In 2012, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson (18-4) was released from the UFC after repeatedly failing to make weight at welterweight and middleweight, and losing two out of his last four fights. Heading into a Jan. 24 UFC on FOX main event in Sweden against Alexander Gustafsson (16-2), Johnson has won eight straight fights and is one more win away from a light heavyweight world title shot.
According to the fighter, the difference between the 2012 and 2014 versions of "Rumble" is simple. "I can eat," he said with a laugh this week in Stockholm, at a press conference to promote his fight with Gustafsson.
Without the pressure of having to make welterweight, or even middleweight, the 30 year-old says he is enjoying life and training more, and that makes all the difference in the world. "I can enjoy myself," he explained.
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"I’m just having fun. That’s all that matters to me, right now. Big difference. Big difference, when you can eat."
Every fight, I feel that I get better, and better.
Johnson has been eating up light heavyweight and heavyweight opponents, of late. The Georgia-born fighter knows he’ll need all the energy he can muster in order to keep up with the footwork and pace of Gustafsson.
Johnson readily admits that it has been hard to find sparring partners to emulate the skilled Swede. "It’s hard to find someone who can move like [Gustafsson]," he acknowledged.
"He’s got a unique style that you don’t see often in MMA. I think the closest guy I’ve ever seen move like him, like Alexander, is [former UFC bantamweight champ] Dominick Cruz. They move a lot, those two guys. They are basically mimics of each other.
"So, I don’t know, man (laughs). I’ve got to do some things. But we’ll see. We’ll see. It all [really] only matters what January 24 what happens…We’ll see then, if I did my homework."
Johnson’s humble attitude towards his opponent is a bit of a contrast to the trash-talking he had to do in order to get the fight with Gustafsson, back when "The Mauler" was campaigning for a rematch with champ Jon Jones. There’s no doubt that the two UFC on Fox 14 headliners are smart enough to respect one another’s abilities, but make no mistake about it - Johnson has confidence in how far he’s come and how much he continues to improve.
"Every fight, I feel that I get better, and better," he concluded.
"You can only be as good as your last performance so hopefully I’m ten times better than I was when I fought Phil [Davis], and [Antonio Rogerio] Nogueira. So, hopefully January 24 I’m like Superman. But, we’ll see. When you’re fighting a guy like Gustafsson, you just never know what’s going to happen. When you’re fighting a guy like me, you just never know what’s going to happen."