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Exclusive: John Howard plans to test Thiago Alves’s Muay Thai at UFC 124

John Howard lands some ground and pound on Dennis Hallman. (Photo by Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com)

At UFC 124 on Dec. 11, fast-rising welterweight John Howard (14-5) plans to put Thiago Alves’s Muay Thai skills to the test.

With 14 UFC fights and a title shot to his credit, Alves (22-5), a Muay Thai champion in his native Brazil, has usually enjoyed a significant advantage in the striking game. But Howard is also well-versed in the Thai boxing discipline and believes that his skills in that area will present Alves with a new challenge.

“He’s got a bit more of a Dutch style, but we’ll see how he reacts when someone brings some Muay Thai back in his face,” Howard told ProMMAnow.com. “We’ve seen him fight some boxers, guys with decent kickboxing, but against me he’s facing someone that can check his kicks and throw a lot of counters back at him.”

Now 4-1 in the Octagon, Howard has picked up respectable wins over the likes of Dennis Hallman and Daniel Roberts, but he knows that the fight with Alves will be his biggest to date. At the same time, he isn’t intimidated at all or more nervous than usual.

“When I found out a chance to fight him I was excited,” Howard said. “He’s a really good fighter. He is a big opponent and has a big name, but this is a huge chance for me. It’s just a job and I’ve got to go out there and do my job.”

Alves is also one of the larger welterweights in the UFC. As a result, he’s missed weight twice, including his last bout against Jon Fitch, where he looked somewhat sluggish compared to his previous performances.

But Howard isn’t expecting Alves to have any issues making weight.

“I’m expecting him to come out and be his best,” Howard said. “After missing weight a few times, he’s not going to make that mistake again.”

And as big as Alves is, Howard cuts just about as much weight and expects to have no problem matching up with him physically.

“I’m a big [welterweight] myself,” he said. “I walk around at about 208 or so. Most guys in the division don’t walk around as heavy as we do.”

Howard is coming off of his first UFC defeat, a third round TKO at the hands of Jake Ellenberger. The stoppage resulted from an elbow that caused a significant amount of swelling around Howard’s eye.

Asked about how he’s handled the loss, Howard replied, “I’ve been working on my takedown defense, because obviously with Ellenberger I got taken down too many times.

“The doctor thought it was a broken orbital bone. It wasn’t, but better safe than sorry, I guess. I wanted them to let me go out on my shield, let me just finish it. I couldn’t really see out of that eye, but it doesn’t matter. It’s MMA, so who knows what would’ve happened. Maybe I could’ve found a way to finish him, maybe he would’ve stopped me. I’m pretty sure Jake Ellenberger was disappointed too. After my fight and after his next fight, maybe he and I could have a rematch.”

Ellenberger used more than straight wrestling to take Howard down and implement his game, mixing in effective striking and clinch work to keep Howard off balance.

“His transitions were really good, I have to give him that,” Howard said. “He’s just a different point of wrestling and he has a good understanding of mixing up MMA and wrestling. He did a great job; I can’t take anything away from him.”

Of course, Alves will likely use a different strategy against Howard than Ellenberger, a talented wrestler.

“I really don’t see me taking him down; for this fight, I’m not concentrating on that,” he said. “I think our Jiu Jitsu level and wrestling level is about the same.”

At the UFC 124 main event in Montreal, welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre will defend his title against Josh Koscheck in a rematch of a fight St. Pierre won by unanimous decision in 2007. A win over a former title challenger would certainly help move Howard closer to the top of the line, but he isn’t concerned about what happens after the Alves match.

“If I do win this fight, I don’t know where that will put me in the ranks,” Howard said. “I’m really not worried about that.”

However, Howard did give his thoughts on the match-up and doesn’t think GSP is guaranteed a win.

“It’s going to be an exciting fight,” Howard said. “I don’t know if GSP is going to win. He has better all-around MMA game, but Koscheck might’ve learned something from their last fight. People are picking GSP, but I don’t know. [Koscheck] might come with a different game plan.”

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Howard asked to thank the following: Wai Kru MMA, John Allen, John Clarke, Carlos Neto, and the Tapout Training Center in Boston

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