The story of Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson’s resurgence has been well documented. His issues involving his weight and ability to find an identity has been questioned throughout his career. Well-written pieces from the likes of Jeff Wagenheim and Justin Faux have dissected his revival in the UFC. While his story will always be intriguing, it has become beaten to the ground. We’ll hear about it another forty more times during the countdown special for his title fight against Jon Jones.
What enthralls me about Johnson is his mystique. That may sound odd because he seems fairly predictable as a fighter. We know that Johnson likes to throw heavy hooks and mixes it up with a high left kick. His uppercut has proven to be devastating throughout his winning streak. The uncanny ability for him to control the octagon against tall-lanky fighters like Phil Davis and Alexander Gustafsson has been outstanding. There hasn’t been any issue for him, when it comes to closing the distance.
The concealed enigma remains within Anthony Johnson
The mystique that surrounds Rumble is his durability at light heavyweight. We’ve yet to see him take any kind of significant damage. The only time that we’ve seen him out of the first round at light heavyweight was against an overwhelmed Davis. Gustafsson was supposed to not only beat Johnson, but also bring everything out or expose him. Instead we are left with relatively the same opinion of Johnson. The only difference is that he’s capable of knocking out anyone out rather than fighters, who are past their prime or not on his level.
It’s hard to find a true comparison for Johnson. He’s far better rounded as a striker than Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. The only light heavyweight that was more of a physical specimen was Kevin Randleman. There styles are completely different, as Randleman was an All-American wrestler. The number one contender seems to be in his own aura, although one fighter comes to mind. It seems rather bizarre, considering that this former heavyweight never faced the tribulations of having to rebuild himself up.
Shane Carwin was an absolute nightmare during his prime. His demoralizing power would alter fights in an instant. You couldn’t discount his overall strength, as a former football player. Carwin was a 300-pound heavyweight that would have to cut down to fight at this level. His genetics were unparalleled by many for the heavyweight division, similar to Johnson. His rise to the top was somewhat reminiscent in knocking out Gabriel Gonzaga with a short right hand. Many people were unsure of Carwin, who was being held back in a division lacking talent. You can say the same for Johnson, who seemed destined to fight Ryan Bader or Ovince St. Preux rather than a number one contender’s fight.
It’s well documented that the heavyweight division was lacking top-level fighters in 2009-2010. Carwin was facing faceless fighters, before knocking out Gonzaga in less than two minutes. Then came an interim title fight against Frank Mir. Many people favored Mir, due to being more well rounded and putting on more muscle after being dismantled by Brock Lesnar. Mir had far more experience against top-level fighters and more tools to win, similar to how Gustafsson was. None of that mattered in the end.
Carwin’s sheer force of power and uppercuts overwhelmed Mir into an oblivion in the first round. It was the fight that made everyone recognize that we have a new star on our hands. We aren’t getting the more glamorous fight (Mir-Lesnar trilogy), but how aren’t you excited to see Carwin take on a dominant beast like Lesnar? A fighter that consistently puts his opponents on his respective highlight reel and moves forward whenever he pleases.
The performance from Anthony Johnson on Saturday confirmed my thoughts on this potential comparison. As he was landing countless uppercuts over a helpless Gustafsson, it reminded me of Carwin doing the same to Mir. The only major difference was that Mark Goddard did a much better job than Dan Miragliotta did that night. It’s clear that Johnson is a far more versatile striker than Carwin ever was. The same questions about Carwin do linger for Johnson going into his title fight.
Will his pace dramatically fall off into the deeper rounds? How will he adjust to adversity, if he doesn’t finish Jones after potentially rocking him? Will he punch himself out like Carwin did? Henri Hooft and Greg Jones have molded him into being an elite fighter. I’m not expecting him to falter by committing himself into such a foolish action. Johnson proved how calculating he was by waiting for his opening, when he rocked Gustafsson by a counter short left hand. These are still valid questions for someone, who still hasn’t quite been battle-tested.
The further progression of the new number one contender will be fascinating to watch. Let’s not discount the Rashad Evans factor going into this upcoming fight. While it didn’t work for a much-mangled Vitor Belfort, it’s unfair to make that comparison. Johnson will have a full training camp to work with Evans and the outstanding group of coaches at the Blackzilians. All these benefactors are crucial for the most “terrifying man” in the lightweight division.
As special as Gustafsson squaring off against Jones in the rematch would be, this fight provides so much intrigue. Both fighters have proven to control the octagon in their respective last major fights. In the most difficult match-ups, Jones and Johnson controlled the pace. Jones smothered Daniel Cormier into fatigue, before breaking him down with takedowns and short elbows. Johnson couldn’t allow Gustafsson time to get into a rhythm through utilizing his reach. He wanted to fight at a frantic pace and reaped the reward. Who controls the octagon and dictates the pace should win the fight. I’ll never say will for this particular fight or any fight involving Anthony Johnson. There aren’t any guarantees, when a fight features the Rumble paradox. The man, who at this time last year was coming a knockout win over Mike Kyle in the World Series Of Fighting. Now he’s on the road towards facing the pound for pound best fighter in the world today.