When the Ultimate Fighting Championship asked Anthony Johnson if he wanted to fight Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, he didn't do the obvious thing.
Johnson didn't question if Nogueira would show up come fight night. That may seem strange, given that Nogueira has withdrawn from four of his last six fights due to injury. He has competed just twice in the past three years. You'd think that kind of abysmal track record would lead Johnson to be skeptical about whom he would ultimately be fighting at UFC on Fox 12.
But Johnson told Bleacher Report that the law of averages gave him confidence Nogueira would be healthy come fight night.
"I know everyone was saying he's going to pull out. But my thinking was, this guy has been out of action for so long that he can't get injured," Johnson said from San Jose, where he'll face Nogueira on Saturday night. "I never once thought he was going to get injured here."
The bout is Johnson's second since returning to the UFC earlier this year. He was bounced from the promotion in 2012 after repeatedly failing to make weight at 170 and 185 pounds; a loss to Vitor Belfort at UFC 142 cemented his fate. Johnson settled at light heavyweight later that year, and he is undefeated in his last seven fights. He returned to the UFC at UFC 172 and immediately made a splash by handing Phil Davis, long considered a top heavyweight prospect, a one-sided decision loss.
The win surprised many onlookers but not Johnson.
"Phil is tough. But I wasn’t surprised at the result. I knew what I could do. I just had to go out there and do it. It wasn’t a surprise at all," he said. "My game plan was to knock him out and to make sure he couldn't get a takedown, and I did that. I could've had a knockout if he hadn't blocked my head kick with his hand."
After the fight, Johnson returned to Boca Raton, where he trains at the Blackzilians gym alongside some of the best and most ferocious talent in the world. Belfort, the man who violently sent him packing from the UFC, is a daily training partner. It is a constant reminder that the mixed martial arts world is a turbulent one; enemies become friends, and friends become enemies.
The win over Davis vaulted Johnson into the top five of the UFC's light heavyweight division, and a win over Nogueira will put him within shouting distance of current champion Jon Jones. Johnson said the top-five ranking is "cool and wonderful," but that it is ultimately meaningless. His goal is to be the champion, not the No. 1 contender.
"The number one contender is still number two," he said with a laugh. "I don’t think about that stuff. I let the dice roll. I don’t think about how many fights I need to get to Jon Jones."
Johnson is loose and relaxed—and rightly so. He is a heavy favorite over Nogueira, clocking in around minus-470 at some sportsbooks. Nogueira has not competed in 17 months, and Johnson is riding the best stretch of his career.
It is difficult to imagine a scenario where Nogueira defeats Johnson, and "Rumble" plans on sending his opponent back to the showers early.
"I plan on finishing Nogueira. I might ground-and-pound him or I might knock him out," Johnson said. "But I’m not leaving it in the hands of the judges. That's for sure."
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