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EXCLUSIVE: Johnny Eblen happier about mom’s surprising attendance at Bellator 282 than winning middleweight belt

Jason Burgos

While new Bellator middleweight champion Johnny Eblen thought winning his first major title in June was “pretty cool,” the achievement is still a distant second compared to his mother being there to watch it.

For most aspiring MMA fighters, winning a major championship is a seminal moment in their careers. It is the achievement of thousands of hours of literal blood, sweat, and tears. Yet for American Top Team product Johnny Eblen, beating MMA great Gegard Mousasi for the Bellator belt was not as big a deal for him as you might expect. Instead, he saw it as just another step in a career still in its early stages.

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However, his mom actually being there to watch his big moment at Bellator 282 did hold a special place in his heart.

“When I won that title I was like, ‘sweet.’ That’s about it,” Eblen told Sportsnaut. “I was like, ‘this is pretty cool.’ I was more emotional that my mom was there and saw me win it, as opposed to me actually winning, if that makes any sense. It didn’t feel as big of a moment as I think some people might think I might feel it was.

“It’s just a step in the right direction … It’s not like all my hard work [paid off],” he added. “It didn’t feel like that. It just feels like it was a cool moment in the process of bigger moments I’m going to have throughout my career. It’s a blip in my whole career.”

Johnny Eblen on mom’s distaste for his career: ‘She literally hates the fact that I fight’

johnny eblen, bellator
Credit: Lucas Noonan/Bellator MMA

There is a very specific reason why Eblen’s mother being in attendance was such a big deal beyond a general bond between mother and son. She has long hated that “Diamond Hands” chose cage fighting as his profession. However, her being able to get beyond her distaste for the sport and still be at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. to support her son meant the world to the new champ.

“It mattered the most that my mom was there. She literally hates the fact that I fight,” Eblen says. “She’s been with me since day one. We’ve been through literal hell together. Life wasn’t easy when I was growing up. Life wasn’t easy for her in general. A lot of ups and downs and a lot more downs than ups.

“My mom really disapproved of it. She didn’t support me for a little while, and then she started seeing I was really good, and people cared about it, that was around her,” he continued. “She went to my last fight, it was in St. Louis and I thought that was pretty cool. Then she came to this one [and] I didn’t expect that. The fact that she supports me so much, even though she hates it, it just means a lot.”

Eblen believes Anatoly Tokov should be next, but open to Fabian Edwards scrap as well

johnny eblen, bellator
Credit: Lucas Noonan/Bellator MMA

With the middleweight title now in his possession, many Bellator fans are wondering what’s next for ATT’s prized prodigy. The top of the division right now lacks a strong standout deserving of being the first challenger to Eblen’s thrown. However, if it were up to him, he believes Team Fedor fighter Anatoly Tokov makes the most sense because of his seven-fight win streak. But the new champ admits the Russian’s case for a title fight could be better.

“The middleweight division is in a weird place. I’ve been saying that in my interviews. The only person that would really make sense that’s on a win streak is Tokov,” Eblen explained. “But he was on my prelim and he fought an unranked dude so that really doesn’t set him up for a title shot. If they gave it to him I’d understand, and obviously, I’d take it but it just looks weird … I personally would have liked him to fight someone ranked in the top 10, get a win, and get a title shot.”

If not Tokov, another competitor that may have a case is English star, Fabian Edwards. He is the one fighter in the top five who hasn’t lost a title fight or to Eblen recently. However, the new warden of the middleweight division believes the Russian is still a more deserving and challenging task.

“I’d rather give it to Tokov [than Edwards]. I would take both, to be honest. I’m just saying Tokov probably deserves it more. And honestly, I think Tokov is a tougher fight. He’s way more of a veteran. He’s skilled everywhere.”

Johnny eblen compares tokov and edwards