Anthony “Rumble” Johnson is returning to the UFC but this time he’s fighting at heavyweight where he hopes to serve as the new boogieman for the division.
It was just over two years ago when the ferocious knockout artist retired from the sport following a loss to Daniel Cormier at UFC 210. Since that time, Johnson has gotten involved in several businesses, and even worked as an ambassador for Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships, but he recently decided to end his retirement while declaring his intention to return to the Octagon.
Johnson actually credits a recent heavyweight title fight as the ultimate motivation to get him back in action with plans to return to fighting early next year.
“I’m back because I want to be back,” Johnson said on Tuesday at the Dominance MMA media day. “Some people want to say it’s for money. Some people want to say whatever. Honestly, I’m back because I want to come back and D.C. (Daniel Cormier) and Stipe [Miocic] actually got me motivated to come back.
“I give them the credit for it, for making me want to fight again. Their last fight was such a good fight. It made me just get that itch again to want to beat some people up again.”
Johnson said he didn’t miss the sport much while he was gone because he really did need a good long break from mixed martial arts, which is why he retired in the first place.
“For two years, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t want to have anything to do with mixed martial arts,” Johnson explained. “I was honestly just burnt out, just was done with it. I think over the two years I was out, I maybe watched three fights. Something like that. I don’t know any of the new fighters or anything like that. I’m the old man of the group now.”
Now that he’s back in the gym, Johnson is targeting his next fight in April 2020, although first he has to re-enter the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) testing pool for at least six months before he’ll be eligible to compete again.
While he has competed in every division from 170 pounds all the way up to 205 pounds in the UFC, Johnson decided that heavyweight was the division that actually needed him the most this time around.
“To me there’s nobody afraid of the next person, which is fine, but when I was fighting at 205 there was at least one person in every division that was a bad motherf—ker like ‘ya’ll need to watch out for him’,” Johnson said. “But they’re not really saying that in the heavyweight division.
“I think the scariest guy in the division for them is Francis [Ngannou]. The scariest, not the best but the scariest.”
Obviously with the kind of punching power that Johnson and Ngannou have displayed over the years it seems like a promoter’s dream to put those two in the Octagon together and just watch the fireworks explode.
For his part, Johnson would definitely be interested in a showdown with Ngannou but only under the right set of circumstances where both athletes would truly benefit from a fight of that magnitude.
“I think him and I will meet eventually but most people just want the fight. To me and hopefully to Francis, it has to happen at the right time,” Johnson explained. “Not just a fight happen, just to get everybody else’s rocks off. If I fight Francis, I want it to be for something serious. Not just a fight, a main event fight. Let us fight for the title, that way it really counts. Not just getting everybody else’s rocks off and just beating each other up for no reason.
“I want it to be a title fight. That fight is too hyped up and too big for it not to be a title fight, if one of us are holding the title. But if it’s the last [option], no other choice, that’s what I have to do but I don’t see it going down that way.”
Johnson promises he’s sticking around for a ‘little bit’, which means there’s plenty of time to make the Ngannou fight happen but first he just wants to get back into the Octagon and put the heavyweight division on notice.
That’s why he’s not calling out any particular opponent for his return — Johnson wants everybody to be aware that he’s back.
“Everybody,” Johnson answered when asked who he wants to fight next. “I’m trying to make everybody a victim of what I can do.”