The setting is new. The feeling is not.
Chad Johnson, the 43-year-old former NFL receiver — whose 11-year career included six Pro-Bowl appearances and flamboyant end zone celebrations — will face Brian Maxwell in his first boxing match Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
Johnson’s debut fight is the opener on the Showtime pay-per-view card for the Floyd Mayweather-Logan Paul main event — a night Johnson told The Post he’s “excited” about, but admittedly “scared” and “nervous.”
“[The feeling is] similar to that of a football game,” said Johnson, who spent most of his NFL career with the Bengals (2001-2010), the team that selected him with the No. 36-overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. He still holds most of the franchise’s receiving records.
“Yes, I’m scared. I [was] scared before every football game. Any competitive event before you go into it, there’s a sense of nervousness and fear, it’s supposed to be,” he said, noting that his fear doesn’t outweigh his desire to step into the ring with Maxwell.
“[I’m] not literally scared to the point where, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ but yes, scared, of course. There’s just nervousness, butterflies — it just comes with anything that you do competitive-wise.
“I’m outside of my element. It’s something new for me, something I’ve never done before to this magnitude. Obviously I’ve been in the ring [before], I’ve sparred for years, but now, it’s the real deal. People are watching.”
While Johnson said he “likes” his opponent, that will carry no weight while they’re in the ring. Maxwell, 33, has experience in boxing (0-1), MMA (2-3) and bareknuckle fighting (0-3).
“I have to protect myself because he has one thing in mind — to come in and win and knock my head off, period,” he said.
Leading up to the event, Johnson spent three weeks training in Houston with boxing champions Jermall and Jermell Charlo. He finished sparring with the pair on Wednesday and is now home in Miami following the brothers’ training program.
“It’s hard. [A typical day] is different because I was doing two-a-days with each,” Johnson said, adding that he’s been “a sponge,” absorbing information from the duo.
“I would go with Jermall in the morning and Jermell in the evening and it was extremely hard. They are actually in camp and preparing for fights and I integrated into their camp, so I’m working the same way they work.”
Johnson’s can-do attitude, fearless nature and animated personality all contribute to his admirable confidence — a weapon he plans to use while entertaining viewers.
“You have to be confident in everything that you do,” he said. “If you’re unsure about it, you go back to the drawing board until you are. It all comes from within. It’s the way I’ve always been. Working on my craft beforehand, that’s where the confidence comes from.”
Johnson maintained an entertainment career, including acting roles and more, throughout his NFL career and into a retirement that began when the Dolphins released him in 2012.
After an illustrious career, both on and off the field, some would question why Johnson would take on the four-round exhibition bout.
“That competitive drive and hunger is still there. I just could never get it through football because football had ended, so that competitive drive and wanting to be great at something no matter what it is, it’s still in me. That s–t burns in me still,” said Johnson, who changed his name to Chad Ochocinco during his time in the NFL.
“To have something to lock in on mentally, to see how great I can be at it in a short amount of time, that’s exciting to me. How great can I get at something in a small amount of time and do well at it?”
One secret to Johnson’s relentlessness is his ability to embrace the unknown.
“You gotta just have some type of fight in you and that courage and willingness to step out of your comfort zone,” Johnson said. “That’s something I’m doing on a much larger scale but I think it’s advice that people can take.”
Johnson is urging anyone feeling fear to “take some damn chances in life.” Although he’s living in the present, it’s likely his future isn’t in the ring.
“I don’t know about the future, because it would be disrespectful to those who’ve been doing this their entire life. I think this will be fun. I’m going to focus on the assignment at hand right now, and make sure I get out of this one unscathed and healthy,” Johnson said.
No matter the outcome Sunday, Johnson, is a bonafide entertainer in any setting.