Here is Anthony Johnson’s chance to make an impact.
Johnson was last seen in the Octagon a bit more than two years ago, when he missed the middleweight limit by a whopping 11 pounds for a fight against Vitor Belfort after doctors advised him to abandon his cut. The fight was ultimately contested at a 197-pound catchweight, and Belfort won by first-round submission.
Like many of Belfort’s most recent appearances, that win came in Brazil, and he used it to springboard into a light heavyweight title shot against champion Jon Jones after Lyoto Machida turned down the chance.
The UFC used it as an opportunity to release Johnson.
Now, he’s back, with his weight stabilized and riding a six-fight win streak on the independent circuit. All it took for Johnson to cure his issues with the scale was to make the 20-pound leap to light heavyweight, where he’s crafted four consecutive TKO stoppages since August of 2012.
He also mixed a catchweight victory over David Branch and a heavyweight win over Andrei Arlovski into his 6-0 run.
His most recent triumph—a 2:03 knockout of Mike Kyle in World Series of Fighting last month—had the Internet clamoring for the UFC to give him a second chance.
He’s got it in the form of Davis, who has been inactive since a split-decision victory over Machida last August.
Excluding the hullabaloo over the judges’ verdict, Davis has been among the best of the 205-pound class, going 8-1-1 since joining the UFC in 2010. If Johnson can manage to unseat him from his comfortable spot among the light heavyweight elite, it would fashion "Rumble" into an immediate title threat in a division that sorely needs them.
It would also provide Johnson with a once-in-a-career opportunity to erase the mistakes of his past.
His original four-and-a-half year stint with the big show was something of a comedy of errors, after all.
On three different occasions, Johnson was awarded one of the UFC’s performance-based end-of-the-night bonuses, but he also missed weight just as many times. After starting as a welterweight, he eventually swelled to middleweight, but even that couldn’t solve his problems making the limit.
With the benefit of hindsight, it seems absurd that Johnson spent the first 15 fights of his professional career trying to make 170 and 185 pounds. He lost two of the three fights where he missed weight and—aside from his bizarre defeat to Kevin Burns after Johnson was poked in the eye—otherwise went 6-1 in the UFC.
In other words, he was good, not great, but better when he didn’t have to kill himself to make weight.
Blame some of those issues on youthful inexperience, perhaps. Johnson came to the Octagon at 22 years old and after just three professional fights.
Now, he’s 29 and a veteran of 20 MMA contests. He’ll have no more excuses and no more second chances. If he wants to make a mark on the landscape of this sport, he needs to do it now.
Because of his past, matchmakers aren't about to make it easy on him.
Against Davis, he’ll almost certainly be a significant underdog, and it remains to be seen if his sprint though a number of smaller companies will translate to success in the UFC’s 205-pound division.
But Johnson has finally found a home, and at least fans will get the chance to see what he can do in his natural weight class.