A move to 185 pounds has been a long time coming for Anthony "Rumble" Johnson, and at UFC 142, he will step into the Octagon as a middleweight for the first time. Facing a highly-ranked opponent in Vitor Belfort for his debut in the weight division, Johnson will have the opportunity to make a huge splash.
Aside from a much-maligned performance against Dan Hardy, Johnson become known as an extremely powerful striker in the welterweight division. Though Johnson comes from a wrestling background, his UFC career has been a highlight reel of head kicks and brutal knockouts.
Johnson's ability to hold his own in the striking game will certainly come into play in his fight against Belfort, who has some of the fastest hands at 185 pounds. That being said, it could be Johnson's wrestling that will make the difference in this matchup.
While fans usually expect fireworks from Johnson, this is an extremely important fight for the future of his career, and earning a win will be much more crucial than pleasing the audience. Belfort has a couple of submission victories to his name and a jiu-jitsu black belt, but he's a much better grappler from the top position than the bottom.
Look for Johnson to bait Belfort into a wild exchange early, which will set up the takedown. In most instances, a fighter moving up in division would probably have some difficulty in controlling their opponent on the ground, but Johnson was a freak welterweight. Even at middleweight, Johnson is not likely to be at a size disadvantage against many opponents.
Additionally, Johnson wasn't slow by any means at 170 pounds, so Belfort's hand speed should overwhelm him like it has others. In fact, an extremely athletic fighter, Johnson may also have an advantage over Belfort in quickness.
Johnson has the ability to stand toe to toe with Belfort, but this fight is too important for him to take a needless risk like that. Just as he did against Hardy, Johnson will take the smartest route to a victory by controlling Belfort on the ground. In the process, Johnson will emerge as one of the top contenders in a division sorely in need of an intriguing new challenger.
Sean Smith is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA. For the latest insight and updates on everything MMA, you can follow Sean on Twitter @SeanSmithMMA.
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