Anthony “Rumble” Johnson makes his return the Octagon on Saturday at UFC 172 in Baltimore, Maryland against Phil Davis. It’s a bout with major title implications for the light heavyweight division.
The favorite? Davis has been a consistent UFC performer, but a recent upset win over Lyoto Machida attracted him attention as a serious contender. He’s ranked fourth in the UFC’s official light heavyweight rankings. A win here, and perhaps one more, could earn him the title shot which has eluded him in a four-year UFC career.
The underdog, Johnson? He’s something of a wild card.
The man they call “Rumble” is on a six fight winning streak, including a win at heavyweight over former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski during an impressive run with World Series of Fighting.
Johnson is a rock-solid fighter, showing impressive punching power and wrestling acumen. He won a national wrestling championship at Lassen Community College before beginning an MMA career in 2006. He hails from Georgia, but fights out of Florida with the Blackzilians camp, with world class talent like Rashad Evans, the only man to defeat Davis in an MMA bout, to keep pushing him to the limit.
But it’s been an up and down career. And those ups and downs for Johnson have been recorded not just in wins and losses, but on the scale.
In the last five years, he has moved from welterweight, to middleweight, to light heavyweight, to heavyweight, and back down to light heavy… to varying degrees of success.
I first saw Johnson in UFC Fight Night 13 back in 2008. He was facing off against Tom Speer at welterweight, right after Speer had earned Runner-Up honors in his stint at The Ultimate Fighter Season 6. Speer had seemed no joke, using his wrestling and ground-and-pound attack to defeated the likes of George Sotiropoulos, and seemed to enter the bout, more or less, even money.
Johnson completely dismantled Speer in an ugly beat-down. Before recording the knockout just 51 seconds in, Johnson knocked Speer around the Octagon, looking a full weight class bigger (or two) than his opponent.
And, well, he probably was.
Johnson reportedly would lose as much as 55 pounds to make the welterweight limit in those days. He once missed weight by a full seven pounds for a 2007 bout against Rich Clementi.
He would miss weight again — and again badly, by seven pounds — against Yoshiyuki Yoshida in a 2009 bout, prompting a move up. But he won that bout, as he did most of the time. His only losses for the UFC after the Speer bout were a result of a poke in the eye, and a “Fight of the Night” performance against then-contender Josh Koscheck.
Still, the weight troubles continued, even after Johnson moved up to middleweight. Against Vitor Belfort in 2012, Johnson was advised to stop his weight cut by doctors before weighing in at 197 lbs. — a staggering twelve pounds over the division limit. He was released by the UFC following that loss, but the struggle continued; as he weighing in at 194 lbs for a scheduled middlweight bout for Titan FC.
The great recent run for World Series of Fighting turned things around. Now, at what seems his natural weight, Johnson looks to make one last run for championship glory, having earned another shot with the UFC.
Up and down, as always. Now, Johnson has four bouts to prove his UFC mettle.
He’s not getting an easy touch to start his new UFC career. This can be a new apex for Johnson. Or it can be a new low.
Johnson’s career has been a roller coaster, but it’s always exciting. Let’s hope he brings his best Saturday night.