LAS VEGAS — Before Anthony Johnson was the No. 1-ranked contender in the UFC light heavyweight division, his career was seen in many ways as a cautionary tale.
While he was a highly-talented prospect at 170 pounds, Johnson routinely missed weight by several pounds at time, found himself in hot water on domestic violence charges and came up short in most of his biggest matchups.
Johnson came close to reaching title contention once upon a time as a welterweight, but a loss to Josh Koscheck derailed his dreams and another failed weight cut forced him to abandon the division all together before trying his hand at 185 pounds.
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And then that failed, too.
Johnson somehow managed to miss weight for his 2012 middleweight bout against Vitor Belfort and following a loss in the fight, he was promptly cut from the UFC. As depressing as that moment was to Johnson, it also served as the ultimate wake up call that something had to change.
The A.J. back then didn’t give a s–t. This one actually cares
— Anthony Johnson
"The loss to Vitor (Belfort) and being cut from the UFC was a turning point in my life," Johnson told FOX Sports on Thursday.
Johnson admits three years later that he still has never gone back and watched the fight with Belfort, nor has he ever discussed what happened with the Brazilian now that they are teammates at the Blackzilians camp in Florida.
He didn’t need to see the most disastrous moment of his career again, but it forced him to grow up and make some much needed changes in his life.
Looking back now, Johnson has no problem pointing out his shortcomings because they helped mold him into the man he is today.
"The A.J. back then didn’t give a s–t. This one actually cares," Johnson explained. "I was young and full of s–t. I just had to mature. I had to go through the things I went through to grow up. That’s every man. Every man has that point in their life where they have to mature. Whether it’s your job or maybe you have a kid on the way or something, but I’m glad I hit that spot."
As Johnson approaches his fight with Daniel Cormier at UFC 187 this weekend, he’s been talked about in the exact opposite regard as when he left the promotion three years ago. Instead of being a screw up and a guy who wasted his talent, Johnson is being touted as the potential successor to Jon ‘Bones’ Jones with a chance to cement his place as champion with a win on Saturday night.
As easy as it would be listen to all the praise while his ego blew up to gargantuan proportions, Johnson prefers to ignore all of the chatter — good and bad — in favor of focusing on hard work and the humble maturity that helped him turn his career around in the first place.
"When people start talking I just try to put on my earmuffs and keep doing what I’m doing," Johnson said. "I try not to listen to all the hype and hooplah. I mind my own business. I don’t think I’ll ever erase things that Jon Jones has done in his career so far. The guy has done amazing things in his career. If I can erase that, then damn, put me in the hall of fame right now, but I don’t see that happening."
Even when it comes time to predict his fight with Cormier, a brash and outspoken Johnson from a few years ago might have said that he was going to knock his head off in the first round. Instead, the 31-year-old contender prefers to give Cormier his due respect while promising that the two of them will put on a show for everybody in attendance at UFC 187.
"Both of us are hungry right now and when a dog is hungry you’ve got to feed him or something bad’s going to happen," Johnson said. "Both of us are hungry for that gold. I’m not saying something bad’s going to happen to either one of us, but somebody’s about to get they ass whooped."