Two men circle the middle of a 24-foot-wide, black chain-link cage in Allston’s Wai Kru gym. One is holding up a set of pads, while the other attacks him from every possible angle, not just pounding punches, but also kicking with his feet, jabbing with his knees, throwing his elbows. The attacker is named Doomsday, and though he is unleashing a furious assault, his face remains a luchador’s mask of serenity.
Sure, it’s just a twilight training session — Doomsday’s second of the day in his grueling regimen — but the good-looking grappler is such a dynamic force that even a workout commands attention from onlookers. John Allan, Doomsday’s manager and trainer, as well as the owner of the gym, prowls around the two combatants like a free-floating electron. Every few seconds he screams out a direction — “High knees!”; “Punches!”; “Sprawl!” — and Doomsday follows, sending a staccato series of slaps, pops, and slams that reverberate off the low ceilings of the gym and die only when they hit the wrestling mats on the floor. There are a dozen or so people in the gym for a wrestling class, but all their eyes are on Doomsday.
After two and a half rounds of training, the fighters leave the cage. Allan straps a tow rope to his charge’s waist and hands the other end to the sparring partner, who tries to hold the fighter back as he lumbers across the mats. “Still fighting, still fighting, still fighting . . .” chants Doomsday, barely audible from exhaustion. He finishes his last rep and crashes to the floor. For a few minutes, he lays motionless, breathing hard, drenched in sweat.
Then he gets up for more.
John “Doomsday” Howard is a 25-year-old Boston-born Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter. During his four-year career, he has accumulated a 9-3 record, with his two most recent wins coming after he dropped from 185 pounds to the 170-pound welterweight class. One of those fights was a trial for the International Fight League, which he won in dramatic fashion. His next challenge, a fight for the Ring of Combat welterweight title, takes place this week, on June 27, in Atlantic City. While MMA is bogged down by the confusing number of competing organizations that govern it, Doomsday remains Boston’s brightest hope in a brutal sport that, of late, has earned unprecedented levels of attention.
The right way
Howard was born in Roxbury in 1983. He grew up in Dorchester and Roxbury without his father, living with his mother and calling his half-sister’s father “dad.” He also has six half-brothers from his father’s side. So he didn’t quite have a typical upbringing, but he hasn’t let it hold him back.
“I’m from . . . they call it the hood, but I’m not one of these guys who has a story,” he says. “I had a rough growing up, but it’s not an excuse. I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink. I’ve never been arrested. Yes, I fight. Yes, I have a lot of aggression, but I come from a place where I was raised up for aggression. The only thing I have a story about is me working hard and trying to better my life — the right way.”