Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rumble young man, rumble


Saturday night in Stockholm, Sweden, Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson sent a message to UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and the rest of the world. That message figuratively stated, "I'm a bad man." 51 years ago a brash young champion named Cassius Clay at the time, now known as Muhammad Ali, literally told the world the same exact thing when he knocked out the then seemingly indestructible Sonny Liston.

While Johnson (19-4 13 KO's) and his opponent Alexander 'The Mauler' Gustafsson (16-3 10 KO's, 3 subs) may not have the historical significance, yet anyway, that the aforementioned boxing legends have, their number one contenders fight on Saturday night was highly anticipated and did not disappoint. All two minutes and 15 seconds of it that is, because that's all it took for 'Rumble' to dispatch of the number one ranked light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) contender in the world in his home country. The result now makes Johnson, formerly ranked at number three, the consensus choice to be the next challenger for Jones.

Ironically, Gustafsson was riding the wave of being the only man to actually give Jones a run for his money during his title reign, going five close rounds with the champion in September 2013. Some people, including myself, thought he actually should have won that decision, and many felt he was the only legitimate contender to dethrone Jones. However, think again because a new, improved and now seasoned Anthony Johnson is in the fold.

I say seasoned because now at 30 years old, it appears Johnson has finally figured out the game, his body and what it takes to be a champion. When I say his body, you have to first understand that this man, who is a physical specimen at 6'2" 205 lbs., actually cut his teeth in the sport and the UFC fighting at welterweight (170 lbs.). That is incredibly hard to believe when you see him now at 205 lbs., but it was even more incredible when I had the pleasure of meeting him in July 2009 (pictured above) when he was fighting at 170. The photo may not do justice to a guy that at the time was walking around at a hulking 220 lbs.

However, a couple of mishaps making weight at 170 and 185 (middleweight), resulted in being cut from the UFC. He then made a run as a light-heavyweight in some smaller organizations and 'The World Series of Fighting', where he even once competed as a heavyweight defeating former UFC heavyweight champion Andre Arlovski; that has brought him back to the octagon. While back in the UFC he's been nothing short of sensational defeating three top-flight opponents, two in spectacular knockout fashion.

As for being seasoned, his affiliation with the renowned Blackzilian camp appears to have rounded him out both technically and emotionally. World class coaches such as Henri Hooft and Jorge Santiago and top ranked training partners such as former champion Rashad Evans now have Johnson on a championship course of his own. His path appears eerily similar to that of new UFC welterweight champions Robbie Lawler, who like Johnson was young and raw when he first came to the UFC.

Just like 'Rumble', Lawler's immaturity and lack of discipline ultimately got him cut from the UFC. However, also like Johnson, Lawler fought his way back through the ranks of Strikeforce and then back into the UFC. Finally, he too found a new home with American Top Team, also stocked with world class coaches and training partners; the result is he is now a champion at the seasoned age of 32. Sound similar?

While Johnson may have a tougher obstacle to overcome in Jones than Lawler did in former champion Johny Hendricks, there is no doubt that his combination of athleticism, power and technique are a serious threat to the lethal, but lanky Jones. If Johnson connects one of those strikes, kick or punch, to Jones body or head, it could be, "and new light-heavyweight champion of the world." As Muhammad Ali once said, "Rumble young man, rumble."

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