Meet Johnny Utah, the artist who draws stunning versions of your favorite MMA fighters.
While closely monitoring Instagram for breaking news or fun MMA tidbits we stumbled across a drawing of former UFC Cris “Cyborg” Justino that took our breath away. Upon further investigation, we realized that that artist, Johnny Utah, has drawn other MMA stars as well and each is equally stunning. FanSided reached out to Utah who shared with us his inspiration and the process which goes into producing each work of art.
“I usually start with a simple doodle or do a quick thumbnail sketch,” Utah told FanSided. “Then I decide on which medium to use – charcoal, paint, woodburn or pastels are my go-to’s. Sometimes I’ll mix up the mediums. I’m big on music improvisation so I apply the same approach to art. I might go one direction then change halfway through. Like Jon Jones, it’s good to have a lot of tools in your bag. That’s the beauty of art.”
Utah says that it was actually a photo that was ironically taken by our FanSided photographer that jumpstarted the idea of drawing MMA fighters.
“What first triggered my interest in my last MMA art was that beautiful photo [FanSided] shot of Jacob Rosales – a hometown hero of sorts. I love how you captured the darks and lights – the dramatic lighting was perfect. At the time, I didn’t know it was actually shot by [FanSided] until I asked Jacob.”
The transition into drawing MMA fighters seemed like a no-brainer for Utah, who has been a fan of the sport for some time.
“I love competitive sports and nothing compares to MMA,” he said. “To me, it is the most physically and mentally demanding of them all. I also love figure drawing which is why MMA attracts me, along with Skateboarding. I enjoy looking at photos where the photographer captures an action shot.”
Utah has a strong link to art and music and has been doing both since he was a young boy.
“I followed my mom’s footsteps. She is a very talented musician, athlete, and artist and because of this, art was always around the house when I was growing up,” he said. “When I got to Kindergarten I was really into drawing Superman and Transformers. I would draw and make bookmarks and sell them for a buck apiece. As a kid it makes you feel good when everybody is always asking you to draw something – even better if you can make some lunch money from it.”
He says that in his teens he took a break from art and focused more on music and sports and then got back into the art scene about six years ago.
“After trying my luck with golf for a few years, I got back to my first love – Art. Since then, I’ve been working hard and studying every day to take my skill to the next level. I was even lucky enough to be mentored by Master Painter Justin Bua,” he said.
He says that each piece can take anywhere from 10 hours, for a charcoal drawing to months if it’s a painting and that he has to balance his time between his “real” job and his duties as a husband and father.
Utah doesn’t just draw MMA fighters, he’s also made art of Dodgers Joc Pederson and Justin Turner as well as Raider’s Maurice Hurst and Lakers Kyle Kuzma.
Probably the most inspiring part of this whole process is Utah’s desire to give back.
“It started a few years ago with NFL wuarterback Derek Carr,” he said. “At the time he was the highest-paid QB in the league. I saw an interview with him where he was asked, ‘What are you going to do with the money?’ Derek said he will help more people in need. That inspired me to get involved with charities like Action Against Hunger. Since then, any commission work I’ve done, I have donated portions of my proceeds to help various organizations. I have donated art to animal rescue groups and memorial services.
This charitable connection also circles back to a unique MMA connection.
“A few months ago, while listening to the Joe Rogan Podcast, which is my favorite thing to listen while I’m in my studio, he had Justin Wren as a guest,” Utah explained. “Justin’s story was so inspiring. I researched him and his organization, Fight for the Forgotten. Fight for the Forgotten helps the people of Uganda and also fights against bullying. (I was bullied as an Asian kid in Norwalk, California way before Tae Kwon Do and Korean BBQ was popular.”