Anthony “Rumble” Johnson is out to prove that history can be written when he steps into the cage at UFC 210 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo tonight.
When Johnson last stepped into The Octagon against Daniel Cormier nearly two years ago, he did so with the reputation of a hard-hitting mixed martial artist with one-punch knockout power, and put that skill set on display early. However, Cormier recovered from the knockdown and earned a third-round submission win.
Since then, to earn his way back into the UFC light-heavyweight title picture, Johnson has won three straight fights, all by knockout.
“I’ve tried to improve everything,” Johnson said after his open workout. “I’m a fighter. I don’t want to be mediocre. I want to be the best fighter possible. I’ve improved my striking. I’ve improved my wrestling. I’ve improved my grappling.
“I’ve improved my conditioning. I’ve improved everything. I’m not going to sit on my (butt) and be like, ‘Oh, I lost at 187. I don’t need to improve. I know I can do nothing and beat this guy.’ I went out there and busted my (butt) to make sure I’m in the best shape possible.”
Riding a three-fight winning streak and having won 12 of his last 13 bouts dating back to May of 2012, Johnson knows what it feels like to have things going in a positive direction, but success has not come easy for the 33-year old native of Dublin, Georgia.
Johnson went 7-4 in his first stint in the UFC, and a submission loss to Vitor Belfort in a UFC 142 bout in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, prompted his release from the world’s foremost mixed martial arts organization.
Then, after his return to the UFC, which was interrupted for two months in 2014 by claims of domestic violence, Johnson suffered the submission loss to Cormier.
“I knew he was a great wrestler,” Johnson said. “I knew he had some decent striking. I knew his pressure would be great because he’s a wrestler, so nothing surprised me. He’s an elite athlete, and I’ve always known that.
“I watched the guy wrestle in college for the national title against Cael Sanderson, so I’ve seen him compete even before I knew who he was personally. I know who DC is. He’s just a beast. He’s a monster.”
In the lead-up to the rematch, Cormier has said multiple times that he felt Johnson quit in their first bout, long before the submission via a rear-naked choke in the third round. And as the challenger, Johnson is more than okay with being underestimated.
“Okay, cool. Believe that,” Johnson said. “Believe that. Go ahead. Please believe that because as soon as I get an opportunity, y’all know what’s going to happen, so believe that.
“I’m a better fighter. That’s just what it is. I’m in a better place. I’m physically, mentally and spiritually just in a better place. I’m happy. I’m stress-free. I’m good. I feel there’s no pressure on me at all right now. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing because it’s a title shot.
“I’m relaxed, but I know what I have to do. I’m not worried about anything because whatever is going to happen is going to happen. I can try to predict the future, but it’s a prediction, not a fact, so I’ve just got to go out there and do my thing and hope for the best.”