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Strikeforce’s Lavar Johnson wants to be known for more than being injured in shooting

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Strikeforce mixed martial artist Lavar Johnson, left, is fighting Friday against Devin Cole in the Strikeforce Challengers card at the Palms. It’s the first Strikeforce show in Las Vegas.

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Mixed martial artist Lavar Johnson knows his fight Friday could be his last.

You see, he lost his most recent fight, and in the “what have you done for me lately” world of MMA, a second consecutive loss for a relatively unproven fighter could spell disaster.

“If you don’t perform, you get demoted,” said Johnson, whose heavyweight fight against Devin Cole is the co-main event of the Strikeforce Challengers card at the Pearl at the Palms. “Right now I am basically fighting for my job. If I lose this one, probably they will say ‘see you.’ That is what happens (in this sport). You win or you go home. That is the job requirement.”

Just don’t expect the 32-year-old Johnson to complain. He’s truly happy to be in the cage.

Johnson was seriously injured July 4, 2009, during a drive-by shooting at a Fourth of July party in Bakersfield, Calif. One of four people shot at a family reunion, he suffered serious intestinal injuries that nearly ended his career but didn’t crush his spirit.

He said his injuries were severe enough that he had to be fed intravenously for one month. He dropped nearly 50 pounds to 205 pounds because he was unable to digest food.

“I made sure to stay awake. I didn’t want to take that long dirt nap,” Johnson said. “So, I stayed awake throughout the whole thing. It’s not like the movies where you can get up and run away.”

Johnson (13-4) didn’t waste any time getting back into fighting. Nearly 10 months after the incident, Johnson recorded a TKO victory in his return to the cage.

It was a quick recovery considering the severity of the injury, but Johnson had little reservations about returning.

“This is how we make our money, we have to fight,” he said. “I was determined to fight right off the top, as soon as they took me out of intensive care.

“I had bills stacked up,” he continued. “The pressure was to really pay the bills — win and get that money.”

Rafael Alvarado, Johnson’s trainer, always felt his fighter’s quick hands and superior footwork made him special. But after watching him overcome the adversity of getting shot, Alvarado developed a newfound respect.

“It was tough, man. I felt like I was going to lose a brother,” Alvarado said.

Johnson’s career suffered a setback in his most recent fight, when he was submitted by Shane del Rosario in February on the undercard of the mega-Strikeforce card featuring Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Silva on Showtime. Johnson admits his nerves got the best of him.

“I think the pressure of being around those superstars and big name fighters made me nervous,” he said. “I don’t want to make any excuses, but I just wasn’t myself. I was throwing up before the fight.”

Now, with his job on the line, he’ll have a chance to make amends against Cole (18-9-1) and get his career back on track. It’s a career that obviously beats the alternative of that unfortunate night in Bakersfield.

“I would like to be known for what I do (and not being shot),” he said.

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