Four years ago, Anthony Johnson retired after his second UFC light heavyweight loss to Daniel Cormier. And for a while he was completely satisfied.
« For a change, I had to take a break from not being a professional athlete, » Johnson told The Post this week via Zoom. « … I just needed one chance to be myself, to clear my head, body and spirit. »
But when he saw Cormier’s trilogy of heavyweight titles with Stipe Miocic over the past three years, he started itching again.
And while Johnson says he was « fat and happy » when he originally planned to fight heavyweight again, he will instead be in the fourth and final fight of the Bellator World Grand Prix on Friday night in the Light Heavyweight will co-headline Bellator 258 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Even those plans have recently been tweaked as he now faces Jose Augusto in place of original opponent Yoel Romero on the Showtime broadcast.
Johnson (22-6, 16 finishes) says time allowed him to mentally a better place to be than when he returns to the cage and fights in Bellator for the first time.
« My circle was getting smaller. I got smarter. I’m in control of my life right now, « says Johnson, 37. » And it’s still not peaches and cream, but nobody’s life is perfect. But I’m not where I used to be. 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 is » pretty private about things outside the cage « and decided against describing exactly what was holding him back beyond the fight. He also declined from discussing the subject of a 2019 battery / household battery charge in Boca Raton, Fla. and a subsequent pre-trial rerouting agreement that required Johnson to take an anger management course to dismiss the case.
Instead, Johnson is focused on his struggling future Known throughout his career for his punching and kicking power that resulted in five wins of 60 seconds or less (T) KO in the UFC over an MMA career that began in 2006, his original matchup was against the former UFC title challenger in the Middleweight, Romero the crown jewel of the opening stages of Bellator’s tournament. But then Romero was removed because Bellator said it was a failure to « do the medical tests before de m fight to clear « which left Johnson disappointed with the missed opportunity.
» I trained for this. I was ready. Still ready, ”said Johnson with regret. « … but Yoel is in the past, man. I focus more on Jose. »
This is not the first time a highly anticipated fight with Johnson has failed. For years it seemed to be perhaps the toughest challenge long-time UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones had yet to face. A fight between the two was scheduled for May 2015, but Jones was involved in an incident. The champion was suspended and stripped of his crown. Johnson faced Cormier for the vacant title and Rumble fell in the first of two meetings by filing in the third round.
The Jones fight that does not materialize is disappointing to this day for Johnson, who has accepted that » it won’t happen, « as the two are now signed to different organizations.
» I didn’t want to go down in history as one of those fights that should have happened, « said Johnson. « … Not fighting Jon has been a disappointment and a heartbreak to me. But life goes on. « Nor does Johnson want to be remembered as a fighter who never got over the hill and won a world title, and he said he would be perfectly happy with Bellator instead of the UFC A win over Augusto would bring him to the semi-finals against champion Vadim Nemkov and bring him close to that goal in an exciting way.
« I know I should win a world title, » said Johnson. « I know I am . I feel it. But I also know that I have to go through these struggles to get there. «
Johnson swears he never even thought of Nemkov, not with 29-year-old Augusto (7-2, seven placements) in front of him. His new opponent from Brazil won last month with Bellator at the Won an arm triangle submission, but it’s also the least advertised of the remaining tournament fields.
With few expecting anything other than a knockout of a potential customer by Johnson, the favorite admits that Augusto is essentially playing with house money Johnson certainly didn’t have enough time to make many changes to his prep as Romero was removed just eight days before the event.
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