There has never been a question about the talent Anthony Johnson possesses. The savvy veteran has built a successful resume on the strength of his unique blend of power and use of range and has proven to be one of the most dangerous fighters in a number of weight classes he's inhabited throughout his career.
Nevertheless, "Rumble's " journey through mixed martial arts hasn't been one free of obstacles, and those setbacks have cast a shadow of doubt as to whether or not he will ever live up to the massive amount of potential pulsing through his sizable frame. The South Florida transplant is undoubtedly a stern challenge once the cage door closes, but issues with making the official weight limit for a handful of fights created tension with the UFC, and his loss to future teammate Vitor Belfort at UFC 142 in January of 2012 led to him being released by the organization shortly after the fight.
With the skills Johnson possessed, finding another stage to work his craft wasn't going to be difficult, and he wasted no time in getting back to work. Where his loss to "The Phenom" started 2012 off on a sour note, Johnson rebounded in strong fashion by racking up four consecutive victories—three by way of knockout—to close out the year.
Over this stretch the Georgia native also parted ways with competing in the welterweight division and settled into his new home as a light heavyweight under the World Series of Fighting's promotional banner. The 30-year-old knockout artist would take a one-off fight at heavyweight to defeat former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski, but he then returned to 205 to trounce Strikeforce veteran Mike Kyle in their tilt back in January.
As he added to his personal highlight reel during his post-UFC run, he also further solidified the notion that he is willing to step into the cage and sling leather with any fighter who chooses to stand across from him.
"I've found out that I can fight whoever I want to fight," Johnson told Bleacher Report. "It doesn't matter which weight class it was. I think I've proved to anyone that I am not afraid to fight anybody at any weight class. I believe I've shown how mentally and physically tough I am. I have power at any weight and that isn't going anywhere."
The win over the AKA-trained fighter—his sixth consecutive—earned a callback to the UFC, and Johnson will make his official return to the Octagon this Saturday night against surging contender Phil Davis at UFC 172. Where the matchup will play a crucial role in the race for title contention in the light heavyweight division, coming back to the Octagon means so much more where Johnson is concerned.
This is his chance to make good on the hype that was once attached to his name and the solid amount of buzz that certainly surrounds him now in the lead up to his return. Johnson is out to prove a point and the opportunity to derail a top-ranked fighter like Davis and put himself right in the mix of a heated title hunt is the ideal scenario for him to make the type of impact he's eager to make.
Johnson wants to validate his return and make his presence felt in the light heavyweight ranks. The first step of that journey will come on Saturday night and he's coming to Baltimore looking for a fight.
"I've been gone for a little while and I'm definitely glad to be back," Johnson said. "I'm blessed. I don't feel like there is any pressure on me. I just have to go out there and do what I do.
"I just want to go out there and fight. People are going to see a guy that doesn't give up that's for sure. They are not going to see the same guy who used to fight at 170. But we'll see. I don't even know what to expect out there. I expect to knock somebody out but that's about it.
"It was great to see the love I was getting from the fight community," he added in regard to fans wanting to see him back in the UFC. "A lot of people turned their backs on me, but at the same time, there were a lot of people that stayed around and I want to thank them for that. I want to thank the people that stood by me through my trials and tribulations and my ups and downs. My coaches, team, family and management stuck with me through it all and that is what really matters to me. All the hard work paid off."
When Johnson steps back into the Octagon for the first time in over two years at UFC 172, he will be facing an interesting challenge in Davis. "Mr. Wonderful" has steadily risen through the ranks at 205 since his debut in 2010, and he has victories over current title contender Alexander Gustafsson and former champion Lyoto Machida. Outside of one no-contest due to an accidental eye poke against Wagner Prado, the only blemish on his record came at the hands of Johnson's teammate Rashad Evans when "Suga" outworked Davis en route to a unanimous decision victory back in January of 2012.
While the setback against Evans served to cool off the momentum he had built, the former Div. I national champion wrestler has once again climbed back into the upper tier of the light heavyweight fold on the strength of a three-fight winning streak. The Team Alliance member has achieved this success by using his wrestling base and incorporating his ever-improving striking skills into his game plans.
Those elements will make for an interesting stylistic matchup when the cage door closes on Saturday night. Johnson is the more accomplished striker with the proven ability to end a fight with one shot, where Davis will hold the edge if the fight turns into a grappling-heavy affair. Johnson is aware of Davis' strengths, but he also knows the Penn State University alum is going to have to come into dangerous territory to impose his will.
"He's a good athlete," Johnson said. "His striking isn't where mine is and that's obvious, but I don't doubt him at all in any type of way. We start out the fight on our feet so he's going to have to work to get me down. I'm just eager to see if he can get me down. I'm eager to see if I can knock him out."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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