Anthony “Rumble” Johnson finally returned to the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 24 after a 16-month layoff. After surgery and rehab, the UFC welterweight made it back to the cage and back in the win column.
“It feels great to get back in there,” Johnson told MMA DieHards in an interview. “I’ve been waiting a long time and I did what I had to do to get the win, so I can’t complain.”
Johnson looked fantastic in the fight against Dan Hardy and even though some fans have been critical of “Rumble’s” performance, he never lost a minute of the fight.
“I didn’t plan on taking the man down like that,” Johnson confessed. “I really did want to bang with him, but at the last minute I was like, you know what, the hell with it. I didn’t automatically shoot in for the takedown, I threw a head kick and a jab to see what he would do, and I realized I’m faster than him and stronger.
“I tested him with one punch just to see if he was that fast, I’m willing to take that chance. So I threw the jab and before he could throw his hook I was out of the pocket. Then I hit him with that head kick and he blocked it, but he hit himself. Then I knew he wasn’t stronger or faster than me.”
Johnson grinded out a 15-minute decision over Hardy in a hard fought battle, and you would think the man would take a break, but not this guy.
“I’m back in the gym doing cardio already,” Johnson explained. “I’m back on the treadmill, doing what I do, because I’m not going to be out of shape any time soon. Beating a guy like Dan Hardy, I’m sure a lot of things are expected from me now so I got to be on my toes and stay in shape for whoever they might throw at me.”
Dominating a fighter like Hardy is a serious task for anyone, and given that Johnson was out for so long, it would be expected that he would be a little rusty, but he fought with complete composure.
“This is the first fight I have never been nervous for,” Johnson admitted. “After putting in so much hard work and being out of commission for 16 months, I just needed to go out there and do me. The crowd didn’t like my performance too much, but that’s one performance out of seven or eight that was crappy. They can love it or hate it, but I got the win and I’m happy.”
Johnson walked away from the fight with Hardy completely unscathed and is ready to get back in there immediately.
“I’m staying in shape and trying to keep my weight down,” Johnson explained. “Right now I’m only about 200 pounds, but I’m full of water right now. When I run I sweat so much it looks like I just got out of a swimming pool, so if they were to tell me I have a fight in a month I know I’d be ready. The weight would be easy to come off, I’m good to go.”
Johnson does not have any indication who his next opponent will be, but he is a candidate to fill in for Jon Fitch against B.J. Penn. Fitch recently injured himself in training and Penn is in need of partner for the dance. “Rumble” may not be the first choice on everyone’s list , but he did just beat a guy in Hardy who is only two fights removed from a title fight.
“Hell, if I fight B.J. they’re for sure going to have to renegotiate my contract,” said Johnson. “If the opportunity was presented, would I take a fight like that? Yeah. I don’t say no to fights and I like to fight, if I’m winning or not, I still like to fight. So yeah, I would take that fight.”
Fighting a guy like Penn is a big step up in competition and a lot of fighters are not at that level. Johnson has showcased multiple impressive victories in the Octagon, but none of them were against a fighter that is of Penn’s caliber, yet the NJCAA champion feels like he has to be prepared for those higher caliber fighters.
“I feel like at this point I have no choice but to be ready,” said Johnson.
And if Johnson was asked to fight Penn or current UFC welterweight champ, Georges St-Pierre, he would be thrilled.
“GSP is the king, but I would be honored to fight either of them,” Johnson told DieHards. “To me, they’re both great competitors. One is the champ and one is a former champ, so I don’t see one higher than the other if it comes down to me fighting one of them.”
Johnson is not picky about his opponent, as long as it moves him closer to the title fight. He wants to fight the top guys in the division, not adversaries from the past.
“I have a grudge with John Howard and that’s it,” Johnson explained. “That wouldn’t be a step up in competition honestly, that’s no offense to him, but it’s the truth. I guess he thinks he can beat me because I wrestled my last fight. Dan Hardy is bigger than him and I think Dan would jack Howard up.”
Johnson has displayed some rather awesome outings in the UFC and his skill level is progressing with each fight, but “Rumble” does admit there is still work to be done.
“I still have a lot of improving to do,” Johnson said. “I still got to work on my ground a lot. I’ve improved, as you see, I’m trying for submissions and taking the back and stuff like that, but I need to improve.”
Everyone wants to see Johnson’s improvements and growth because he is a fantastic fighter that puts on great fights, standing or on the ground. While he awaits his next opponent we can at least be happy that we will not have to wait 16 months for another “Rumble”.