Even before making the jump up a few weight classes in his subsequent fights following his release by the UFC, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson knew a long time ago that he didn't belong in the welterweight division.
He just didn't want to admit it.
Repeatedly missing weight by as much as 12 lbs. during his stint with the world's largest MMA promotion, Johnson was finally let go by the UFC after weighing in at a hulking 197 lbs. for his middleweight scrap opposite Vitor Belfort at UFC 142.
But instead of harboring any ill-will or regretting his mistakes, the 29-year-old is using his past transgressions as motivation as he journeys through the next stage of his career.
Now riding a five fight win streak after defeating former UFC champ Andrei Arlovski in a heavyweight showdown at Saturday's World Series of Fighting 2, it's clear that "Rumble" has matured as both a person and a fighter.
“I was a heavyweight fighting at 170. I shouldn’t have been fighting at it, but I did,” Johnson told reporters during the WSOF 2 post-fight media scrum. “Do I regret going down to 170? If I didn’t go down to 170 I wouldn’t be where I am right now. My losses at 170, I don’t see them as losses, I see them as lessons learned, me getting more wisdom and learning more about the sport and myself."
Looking back on his tumultuous time as a welterweight, Johnson attributes his early follies to the ignorance and vanity of his youth.
“It didn’t harm me. I was just reckless and thought, like Andrei said in his interview, he thought he was going to be the UFC champ forever, I was thinking I was going to be in the UFC forever," Johnson told Bleacher Report during the scrum. "I was young, dumb, and full of life. I didn’t care. I just depended on my athletic ability to get me by, not being smart.”
Being cut by the UFC was a wake-up call for the former junior college wrestling stand-out, not only for his fighting career but for his life outside of the cage as well.
Now almost a year and a half removed from his last fight inside the Octagon, a more humble "Rumble" has made a host of changes, particularly when it comes to the people he surrounds himself with.
“Everybody that I’m around, the whole Blackzillian crew, my manager, my family—everybody’s there for me. My circle got a lot smaller as I got older," Johnson said. "I’m going to keep making it get smaller too. I guarantee you, whenever I turn on my phone, I’m going to have phone numbers in my phone that I don’t know who it is and they are going to say, ‘Oh, congrats. Let’s hang out whenever you come to town.’ They’re not my real friends.”
Even with the possibility of a future title shot at his preferred weight class of 205, the noticeably more mature Johnson is just taking it one fight at a time.
Johnson attributes his recent success to his work with his fellow Blackzillians, and is refusing to let his current win streak go to his head.
“I have no idea. I take one fight at a time. I don’t think about this or I don’t think about that, I just fight," Johnson said. "They bring up a title subject or conversation—let’s talk about it. If not, let’s just keep fighting. The fans are happy, I’m happy, I’m getting paid, and I’m doing what God blessed me to do and that’s to be an athlete and have the talent to fight.”
Despite injuring his right hand in his main event battle against Arlovski, Johnson hopes to get back to training as soon as possible.
“I don’t want to slow down," Johnson said. "Slowing down for me means I just get bigger, and I’m not trying to get bigger.”
Matt Juul is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise stated.
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