Anthony Johnson makes his return to MMA

Four years in the past, Anthony Johnson walked away from combating off his second UFC mild heavyweight championship defeat by the hands of Daniel Cormier. And for some time, he was completely content material.

“I needed to have a break from being a professional athlete for a change,” Johnson informed The Post through Zoom on Wednesday, “… I just needed a chance to be myself, clear my head, clear my body and mind.”

But as he watched Cormier’s trilogy of heavyweight title fights with Stipe Miocic the previous three years, he acquired the itch once more. 

And whereas Johnson says he was “fat and happy” as he initially deliberate to return to combating at heavyweight, he’ll as an alternative characteristic within the fourth and last bout of the Bellator World Light Heavyweight Grand Prix on Friday night time because the co-headliner for Bellator 258 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Even these plans had been tweaked just lately, as he now faces Jose Augusto as an alternative of authentic opponent Yoel Romero on the Showtime-aired occasion.

Johnson (22-6, 16 finishes) says the time away allowed him to be in a greater place mentally as he returns to the cage, combating in Bellator for the primary time. 

“My circle got smaller. I got smarter. I’ve just got my life under control now,” says Johnson, 37. “And it’s still not peaches and cream, but nobody’s life is perfect. But I’m not where I used to be. I’m in a much better place. I’m just happier, and that’s all that matters to me.”

The man often known as “Rumble” says he’s “pretty private about outside-of-the-cage stuff” and opted in opposition to detailing what was holding him again past combating. He additionally declined to focus on the topic of a 2019 battery/domestic battery charge in Boca Raton, Fla., and subsequent pretrial diversion agreement that required Johnson to full an anger administration course to dismiss the case. 

Instead, Johnson is targeted on his combating future. Known all through his profession for his punching and kicking energy that led to 5 wins by 60-second-or-less (T)KO within the UFC over an MMA profession that started in 2006, his authentic matchup in opposition to former UFC middleweight title challenger Romero was the crown jewel of the opening stage of Bellator’s event. But then Romero was eliminated due to what Bellator mentioned was a failure to “clear pre-fight medical testing,” leaving Johnson upset with the missed alternative.

Anthony Johnson at UFC 210 against Daniel Cormier
Anthony Johnson at UFC 210 in opposition to Daniel Cormier
Zuffa LLC through Getty Images

“I was training for it. I was ready. Still ready,” Johnson mentioned with remorse. “… But Yoel’s in the past, man. I’m more focused on Jose.”

This isn’t the primary time a highly-anticipated battle involving Johnson failed to come collectively. For years, he regarded to be maybe the hardest problem longtime UFC mild heavyweight champion Jon Jones had but to face. A battle between the 2 was focused for May 2015, however Jones was involved in a hit-and-run incident. The champ was suspended and stripped of his crown. Johnson confronted Cormier for the vacant title and Rumble fell through third-round submission within the first of two conferences.

The Jones battle not materializing stays disappointing to this present day for Johnson, who has accepted “it’s not gonna happen” with the 2 now signed to totally different organizations.

“I didn’t want to go down in history as one of those fights that should have happened,” Johnson mentioned. “… Not fighting Jon was a disappointment, and it was a heartbreaker for me. But life goes on.”

Johnson additionally doesn’t need to be remembered as a fighter who by no means acquired over the hump and gained a world title, and he’s completely content material if that occurs with Bellator as an alternative of the UFC. A win over Augusto would advance him to the semifinals in opposition to champion Vadim Nemkov and get him tantalizingly shut to that objective.

“I know I’m supposed to win a world title,” Johnson mentioned. “I know I am. I feel it. But I also know I’ve gotta go through those battles to get there.”

Johnson swears he hasn’t even thought-about Nemkov but, not with 29-year-old Augusto (7-2, seven finishes) in entrance of him. His new opponent from Brazil is coming off an arm-triangle submission victory final month with Bellator, however he’s additionally the least-heralded of the remaining event subject. 

With few anticipating something apart from a Johnson knockout of a prospect, the favourite acknowledges Augusto is actually enjoying with home cash. And Johnson definitely didn’t have sufficient time to make many adjustments to his preparation given Romero was eliminated simply eight days earlier than the occasion.

“He has nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Johnson mentioned.

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