Hear that 'Rumble?' It's Anthony Johnson emerging as a threat at 205

Once a running joke and cut from the UFC, Anthony Johnson is a serious contender at light heavyweight.

Anthony Johnson is a changed man and not just because he's no longer fighting at 170 pounds.

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- What do we know about Anthony Johnson? Basically that he's the running joke for every weigh-in mishap there is.

Guy comes in over weight? Don't pull an Anthony Johnson, bro.

Fighter cuts far too much for his own health? Who are you, Anthony Johnson?

Athlete loses his job in the UFC because he doesn’t seem to get the whole weighing-in process? Following in the footsteps of Anthony Johnson.

I'm very, very glad they cut me the first time, because if they hadn't, I'd probably still be that knucklehead missing weight and didn’t care.

-Anthony Johnson

Really, though, that whole weight-cutting thing was just the outward example of who Johnson was at the time. "Rumble" was a well-muscled, 6-foot-2 man trying to fight into a 170-pound weight class and it made zero sense to everyone but him.

Johnson shakes his head and laughs about the man he was then. Because he has changed his life around, a full 180 degrees.

"After being cut from the UFC, I really had to reevaluate everything and see what I had to do to be back," Johnson said this week. "I'm very, very glad they cut me the first time, because if they hadn't, I'd probably still be that knucklehead missing weight and didn’t care."

It's one thing to say you've changed and it's another to prove it. Johnson went a long way toward demonstrating the latter when he dominated perennial contender Phil Davis at UFC 172 in April with a unanimous decision victory. "Rumble" has another chance to cement himself as an elite fighter against veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira on Saturday at UFC Fight Night: Lawler vs. Brown here at SAP Center.

Anthony Johnson hits pads with striking coach Henri Hooft on Thursday in San Jose.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

A win over Nogueira, to be honest, does little for his No. 5 ranking among UFC light heavyweight contenders. It's a showcase fight. But if you think he's taking it lightly, you're dead wrong. Maybe seven years ago, during his first run in the UFC, he would have. But not now. Not even close.

"I was a little wild and didn’t care and just wanted to knock you out," Johnson said of back then. "I used to think you had to go 110 miles per hour for 15 minutes. Nobody can go 110 miles an hour unless you're [flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson]. I definitely see the game a lot different."

Realizing that his best weight was 205 pounds was only one step for Johnson. Moving down to Florida to train with the Blackzilians was probably just as significant. He credits his coaches there for making him the legitimate light heavyweight contender he is now.

"We know in the future it's going to be AJ at 205, fighting for the championship," Blackzilians head coach Jorge Santiago told FOX Sports. "The coaches know, I know. He's gifted."

Johnson (17-4) once relied solely on those gifts, which are plentiful. He's extremely athletic and possesses finishing power in his hands and shins. He's a former junior college national champion wrestler. On paper, Johnson is one of the most physically imposing fighters in the UFC. But fights are not won on the tale of the tape. They're won in preparation and execution.

"I didn’t train like I needed to and I didn’t dedicate myself like I needed to," Johnson said. "Now, it's the complete opposite. I straight up dedicate all of my talent and skills into the gym. My coaches have put a time into me. I don’t want to disappoint them. I don't want to disappoint my fans. I don’t want to disappoint myself and my family. I just want to make sure I utilize everything that has been given to me."

The biggest change in "Rumble" hasn't been physical -- moving from 170 to 205. It has been mental and emotional. This is a far more mature, centered human being than the one who missed weight three times between 2007 and 2012. This Johnson, still only 30, is a legitimate contender, up there with champion Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, Alexander Gustafsson and Rashad Evans in the light heavyweight hierarchy.

It would not be out of the question to see Johnson fighting for the title at some point in 2015. Santiago expects nothing less.

"The future just arrived," he said. "We know we have a lot more to come."

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