A five-fight winning streak to begin his MMA career wasn’t good enough, so in 2007 John Howard linked up with Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts of Boston and later spent time in Thailand to learn the art of Muay Thai from its very core. Raised by a single mother growing up in a roughhouse section of suburban Beantown, Howard’s limits were tested habitually. Seeing Thai fighters sleep under a ring delivered a direct message on why he’s truly thankful and that everything in his life happened for a reason.
“Some of the best fighters in the world, that’s their bed,” Howard told Heavy.com. “It was a crazy experience and it teaches you to be humble and train hard, and be blessed with what God gives you and the cards he deals to you because it can be a lot worse.”
Since joining Wai Kru Howard’s game has reached new heights. The “Wai-Kru” is an ancient Thai tradition, a ritual performed before a fight to pay respect to the King of Thailand and the teachers who have given the fighter knowledge. A core power hitter, Howard trained in kickboxing and believed he needed to refine his technique, so he turned to head trainer and owner Kru John Allen to learn the fundamentals he believed were lacking. Allen’s profile has serious cachet. In 2009, he led the Wai Kru MMA fight team to a 65-10 record and the Muay Thai team to an 18-3 mark.
“Wai Kru’s a great school,” Howard said. “They’ve taken my striking to the next level. I was an OK striker, I was a good boxer, but now I’m an excellent striker. They showed me the power I needed.”
Howard’s last bout under Allen’s tutelage was a blasting of Daniel Roberts just 2:01 into the first round that earned him Knockout of the Night honors. Undefeated in four UFC fights, Howard (14-4) is poised for his main card debut at the second UFC on Versus show August 1 against the dangerous Jake Ellenberger - an Omaha native competing in his third UFC bout off a TKO of Mike Pyle 22 seconds into Round 2 at UFC 108. A former IFL competitor, Ellenberger is an assistant wrestling coach for the NCAA Division II National Champion University of Nebraska at Omaha capable of grinding out a fight or turn it into a standup war.
“I’m expecting him to come out hardcore and I’m prepared for that,” Howard said. “I know he has heavy hands but I have heavy hands too. If he wants to brawl with a boxer then all power to him. Obviously I’m nervous, but I’m actually excited too. We have main card, on TV, and we’re going to have some fun.”
Howard had fun choosing the moniker conjured by his brother prior to his fighting days based on the DC Comics character who famously killed Superman in Issue No. 75. He used the Superman-Doomsday motif to hype his third UFC fight against Dennis “Superman” Hallman, a veteran of more than 50 fights compared to Howard’s 16 who led late into the third round before Howard’s stunning left punch ended it with five seconds left. Mixed martial arts has led to financial stability, including $50,000 for his win over Roberts, and an escape from Dorchester’s “Red Zone,” a neighborhood overrun by gangs, crime and murder. He advanced no further than high school and was an electrician before beginning his fighting career in 2004.
These days Howard makes enough coin to live in the Back Bay, Cambridge or any of Boston’s finer sections, yet resides in a different part of Dorchester and will playfully chastise anyone who tries to put him on a different level than anyone else. A recent Tweet encouraged fans who see him on the street to say hello on the condition they do not call him sir.
“I have years before I age,” Howard said.
At 27, Howard is proving mature beyond his years as a fighter and true to his roots. One day he purchased a 2003 Audi A4 Turbo. He gave it to his mother and kept his decrepit and treasured 1994 Honda Accord.
“It’s messed up. The locks are messed up, the tires. It’s my favorite car. I love it,” Howard said. “That’s what makes me happy. That’s the type of guy I am. I don’t need certain things to make an impression. I tell people be happy with what you got. I am too. To see a woman struggle in a man’s world and pull through and persevere, it’s amazing. She held everything together. That’s very inspiring.”
Howard’s big picture is clear. On days it’s not, he thinks about his mother and his fighting brethren, notably the ones who take shelter under a ring.