SAN JOSE, Calif. – Just over two years ago, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson lashed out at his critics over Facebook, after he missed weight for a middleweight bout with Vitor Belfort by an astonishing 11 pounds.
"I don't give a [expletive]," Johnson said in a long-since-deleted post. "I'm laughing at you all."
Johnson went on to lose in the first round to Belfort in what was assumed to be the last anyone would ever see of the Dublin, Ga., native.
Contrast that to the words that came out of Johnson's mouth Saturday night in the Octagon at the SAP Center, after he needed just 44 seconds to score a vicious TKO victory over veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the co-feature bout of UFC on FOX 12.
Two matches into his UFC redemption tale, and now fighting as a light heavyweight, Johnson is levelheaded, humble and laser-focused on making the most of his second chance.
"I've been down a pretty crazy road," Johnson (18-4) said in his in-ring interview following the fight. "The story of me is pretty out there. The best thing that ever happened to me is for [UFC president] Dana White and [UFC CEO] Lorenzo Fertitta to cut me. I'm grateful they gave me the chance to look at myself in the mirror."
As amazing as this might seem for fans who might have tuned into the network television broadcast and seen the 6-foot-3 Johnson compete for the first time, back in the day, Johnson actually began his UFC stint at welterweight.
Johnson had trouble making the weight from the start. He missed weight by six pounds for his UFC debut against Rich Clementi at UFC 76, then tired and lost in the second round. By cutting massive amounts of weight, he'd go into the cage and have a huge size differential. As might be expected, he had knockout power, with each of his first five UFC wins coming by knockout. That includes a UFC 104 catchweight bout in which he finished Yoshiyuki Yoshida after missing weight by five pounds.
Eventually, Johnson gave up the ghost and went to middleweight, where his shocking miss against Belfort occurred.
Johnson, who trains with South Florida's Blackzilians camp, isn't afraid to admit he brought shame upon his team.
"After I got cut by the UFC for not making weight, I realized I was making myself look like a fool," Johnson said. "I was hurting my team. I was hurting my family. I was hurting myself. Sooner or later, you've got to grow up in life, and I think that in the two years I was away from the UFC, I grew up quite a bit."
Even then, the turnaround took some time. Johnson missed weight again at middleweight in his first post-UFC bout before jumping up to light heavyweight.
That's where he found his groove. Johnson won six fights in a row – including a victory at heavyweight over former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski – to earn his second chance.
In his return fight, Johnson was considered all but an afterthought against brash-talking Phil Davis, who was on the short list of contenders to fight light heavyweight champ Jon Jones. Johnson absolutely humiliated Davis in a 15-minute rout.
"It's amazing," White said. "I don't think we've ever had a guy go from 170 [pounds] to 205 and actually be more powerful and more devastating than he was at 170. I've never seen anything like it."
Last night, Johnson pounced on Nogueira, the brother of former PRIDE and UFC interim heavyweight champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He leveled "Li'l Nog" with brutal uppercuts, which left blood pouring off Nogueira's forehead to the mat as if from a faucet.
"When you face a guy like Nogueira, you think, 'OK, this is about to be a battle,' because the last name Nogueira means a lot," said Johnson, who earned a disclosed $156,000, including a $50,000 performance bonus. "Those guys fight with a lot of pride. I knew I had to finish him or hurt him really bad so the judges didn't have any second guesses or think that he won. So I'm glad that it ended that way."
In the wake of his back-to-back impressive performances, Johnson finds himsef in an interesting spot in the 205-pound race. He has thoroughly dismantled Davis, who was ranked top five in the division heading into their fight; and made short work of Nogueira, a salty vet on his career downside. Given the one-sided nature of both performances, it would seem to do little good to give Johnson a lower-ranked opponent.
Among the top tier, however, Jones is defending his title against unbeaten Daniel Cormier on Sept. 27. Cormier is a sub for Alexander Gustafsson, who suffered a knee injury and who figures to be next in line. Another big name, former champ Rashad Evans, is Johnson's Blackzilians teammate.
White didn't have an immediate answer.
"I was blown away by Anthony's performance tonight," White said. "He made it quick, and he made it look easy. We'll get him another fight."
For his part, given the path he's trod in the two short years between his Facebook meltdown and his current mindset, Johnson is willing to take things as they go.
"I'm training a lot different," he said. "I'm training harder, I'm training smarter, and I've dedicated myself to the sport. I'm really trying to give it my all."
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter @DaveDoyleMMA
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