Five months ago the young Anthony Johnson was a rising welterweight star with a 5-1 record and impressive striking skills.
Then came the very contested Kevin Burns fight in which Johnson was winning a very entertaining fight—until Burns started throwing palm strikes with his left hand. He poked Johnson in the eye several times, ending the match with an eye poke that still haunts my dreams.
The ref called the fight a TKO victory for Burns and Johnson required surgery to repair his damaged eye, possibly derailing a very promising MMA career.
Johnson, who entered professional fighting at the age of 22, was a rising young striker with impressive power. He won his first three fights. This earned him a slot on UFC Fight Night 10 and Johnson did not disappoint, winning his match in 13 seconds flat. This earned Johnson a UFC contract and a match with UFC veteran Rich Clementi.
The fight was a classic young striker vs. savvy veteran. Clementi wore Johnson down and late in the second round submitted Johnson with a choke.
Johnson rebounded with another split second knockout of Tom Speer at Fight Night 13. The matched ended so quickly Johnson wanted to fight again and we was given his fateful fight with Burns.
After the injury to his eye, Johnson began to work at Cung Le's Universal Strength Headquarters. Cung Le is ideal for Johnson because it can help improve the young fighter's already impressive array of kicks, punches, and knees, but can also help him to improve his wrestling skills to help keep the fight standing up.
Johnson got a rematch with Kevin Burns at the TUF8 Finale and showed improved overall skills. He also showed that his flash KO skills were still very much intact after his five-month layoff, ending the fight with a devastating head kick that brought back memories of CroCop vs. Wandy Silva.
Johnson's athleticism and stand-up ability could make him a serious player in most weight-classes, but the UFC's welterweight division is dominated by fighters with strong wrestling skills: GSP, John Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Diego Sanchez, and BJJ Ace Dustin Hazelett.
Johnson's ground game is not strong at this point, but with help from Cung Le on his sprawl this could be a blessing in disguise.
If he can keep his fights standing with top fighters he is clearly superior on the feet and could become a real contender. If he fails to do so, he will become a gatekeeper and a matchup maker with other strikers.