After calling the welterweight division home for each of his 10 fights in the UFC, Anthony Johnson has made a move north to middleweight for the opportunity to face Vitor Belfort.
Johnson meets Belfort in the co-headliner at UFC 142 this Saturday at HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil live on pay-per-view.
Fueling Johnson’s desire to move up a division is the confidence he possesses courtesy of training with the Blackzilians and the challenge that Belfort presents once they step inside the Octagon.
“As soon as they told me Vitor, I was like ‘Cool, somebody who is really tough and really worth fighting,’" Johnson recently told BleacherReport.com. “Not that any of my other opponents weren’t worth fighting, but this is like a real test, so I was pretty excited.”
In early December, I spent time with the Brazilians and witnessed firsthand how professional and dedicated Johnson truly is in the weeks leading up to the most high profile fight of his career.
At middleweight, Johnson’s been able to fully focus on fight preparation and enjoy the freedom that every fighter needs in order to achieve success and enjoy the sport.
“This is the best I’ve felt, so I think I’m going to stay here at middleweight,” Johnson said. “Because I can do a little bit more and have a little bit more freedom.
“It makes me really excited about the fight, the fact that I can stay relaxed and enjoy it.”
His ability to stay relaxed comes from the fact that world champion kickboxer Tyrone Spong and UFC light heavyweight Rashad Evans have been by his side throughout preparation for Belfort.
“When I’m with these guys, it builds my confidence more and more everyday because those two guys aren’t slouches,” Johnson said. “They push me, and they bring the best out of me, so I’m loving it.”
In addition to Spong and Evans, training alongside Johnson is a cast of highly talented fighters in Melvin Guillard, Michael Johnson, JZ Cavalcante, Jorge Santiago, Yuri and Danillo Villefort, Roy Jones, Abel Trujillo, and a host of others.
For Johnson, a victory over the likes of Belfort would immediately place him at the top of division and likely within title reach by the end of his 2012 campaign.
While Belfort and UFC 142 present unique opportunities, they also allow him to showcase the improvements he’s made courtesy of his hard work with the very talented and knowledgeable Henri Hooft.
“Henri has been amazing, he’s like a dream come true when it comes down to standup,” Johnson said. “He really cares about the fighters, he understands fighting, (and) he’s been through a lot of battles. So, it’s a blessing that he’s a part of this team. I love him to death, and he’s the realest coach we have on the team.”
With a family in the Blackzilians supporting him, Johnson’s primed for the best performance of his career against the ultra dangerous Belfort and there’s no other place he’d rather be.
“I feel very at home,” Johnson said. “Everything here is so comfortable, everybody is so relaxed, and nobody has an ego. We all laugh, we all pick on each other, and nobody takes it serious so it’s just one big happy family that wants to fight and be champions one day. So, this is the perfect place for me.”
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