Johnny Eblen wants to clean up the division, be the decisive champion

Late last year, Johnny Eblen was tipped to be on the Bellator 290 card, which airs Feb. 4 on the CBS broadcast network.

His hunch proved correct: with Vadim Nemkov vs. Yoel Romero out of the event due to Nemkov’s injury, Eblen now gets his star turn, facing Anatoly Tokov in front of what is expected to be his biggest crowd yet.

“I knew I was going to fight Anatoli for a while, I just didn’t know when,” Eblen (12-0) told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview. “Around that time I had to look up an exact date, but I kind of knew it was probably going to be February 4th, there’s a high chance it’s going to be February 4th.”

“I’m always ready, though,” Eblen added. “I’m always training, always getting better and just staying ready.”

You have smart thinking and it paid off well before Bellator’s first event of the year. Which might be the biggest considering the legendary Fedor Emelianenko retired that night. Tokov is a member of Fedor’s circle, which makes things even better for Eblen.

“Tokov’s streak, he’s the guy,” Eblen explained when asked about potential foes, including Fabian Edwards and Gegard Mousasi, the latter of whom Eblen defeated to win the title. “Obviously it’s made even better that we’re fighting on the CBS card and Fedor is going to be on it, and he’s Team Fedor. That makes it even better.”

“I feel Edwards needs another win; Gegard, I beat Gegard decisively, so he can’t get a rematch. So he is [Tokov] the only person who makes sense. In addition to Tokov, the name Yoel Romero also appeared. Eblen questioned whether the Cuban could make weight at 185, a concern that proved to be correct when Bellator opted to move forward with Romero fighting for the 205lb belt.

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However, a fight between the two is not out of the question. Someday in the future Johnny Eblen may choose to put on weight.

“Absolutely possible. I will agree with that. I think if it makes sense, it makes sense,” Eblen said. “I definitely want to clean up the division, so I’m a determined champion. And then whatever I have to do to carry on my legacy — I want to be the GOAT at the end of the day, the greatest of all time. If that means going up to 205, then going up to 205 is what I’m going to do. I will do whatever it takes to be one of the best.”

Modern MMA has seen the second weight belt become something of a requirement for the GOAT conversation, with Georges St-Pierre achieving the feat and Jon Jones looking to do the same next March. Eblen may join this club in the future; for now, he sees employment as the key to his success, both past and future.

“Staying busy, staying active. I know I don’t have all the time in the world and I started a little later,” Eblen explained. “It started after wrestling in college. And I just really love to fight. I like getting paid, I like getting into fistfights – obviously legal fistfights where it’s consensual. But I mean, this is what I love to do. I like to be busy, I like to train, I like to get better, I like to put on shows. So staying busy and active is definitely a big reason for my success.”

As for what to expect in the Tokov matchup, Eblen sees himself as having the edge in perhaps all but one area.

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“I’m just going to flood it with everything. Striking, grappling, grappling. My tension, my pace. I will surprise him with my speed. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be there with me until he’s there with me,” Eblen said. “And maybe it’s the same with him. But I just know that the only thing he has over me is probably strength. But even that, that will fade. And I’m a strong bastard too.”

The fight on CBS for what could be Bellator’s biggest card of the year, thanks to Fedor’s swan song, feels huge. Mousasi’s win honestly felt like a turning point for Eblen. He gets more respect these days, but he knows he can’t take his foot off the gas even now.

“I think that was a big turning point because I beat a legitimate guy and I went all five rounds. He didn’t lose a round. Dominated. That was a big turning point, but now I have to keep doing it. And Anatoli is the next guy on the list and I’m just going to keep doing it until I can’t do it anymore.

Johnny Eblen takes on Anatoly Tokov in the main event of Bellator 290 on Saturday, February 4, 2023 at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, California. The main card airs live on CBS.

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