SAN JOSE, Calif. — Anthony Johnson already knew what he was capable of at light heavyweight. He can feel how much better he is at that weight class in the gym and his natural athleticism came through more smoothly in wins during stints with World Series of Fighting and Titan FC.
For the rest of us, though, Johnson needed to prove himself at 205 in the UFC. The former welterweight could have rung up a dozen wins in those organizations and people still would not have bought into him being one of the best light heavyweights in the world.
"I knew I could always beat some of the guys in the top five," Johnson told FOX Sports. "It was just a matter of time and getting a chance to do it."
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He got that at UFC 172 in April against Phil Davis and showed the MMA world what he already knew. Johnson dominated Davis with a unanimous decision victory and he’ll head into Saturday’s fight against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC Fight Night: Lawler vs. Brown (FOX, 8 p.m. ET) in San Jose ranked No. 5 among UFC contenders.
So why did it take "Rumble" this long to settle on 205 after trying to make 170 for the first six years of his pro MMA career?
"I was just stupid," Johnson said, adding that he still had an amateur wrestler’s philosophy. "I should have listened to my body."
I was just stupid. I should have listened to my body.
Now, Johnson was pretty darn good as a UFC welterweight until he ceased being able to consistently make the weight. UFC president Dana White got so fed up with Johnson’s inability to reach 170 that he made him up move up to 185. And when he couldn’t make that either, Johnson was cut altogether.
At a well-muscled 6-feet-2, Johnson walks around at more than 220 pounds. To reach 170, the Georgia native had to run on the treadmill every day for at least an hour beginning four weeks out from the fight. That was in addition to his regular training. By the time he stepped into the Octagon, Johnson might have been the much bigger man, but he also was sapped.
Fighting at 205 is a totally different story.
"I have a ton of energy," Johnson said. "I’m more confident. I’m just ready to go."
The scale is no longer Johnson’s most formidable foe.
Better late than never. Johnson is still in his prime at age 30 and a serious threat in the thin light heavyweight division. Davis is no slouch. No one had ever dominated him before the way Johnson did. With tremendous defensive wrestling, freakish athleticism and bone-crushing power in his fists and shins, Johnson is a scary proposition for anyone at 205.
The 38-year-old Nogueira, coming off a myriad of injuries, seems to be over his head. Johnson is a 5-to-1 favorite, per 5 Dimes.
"I’m trying to punch a hole through his face like I do everybody else," Johnson said.
But he’s not looking past the wily Brazilian veteran. That’s not in his nature. This is the same guy who refused to peg himself as a contender following the win over Davis despite looking fantastic in victory against a top-five opponent.
"All the wins don’t matter until I actually get a title in my opinion," Johnson said. "Rankings are just numbers."
Alexander Gustafsson will get the next shot against champion Jon Jones at UFC 178 on Sept. 27. Daniel Cormier is also ahead of Johnson in the pecking order. But after those two, he’s right there if he beats Nogueira. If someone gets hurt, Johnson said, he’ll be ready step in.
He wants to fight three more times this year alone. And that’s not something he would have said when he was trying to cut to 170.
"All this stuff is happening for a reason," Johnson said. "I’m blessed and grateful that I got my head out of my ass and started doing stuff differently."