beverage distilled from the Moringa plant whose proponents say will help treat a variety of illnesses from headaches to asthma.
It was through a combination of these therapies and faith that Johnson credits with helping him get back on his feet.
“We were talking about back surgery, and that’s when Lori, who’s become one of my best friends, told me about the inversion table, and we just talked about things,” he explained. “We started talking and I wasn’t sure about my MMA career anymore. I just needed to let go and just let God take care of the course of whatever I needed to do. I started using the inversion table, and then Barb Miller, she got me drinking a nutritional drink that has helped me somewhat. I drink it every day. Those two people have been great in my life. They helped me recover, and I’ve been back on my feet for about a month now. I’m just ready to get back where I was.”
Johnson’s rehabilitation has been slow and even now the recovery process goes on for him, although he says he’s nearly back to full strength. He continues to train at Midwest Martial Arts in preparation for his April 7 fight, a bout he plans to be only the first of many to come.
“Todd Brown, who is my head trainer, and Travis Smith, who is another trainer of mine, those guys have helped me a lot, and Ricky Miller and some of my best friends who I train with every day,” said Johnson.
“The ultimate goal is a career. Getting some big fights in and when I’ve got about 10 fights going pro, whether that be next year, two years or whatever.”