Ex-Marine’s quest for UFC stardom

Aaron Johnson in action in the ring
Aaron Johnson in action in the ring

A Wigan-born former commando has ambitions of becoming a sporting superstar after dedicating himself to professional martial arts.

Platt Bridge ex-serviceman Aaron Johnson has set his sights on reaching the heights of the world’s largest Mixed Martial Arts (MMC) promoter, UFC, after spending his late teens and early 20s in the Royal Marines, which included serving in Afghanistan.

Aaron Johnson (right) during his tour of Afghanistan

Aaron Johnson (right) during his tour of Afghanistan

Aaron said: “I had to leave the forces to pursue this whilst I’m still young. I don’t want to look back and regret it. It’s been a bit of a journey really. I won and defended the International Combat Elite Fighting Championship amateur lightweight title and it was then that I decided it was time to turn professional.”

MMA has seen a surge in popularity turning the likes of Conor McGregor into world superstars. The sport combines boxing, wrestling and traditional martial arts, with bouts taking place in a caged octagon arena.

Aaron’s professional record stands at three wins and one loss. He believes he has what it takes to make it all the way to the top.

He said: “Being a Royal Marine Commando, which has the longest military training in the world at 32 weeks long, has set me up for this move to professional fighting. I already have the fitness and mental toughness that’s needed.”

Aaron, whose ring nickname is The Catfish as a result of his previously styled moustache, is training at Blackledge MMA, Leigh, under the guidance of former UFC fighter and world-renowned coach, Tom Blackledge.

But he has had to balance a professional training scheme with a full-time job as a lorry driver and needs sponsors to make his dream a reality.

Aaron said: “Most professionals don’t work as they have sponsors, so they’re training two to three times a day.

“At the moment I’m working 12 hour days, even on Sundays, and then going home to get my training gear to go straight to the gym. I’m not getting home until half 10 at night and then I’m back up in the morning at half-past four.”

He is also receiving strength and conditioning training from Scotland RL fitness coach, Michael Turner who said: “Aaron’s super-keen, working the wagons but still training every night. It’s tough but he’s doing it. As a former Royal Marine myself it’s a pleasure to work him with.”

It was while on tour in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, that Aaron started learning MMA.

The 26-year-old said: “One of the lads there did a bit of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and we’d just do a little bit on a night-time if we had time. I enjoyed it. When I came back from Afghanistan on rest and recuperation a little MMA gym had opened in Ashton called Fightbase. I went down there and gave it ago and within a month I was fighting.

“People were saying: ‘You can do this, you’re good enough to go pro’.”