Let’s jump into the MMA time machine and travel back three short years to 2012. UFC 142 was set to occur in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Anthony Johnson was set to move up to the middleweight division and face off with Vitor Belfort. What occurred would forever change Johnson’s career track, but the end result may be completely different than expected.
With a victory at UFC 187 Saturday, Johnson may complete one of the best career turnarounds to date.
There are fighters who have a hard time making weight. Then there was Johnson and his continued struggles. After repeated struggles to make welterweight, Johnson was to move up to middleweight. He stepped on the scale the day before UFC 142 at 197 pounds—11 pounds over the limit. Needless to say, the leaders of the organization were not happy.
“This is not the first time this has happened with Johnson. He moved up to 185 pounds so this wouldn't happen to him at 170 pounds, and here we are in the same position again,” UFC President Dana White is quoted by Michael David Smith of MMA Fighting. “[Belfort] came in like a professional on weight, and Anthony Johnson comes in as a total unprofessional, way overweight."
Johnson’s punishment would be very swift. Not only would he be finished by Belfort in the first round, he would lose his job before the weekend was over. John Morgan of MMA Junkie covered the story.
“This is his third time,” White said. “Three strikes and you’re gone.”
Most individuals who receive their walking papers from the UFC struggle to find their way back to the Octagon. Usually they jump on a card as a last-minute replacement, which isn’t the best situation. Johnson was forced to return to smaller promotions. In doing so, he made the best of that opportunity.
Johnson would win six straight fights in less than two years outside of the UFC. Those wins would put him in position to be welcomed back as a Zuffa employee, which is exactly what would happen in 2014.
The run wouldn’t stop there, as he would win three more fights to push his streak to nine victories in three years. The most important of which would come with his first-round smashing of Alexander Gustafsson in front of the Swede’s home crowd. With that victory he would officially find himself the No. 1 contender within the UFC’s official rankings.
Quite the career turnaround.
If Johnson can claim the light heavyweight crown at UFC 187, this will be one of the best MMA comebacks of all time. Johnson will stand as an example to his peers, especially those who are working so hard to cut weight down to the lowest point possible. He’s done his best work since shedding those drastic measures and fighting in weight classes more comfortable to his frame.
“If anybody brings up 186 pounds to me, I look at them cross-eyed,” Johnson said in a piece by Brett Okamoto of ESPN. “Honestly, I start feeling sick when I get to 204 pounds. My body won’t allow it. It’s most likely a mental thing but I don’t even want to think about it.”
Johnson’s health, the UFC and fans alike should thank him for that change. Johnson has become a fan favorite in his return, mostly due to his ultra-violent, knockout-first style. Thankfully, his story did not end in 2012. The next chapter in his career may be his best, but he still has a lot of work to do in the form of defeating Daniel Cormier at UFC 187.