Haz East CC/WR/TF Alum Charles Johnson Fights UFC FN Sat-STL

Updated Saturday afternoon, including Sr Yr FB participation 

If one were to consider what trio of high school sports would best develop a future world-class mixed martial arts fighter, cross country running, wrestling, and the long sprints and middle and long distance running of track and field, and toss in a little bit of a 4th sport of football, those seem as like as good a combination as any. At least they were for Charles Johnson. 

All four sports develop attributes needed to be great at many things, especially the strength, speed, endurance, and skill required to be elite in the mixed martial arts. The discipline of running miles upon miles in cross country, whether in a group at a comfortable pace or in solitude at pace that's intolerable can be fun, but it's the challenge to run or race again and again after a certain pace or time goal that develops some of most valuable attributes, including persistence and grit.

The structure and determination needed to be excellent in wrestling is only achieved by few who ever consider the sport. The constant physical and mental training, along with the skill refinement to grapple and get the upper hand on an opponent when one is at his or her most fatigued is a way of life. To survive, take a breathe, and keep attacking.  

The long sprints and middle distances of track and field require supreme fitness along with specific training and work on the track. Running intervals on the track before sucking wind and a specific amount of recovery, sometimes a lot, other times little, then doing it all over again. Fine-tuning the body to get it to move with maximum velocity and efficiency, for a specific distance before slowing down or hitting the wall. 

Fifteen years after he graduated from Hazelwood East High School, where he earned All-State honors in all three sports, and added some football to his plate as a senior to help his school to a state title on the gridiron, the former Spartan standout returns home to compete in UFC Fight Night in St. Louis on Saturday. 

It's been a long journey for Charles Johnson to get to the world's biggest promotion of mixed martial arts, UFC. In 2022, got the invite to join one of the world's biggest sports and entertainment properties and he's working to make the most of it. Saturday' he's hoping to make a big step in his hometown. 

He enters as an underdog in the 3-round bout, but, "Pretty soon I'm going to be the best 3-round flyweight in the world. I'm already the best 5-round flyweight in the world, everyone knows this.", Johnson said this week in an interview with UFC.com.

The Topeka, Kansas-born Johnson, moved to St. Louis' Soulard neighborhood at age 4 before moving to North St. Louis County where he earned MSHSAA All-State medals in high school as a cross country harrier in the Fall, a wrestler in the Winter, and a long-sprinter/middle distance runner in track and field in the Spring. 

Johnson will compete in a UFC Flyweight bout. It will be the 2nd or 3rd bout of the events of the "Prelims", which starts at 3:00 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN+. He'll face off with England's Jake Hadley. The event's main card starts at 6:00 p.m. with fellow St. Louisan Joaquin Buckley fighting in a welterweight bout. 

In wrestling, he was a 3-time state qualifier. As a senior in 2009, he lost his opening match but battled back to take 5th in the 125lb weight class to earn a top-6 All-State finish. 

In cross country, Charles Johnson earned a top 50 state finish as a sophomore in 2006 in Class 4 (of 4), placing 49th. But it was his junior year when he exploded. At the 2007 MSHSAA State Cross Country Championships, Johnson ran 16:26 on the brutally hilly Oak Hills course in Jefferson City a few years before the starting stretch was adjusted to no longer go past the clubhouse and to near the road before turning back south. 

Johnson placed 13th, just 36 seconds behind Parkway West State Champion Eric Fernandez, the future NCAA Division I Cross Country All-American at Arkansas. He was also not far behind the likes of other future NCAA qualifiers and/or All-Americans Rick Elliott of Kickapoo, Sam Masters of Hickman, Danny Thater of Kickapoo, and he was ahead of standouts Matt Estlund of Chaminade and Francis Howell North's Nick Happe (who himself went on to NCAA All-America honors). 

In May of 2008, his junior year on the track, Johnson and the Hazelwood East boys placed 3rd at the state meet in the 4x800, finishing in 7:54.64, behind winner Kickapoo and runner-up Oak Park. Johnson had plenty of success on the track in the summer as well. For his U-City Xplosion Club, he shined, winning a pair of 3,000-meter AAU Jr Olympic Games age group national titles.

Johnson earned back-to-back All-State honors in cross country for Hazelwood East. He took was 24th-place finish in 2008 as a senior on a cold day in 16:35 for 5k. After his 5th-place All-State wrestling finish, Johnson, who had success in the summer club seasons and at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in previous Summers, and he had the state relay success as previously mentioned, he was still looking for breakout success on the track for Hazelwood East. He got it as a senior in the Spring of 2009. 

He won the Suburban North Conference title in the 800 in 1:54.00 then doubled up with the 3200 title in 9:48, both PRs.