Don’t look now, but the UFC’s light heavyweight division is in upheaval.
Not at the top, of course. Jon Jones did what we all expected him to do in easily beating Glover Teixeira in the main event at UFC 172 to retain his championship. But Jones may have a new contender, and it’s one none of us expected.
After Anthony Johnson’s dominant win over Phil Davis in the UFC 172 co-main event, it’s clear we have a new name alongside Daniel Cormier, Dan Henderson and Alexander Gustafsson.
I picked Davis to win. Most of us did. I figured Davis would be able to get Johnson to the canvas and grind out a decision. His wrestling is nearly peerless in mixed martial arts, and it was his absolute best path to victory.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, Johnson—a man who somehow used to fight at welterweight and is now a hulking light heavyweight—shrugged Davis off with ease. The strength difference was noticeable in a way few fights ever are. Typically, fighters in the same weight class have the same build and the same power. They may throw with more weight, but they have the same kind of functional muscle.
That was not the case. Johnson easily overpowered Davis. And when Davis couldn’t get the fight to the canvas, it became clear early that he had almost nothing to offer Johnson in terms of striking.
Johnson has grown remarkably since being cut from the UFC after his weight issues a few years ago. He was once a man who depleted his energy by trying to cut from 230 pounds before his camp all the way to 170. Now he’s in the right weight class. His stamina is no longer an issue. He is loose and free in the Octagon, but he still has the same power he exhibited at welterweight.
He is no longer an immature kid. He is a man, nurtured in life and in fighting by Rashad Evans and the Blackzilians camp. He is where he needs to be.
And he is also, by virtue of his win, almost an instant contender in the light heavyweight division.
"Every win is a great win, this one included. He had good movement, he’s a very evasive fighter. Not to mention he has an incredibly hard head. I didn’t have any Octagon jitters, I felt right at home back in the UFC," Johnson said after the fight, per MMA Junkie. "I wanted to fight to the best of my abilities and I think tonight I did that. I didn’t let myself worry about what the press was saying because I was focused this whole camp."
Cormier and Henderson will face off next month. The winner earns a shot after Gustafsson, who will be the next man in line to face Jones.
But after that? Johnson could be waiting in the wings. He went in the Octagon and literally took Davis’ spot from him by force. Nobody saw it coming, except maybe those who spend every day with Johnson. Those who see what a force he has become over the last three years.
And now, it looks like the rest of the world will find out about the new and improved Anthony Johnson.