‘Take a chance at life’: NFL legend Chad ‘Ochocinco’ Johnson ready for his boxing debut

To hear Chad Johnson tell it, he didn’t choose this latest adventure. 

The adventure found Johnson, and the retired All-Pro wide receiver, known alternately as “Ochocinco,” simply accepted.

That’s how things often work out for Johnson, who navigates his way through this thing called life with his eyes peeled and mind open to enriching experiences. Opportunities just seem to fall in his lap. 

This latest invitation came in the form of a phone call from boxer Floyd Mayweather, who wanted to know if Johnson had interest in fighting on the undercard of Mayweather’s June 6 bout with YouTube personality Logan Paul. 

“It’s an experience I’ve always wanted to experience all these years,” the 43-year-old Johnson, who last played in the NFL in 2011, told USA TODAY Sports. “I just never had the opportunity to do it.

"But look at this: 2021, get the call from Floyd, ‘You want to move around the ring a little bit?’ ‘You’re (expletive) right! What is the date?’ I just wanted to make sure I had enough time to prepare. I haven’t stopped moving around since I played football. I stayed moving because I have to be on point for my kids so I can show them how it’s supposed to look. It’s going to be fun.”

Chad Johnson, Floyd Mayweather and Logan Paul (R) pose for a photo during a press conference at Hard Rock Stadium. (Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui, AFP via Getty Images)

Johnson will square off with 33-year-old former NFL hopeful-turned-bareknuckle-fighter Brian Maxwell. The entire event will air as a pay per view event on Showtime.

Boxing is just the latest post-NFL venture that Johnson has pursued. 

There was the brief stint in the Canadian Football League, competing on "Dancing with the Stars," a WWE appearance, a 1.5-second ride on a 1,500-pound bull on the PBR circuit, and even a nine-game pro soccer career.

So why not add boxing to the list?

“The opportunity presented itself, and I couldn’t pass it up,” Johnson explained. “There are a lot of things in life that happen that you can do one time, and you can say, ‘You know what, I did it.’

"There’s 98% of the population that wouldn’t dare do it out of fear of embarrassment, out of fear of losing. But I’ve always been one who’s taken chances in all that I do. It’s me and my nature and who I am. But when I do something, I lock in, I focus and I put my all into it, and 98% of the time, I come out OK.”

Locking in has consisted of training in Houston with the Charlo twins – Jermall (the undefeated and current WBC middleweight champ) and Jermell (the WBC, WBA and IBF unified super welterweight champ).

Johnson has used boxing as part of his training regimen both during and after his football career. But he said that casual introduction to the sport feels worthless compared to physical demands of training with the Charlos and the complexity of technical skills he is trying to absorb. 

“It’s not helping because it’s too much elite talent at once,” Johnson said. “Obviously, being here in Houston and training with the Charlo twins and their sparring partners, they're at a level where I would have to start all over at 4 years old.

"But for me, I have a boxing match coming up and for me and my training is going right with the best of the best. There’s a huge gap of years and work and tutelage that I would need to be able to compete on their level. But it’s what I need to be able to be ready for June 6. I have to get in with the twins, get my ass whooped, get lumped up, watch the film with them, correct the mistakes and then go back to sparring the next day.”

The 6-foot, 205-pound Maxwell has a background in combat sports (owning a 3-2 record), so Johnson (6-1, 192) could find himself at a disadvantage. Another recent pro athlete who attempted to cross over into boxing, former NBA star Nate Robinson, faced Logan Paul’s brother, Jake, last fall and got knocked out in the second round.

But Johnson insists that the risk of knockout or injury doesn’t concern him. 

“I got knocked out by Ray Lewis. I got knocked out by Brian Russell. I’ve been hit, man,” Johnson said referring to blows on the football field. “Everything you do in life is risky. But it’s one I’m willing to take. I took a risk every Sunday at 1 o'clock. The risk, my life was on the line every play.

"Now, I’m in a combat sport. My life again is on the line. I’m used to being under that type of pressure. It’s just a different environment with a different skill set and my competitive nature is going to kick in. Survival is going to kick in. it’s instinct. Taking everything I've learned and channeling that in a controlled environment.. Is it easy? No. Boxing is probably the hardest thing to learn and master. But that’s OK.”

Chad Johnson played his final NFL game for the Patriots in Super Bowl 46. (Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)

Johnson wants to win. But his mission includes two other goals: entertain, and most importantly, inspire.

“I hope more people start living and get out of their comfort zone and start trying new (stuff),” he explained. “It’s OK. Take a chance. Send that girl that DM. It’s OK. Take a chance at life. Do something different. Everyone loves to be in that comfort zone. Everyone likes to play it safe.

"I don’t mind losing at what I do in life. There’s ups and downs. Let’s go to work.”

Johnson believes that the long hours logged in preparation coupled with natural survival skills will carry him versus Maxwell. But even if things don’t play out as favorably as he hopes, he’s fine with that.

It’s the payoff – the experience itself – that drives Johnson. 

Ochocinco finds himself on the cusp of checking off yet another item on his extensive bucket list. In the process, he does indeed offer a valuable example of an admirable approach to life: eschew comfort zones, embrace the unknown, prepare with goals in mind.

As he said, just start living. 


Follow USA TODAY Sports NFL columnist Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.

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