Following a stint outside UFC, Anthony Johnson returns to the Octagon tonight (Sat., April 26, 2014) at UFC 172 to fight Phil Davis in the co-main event of the evening. Does "Rumble" -- a former Welterweight -- have what it takes to inject new life into UFC's Light Heavyweight ranks?
Anthony Johnson began his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) career in 2007 at UFC Fight Night 10. In the seven years since, Johnson has missed weight by 11 pounds, been cut by UFC, fought in four different weight classes, joined a new camp, and made his way back into the fray ... two weight divisions above where he made his name.
Early in his career, Johnson was known as a massive Welterweight, cutting very large amounts and letting himself go between fights. The size advantage was clearly a desirable one for him and he utilized it effectively with powerful striking and a solid wrestling game. For some time, however, the weight cut was a tall task, and it had even cost him his purse in his fight with Yoshiyuki Yoshida at UFC 104.
Following a knockout win over Charlie Brenneman, "Rumble" decided it was time to move up a weight class and test himself at Middleweight (and also make his weight cut less strenuous). He then was scheduled to fight Vitor Belfort at UFC 142. Well, apparently he bulked up too much for the switch to 185 pounds because in the lead up to the weight ins for the event, doctors told him to stop cutting and re-hydrate because he was risking his health.
He officially weighed in at 197 pounds, which was a staggering 11 pounds over the middleweight non-title limit.
In an odd fight that saw Johnson tire very early and get an oddly early stand up from referee Dan Miragliotta, Belfort wasted no time in finding the finish once he had the opportunity, hurting Johnson before securing a rear-naked choke to win the fight within a round. Due to the embarrassing weight slip-up, Johnson was given his walking papers following this loss.
Now, Johnson has compiled six straight victories outside of UFC, four of them being fought at Light Heavyweight. Since the move up, Johnson has bulked up considerably, but it seems he has no problems making the weight. One could even venture to say that even after moving up and fighting much bigger men than he used to fight, he still has a considerable strength advantage.
Against Phil Davis, who he battles tonight (Sat., April 26, 2014) in the co-main event of UFC 172, which takes place at Baltimore Arena in Baltimore, Md., he'll need more than brute strength though. Johnson is a good fighter, but in his recent performances he has not been tested on the ground, a place that Davis seemingly boasts a huge advantage. Johnson's striking is good, but he lacks proper technique at times, so he may have to hone his game for this fight. Davis' striking isn't terrific, but he keeps good fundamentals and uses it well to back up his wrestling.
Ultimately, I struggle to see Johnson winning this fight, but he has all the firepower to prove me wrong. Clearly he is a freakish athlete, but that can only get a fighter so far against top-shelf opposition. In other words, size and brute strength won't last long against the honed skills of a high-level mixed martial artist like Davis; therefore, Johnson really needs to bring more to the table for this fight.
Getting a second chance in UFC is no easy task, especially when you were cut following an unprofessional approach to making weight. Johnson needs to prove that he can hang at the top of the Light Heavyweight division or he may soon find himself headlining World Series of Fighting (WSOF) cards again if he can't notch a win against the UFC's 205-pound talent.
That isn't to say that he'd be cut after a loss to Davis, but he would be best off to grab a win on his re-debut.