A new force has emerged in the UFC's light heavyweight division. The funny thing about Anthony Johnson, who brutally destroyed Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to cement himself as one of the top contenders to the 205-pound champion, is that he got here in such a roundabout way.
Back in the old days, before he became a punchline for his inability to make 170 pounds, Johnson displayed brief glimpses of fearsome power and finishing ability. Who can forget the untimely ends met by Yoshiyuki Yoshida and Kevin Burns when they faced Johnson?
He was a gigantic welterweight, though the truth was that he was never really a welterweight at all. Right? He was a light heavyweight, though we wouldn't discover it for a few years.
Those years have come and gone now, and Johnson is back in the UFC. He is 35 pounds heavier, though to look at him Saturday, you would not be all that far off if you assumed he was a rock-solid heavyweight. Johnson stepped in the cage an imposing figure, dusted off his gloves, absolutely destroyed Nogueira at UFC on Fox 12 and then spoke true words to Fox commentator Joe Rogan after the fight.
"I hope I keep striking fear in people's hearts," Johnson said.
Nogueira wasn't in the cage long enough for fear to envelop his heart, though there were likely at least a few fleeting seconds where he realized he was up against a force he simply couldn't handle. Once Johnson landed one powerful right uppercut, the fight was a waterfall racing down a mountain, and it was only a matter of time before Nogueira soared off the cliff and into the deep, dark unknown.
Johnson finished Nogueira in just 44 seconds, but every single one of us watching at home probably begged for Nogueira's life to be spared from the 26-second mark, give or take 10 seconds.
After the fight came the realization that Johnson has settled into his optimal position in the UFC and in life. He is surrounded by playmakers in every sense of the word, from Rashad Evans to Vitor Belfort and Tyrone Spong. He spends every day training with some of the best in the world.
Iron sharpens iron, and Johnson has been sharpened to a razor-thin edge. And that razor-thin edge is poised to assault the top of the light heavyweight division.
Whom should Rumble face next?
After Johnson laid waste to Nogueira, our thoughts immediately turned to what might be next for such a fearsome individual. I have some ideas.
We don't know how long Alexander Gustafsson will be out of action. And the UFC is hell-bent on getting its rematch between Jon Jones and Gustafsson, even though the first fight wasn't all that close. Not really. Jones won the fight going away, but you'll never hear a peep about that from the world's largest mixed martial arts promotion.
The UFC wants its rematch, and it will get it whenever Gustafsson returns. So the idea of Johnson taking on Gustafsson is out the window.
That also means Johnson facing the winner of the UFC 178 bout between Daniel Cormier and Jones isn't a good idea, unless Gustafsson will be out of action for quite some time. It's Gustafsson's fight if he wants it, regardless of whether he actually deserves it.
That leaves Johnson on the sidelines, where I've found the perfect fight for him: Glover Teixeira and Phil Davis are slated for a bout in Brazil this fall, but it's not a done deal and hasn't been officially announced. I say drop Davis and put Johnson in his place, because Johnson vs. Teixeira sounds like a great idea to me.
Whoever he faces, there is no doubt Anthony Johnson has officially arrived, and he has put the rest of the light heavyweight division on notice.