By Mike McMahon
---- — BOSTON — If UFC president Dana White had asked, Boston’s John Howard would have paid to fight on last night’s UFC card at the TD Garden.
After defeating up-and-comer Uriah Hall (7-4), Howard (21-8) may have earned himself a spot back on the UFC roster.
“I would’ve taken this fight for free,” said Howard, who replaced an injured Josh Samman. “I like to fight strikers because I love to go out there and bang. Uriah is the type of guy that is willing to have a war.”
The fight didn’t take shape just as Howard envisioned, though. Hall, who has a lanky frame with incredible reach, seemed more interested in negating one of his big advantages by taking the fight to the ground, where the much thicker Howard seemed to control the bout with relative ease.
“He did surprise me with the takedowns and he’s very dynamic on his feet,” said Howard. “Fighting in my hometown of Boston is a dream come true for me and I’m so thankful to the UFC for bringing me back.”
Added Hall, “It was a great fight, not much else to say.”
But there is.
It’s been a long, winding road back to the UFC for Howard, who was released from his contract after a 2011 loss to Matt Brown, at the time, his third straight.
But since being released he had won six of his last seven fights, all by knockout and none went past the second round. His only loss came to Leandro Silva in Brazil last October, a fight he took on short notice and just 21 days after defeating Brett Chism in Rhode Island.
After the Boston Marathon bombings in April, Howard’s mission was to get on to this UFC show.
Last night, in a post-fight interview on Fox Sports 1, Howard proudly pumped his first into the camera, shouting “Boston Strong!”
It wasn’t just a huge win for Howard, but for his entire fight team. After the bombings, Howard’s team, Wai Kru, was flooded with unwanted media attention after it became known that the older of the two bombers, Tamerlan Tsnaraev, had sparred at Wai Kru while training to be a boxer. In fact, earlier this week, Howard told The Boston Herald a story about sparring with Tsarnaev, breaking his nose.
John Allen, Wai Kru’s owner and coach whose life was practically turned upside down with media camped outside of his school for weeks, leaped into the air after it was announced that Howard won the split decision.
Howard entered the fight a huge underdog in Las Vegas, where he was a +$325 on the money line.
“It’s a proud moment,” he said. “The UFC is my dream come true. I got to fight for the UFC in Boston Garden, that’s a dream come true. It’s a Cinderella story. This is the best win of my career, easy. That’s easy.”
While Hall seemed to shy away from the aggressive nature fans came to know of him on The Ultimate Fighter reality show, Howard kept pushing forward, unafraid of Hall’s potential for a knockout.
“I kept going forward because I have a good chin,” he said, “I like to bang.”
Howard finished the fight with a modified jumping Superman punch while Hall was on his back, which drew a loud ovation from the very pro-Howard Boston crowd.
“Hopefully UFC keeps me around because I want to do bigger and better things,” he said.