If you’ve ever thought you had a tough go in life, talk to DaMarques Johnson and your tribulations will likely seem trivial – not just by comparison, but when put in perspective by the adage he has lived his life by since he was a child.
Shortly after the Salt Lake City, Utah native’s father passed away when he was nine, his mother sat him down to impress upon him some sage advice that he says has stuck with him through every obstacle he has faced from then on.
“My mom always stressed that these were the cards we were dealt and that we would just have to make the best of the situation, no matter how hard it was, and see what happens. That’s always been what I’ve done. I play the cards I’m dealt and if I can change them up, I’ll do it as best I can and take the opportunity to do that,” recalls DaMarques. “It’s all about making the most of what you’ve got while you have it. Yeah, my dad did pass away when I was young, but I didn’t want to be a kid who used that as a crutch. I didn’t want to be one of those guys. I wanted to be my own person and I wanted to prove that no matter how hard things got, I would push through and prevail. I have the same attitude when I fight.”
Although his five years of experience as a professional mixed martial arts fighter tell a different story, DaMarques has been fighting ever since his mother’s speech back in 1991.
By the time he hit high school, Johnson decided it was best that he moved out on his own to ease the burden on his single mother, who was struggling to support him and his younger sister, Nikia.
Working at a pizza restaurant between classes and basketball and wrestling practices (during the intermittent periods of time when he wasn’t kicked off the squads for poor grades or getting into fights), DaMarques says he was surprisingly well behaved. Working near full-time hours at his “part-time” job didn’t leave him much time for studying, let alone partying and getting into the types of trouble most teenagers living on their own would, outside of the numerous fights that always seemed to find him.
“In high school I had the same outspoken fun-loving personality I have today. I loved to have a good time and joke around,” he recalls. “If a fight found me, I was more than happy to oblige.”
Cognizant that graduation was rapidly approaching and that he likely wouldn’t be going to college that fall, considering he was barely able to keep up with his bills without the added expense of tuition and text books and that school was just something that seemed to get in the way of work and his love of athletics, Johnson enlisted early with the Utah National Guard. Since he was still technically a minor when he signed up, he was allowed to begin his basic training, but couldn’t be posted until he turned 18, a week after he graduated high school.
The decision to enlist was precipitated by a need for structure, an urge to do something worthwhile with his life and a desire to not have to work to live like he had been doing for the past few years.
“I knew that I probably wouldn’t do too well if I went the college route out of high school,” Johnson says. “I had already been living on my own and supporting myself pretty much through high school, so I thought, ‘I should probably go do this,’ and I went with it.
Eventually landing in Colombia, Johnson who busted his tail during his eight years in as a serviceman, becoming a fully certified Special Forces intel specialist who worked for a considerable stint monitoring the country’s various drug cartels – a dangerous job if there ever was one.
During his time in the military, DaMarques became a standout in hand-to-hand combat, but when a soldier in his platoon introduced him to the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he instantly fell for the sport.
“Doing hand-to-hand combat training while I was in the military was where I kind of first became interested in jiu-jitsu, as far as learning all the ground stuff,” says Johnson. “I had never planned on being a fighter.”
When he returned home from Colombia, he began training with a number of local grapplers, but a chance meeting with a revered former UFC fighter made him realize that he was a fighter.
“I was just going to the gym and was just training and it was like, ‘Well, maybe you should enter a tournament,’ so I did and I won it and that was kind of how I started competing. I was never a world-class jiu-jitsu guy, but I did respectably in tournaments,” he explains. “Jeremy [Horn] is pretty much the reason why I’m fighting. I showed up at his gym for an autograph, kind of out of the blue. We had grappled a couple times and he kind of put a finger on my talent and he asked me if I had ever thought about fighting. I was like, ‘No, not really,’ and he convinced me to give it a try. I started going to boxing classes and started learning stand-up and I just fell in love with the sport. I had my first fight six months later.”
Four years later, Johnson, who had fought as high as heavyweight, entered The Ultimate Fighter house as a welterweight on a whim and emerged six weeks later as a season 9 finalist.
After losing to James Wilks in the finale, Johnson didn’t stew over the loss; he got back in the gym the next week and worked on shoring up any weaknesses that the fight had exposed.
Since then he has put together a two-fight winning streak with a triangle submission over Edgar Garcia and a TKO win against Brad Blackburn. Although not a very long string of victories, what makes the pair of “Ws” impressive is the fact that he took home submission and knockout of the night honors for the feats.
The money, save a small chunk he spent on a reliable car that he says is “nothing fancy, but it gets me from point A to point B,” has been socked away for the future to ensure that his 5-year-old son is well taken care of no matter how far he goes in MMA, a strong responsible nurturing trait that is one of many he traces back to his mom.
“I get a lot of my stubbornness and mental strength from my mom. She gave me my workaholic nature and hard-headedness for sure,” he says. “Things might not be going my way, but I just keep plugging along to see what happens. That’s definitely something she passed on to me.”
The next challenge Johnson will face inside the Octagon will be fellow TUF alumnus Matt Riddle, whom he takes on August 1 in San Diego at UFC Live: Jones vs. Matyushenko. The show was originally slated to take place in Salt Lake City, but was moved to its new California locale several weeks ago.
Although he says the difference in locale will mean that a few less friends will be in attendance at the show, Johnson says no matter where the fight takes place, the result will be the same.
“I don’t care what city or state I get punched in the face in. It really doesn’t make a lot of difference to me. As far as the fight goes, he’s a tough fighter and it’s going to be a good scrap – that I can guarantee. Everything else is just a guess,” Johnson says. “I may not be the most technical fighter, but I always come to fight; that’s one thing you always get when I’m on the card. I’m still basically a rookie, even though I have three [UFC] fights under my belt, so I treat every fight like it’s my first fight in the UFC and that it could potentially be my last. I’ll fight anybody they want me to. I haven’t earned the right to request a specific opponent. When I get a bunch more fights under my belt and I’ve paid my dues a bit, then ask me who I want to fight.”
One big difference this time around will be that he will officially be fighting under his longtime unofficial nickname.
Having been referred to as “Darkness” for years for his penchant for making his opponents see black when he knocked and choked them out, Johnson recently made the moniker official via a fan contest in which one contestant chose the name that had followed him throughout his career much like the fights that had throughout his youth.
“It’s always been a name I’ve been called. For the record, people were calling me ‘Darkness’ long before Marcus Jones was on The Ultimate Fighter,” he laughs. “I think people know him more as ‘Big Baby’ anyway, so I’m good.”
The handle is fitting, when you consider all of the gloom he has overcome to get where he has in life and his short MMA career.
“The ‘Darkness’ is rising, bro,” Johnson says with a sly, but serious smile. “Slowly, but surely. Just wait and see.”