Anthony Johnson returns to MMA


Four years ago, Anthony Johnson gave up his second loss in the UFC light heavyweight championship at the hands of Daniel Cormier. And for a while he was perfectly happy.

“I needed a break from my professional athletic career for a change,” Johnson told the Post via Zoom on Wednesday, “… I just needed a chance to be myself, to empty myself. my head, to empty my body and mind. “

But as he watched Cormier’s trilogy of heavyweight title fights with Stipe Miocic over the past three years, he got the itch again.

And while Johnson says he was “fat and happy” because he originally planned to return to heavyweight fighting, he will instead compete in the fourth and final fight of the Bellator World Light Heavyweight Grand Prix on Friday night as a Bellator 258 co-headliner at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Even those shots have been changed recently, as he now faces Jose Augusto instead of original opponent Yoel Romero on the Showtime aired event.

Johnson (22-6, 16 finishes) says the time away has put him in a better place mentally as he returns to the cage, fighting at Bellator for the first time.

“My circle has become smaller. I got smarter. I just have my life under control now, “says Johnson, 37.” And it’s still not peaches and cream, but nobody’s life is perfect. But I am no longer where I was. I am in a much better place. I’m just happier, and that’s all that matters to me.

The man known as “Rumble” says he’s “pretty private with things outside of the cage” and chose not to detail what was holding him back beyond the fights. He also declined to discuss the topic of a 2019 home battery / battery charge in Boca Raton, Fla. And a pre-trial diversion agreement that required Johnson to take an anger management course for close the case.

Instead, Johnson is focused on his fighting future. Known throughout his career for his hitting and punching power that led to five wins by 60 seconds or less (T) KOs in the UFC during an MMA career that began in 2006, his game original against former UFC middleweight title challenger Romero the crown jewel of Bellator’s first leg of the tournament. But then Romero was removed from his post because of what Bellator said was a failure to “rule out pre-fight medical testing”, leaving Johnson disappointed with the missed opportunity.

Anthony Johnson at UFC 210 vs. Daniel Cormier
Anthony Johnson at UFC 210 vs. Daniel Cormier
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

“I was training for it. I was ready. Always ready, ”Johnson said regretfully. “… But Yoel is in the past, man. I am more focused on Jose.

This isn’t the first time that a highly anticipated fight involving Johnson has failed. For years, he seemed like perhaps the toughest long-standing challenge for the UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones had yet to face. A fight between the two was targeted for May 2015, but Jones was implicated in a hit-and-run. The champion was suspended and stripped of his crown. Johnson faced Cormier for the vacant title and Rumble fell by submission in the third round in the first of two meetings.

Jones’ fight that doesn’t come to fruition remains disappointing to this day for Johnson, who has agreed “that won’t happen” with the two now signed to different organizations.

“I didn’t want to go down in history as one of those fights that should have happened,” Johnson said. “… Not fighting Jon was a disappointment, and it broke my heart. But life goes on. “

Johnson also doesn’t want to be remembered for a fighter who never got over the hump and won a world title, and he’s perfectly happy if that happens with Bellator instead of the UFC. A win over Augusto would move him to the semi-finals against champion Vadim Nemkov and temptingly bring him closer to that goal.

“I know I’m supposed to win a world title,” Johnson said. “I know I am. I feel it. But I also know that I have to go through these battles to get there.

Johnson swears he hasn’t even considered Nemkov yet, not with 29-year-old Augusto (7-2, seven finishes) ahead of him. His new opponent from Brazil just picked up an arm triangle submission victory last month with Bellator, but he is also the least announced of the remaining tournament field.

With few expecting more than a Johnson knockout to a prospect, the front-runner acknowledges Augusto is essentially playing with the house money. And Johnson certainly didn’t have enough time to make many changes to his preparation given that Romero was pulled just eight days before the event.

“He has nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Johnson said.

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