The hardest-hitting fighter in the history of the UFC is reportedly considering a return to the sport of MMA, with his sights now supposedly set on conquering the heavyweight division.
Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson truly is a unique fighter in every sense of the word. Originally a welterweight, he made a name for himself as an admittedly over-sized but ridiculously powerful 170lbr, one whose vicious knockouts of Charlie Brenneman and Kevin Burns highlighted a murderous, but often interrupted, run of wins in a weight-class which was, in truth, never really his true home.
A short and equally ill-fated attempt at middleweight followed but still, even the 185lb limit proved too low to make comfortably for the hulking Johnson, who after missing weight on two consecutive occasions decided to finally step up and take his place among the giants at 205lbs, a division he was by no means undersized in.
Now, following a highly destructive three-year stint at light-heavyweight, which recently ended in retirement, ‘Rumble’, who was last seen fighting Daniel Cormier for the title at UFC 210, has decided to end his self-imposed hiatus and return to the UFC – if the word of his manager Ali Abdel-Aziz is to be believed.
Speaking on the latest edition of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani, Abdel-Aziz had the following to say regarding Anthony Johnson.
“He’ll come back as a heavyweight. We’re meeting with UFC this week to see what he wants to do. Dana White really loves Anthony Johnson. How can you not love Anthony Johnson? He’s terrifying.”
So let’s say this turns out to be true, with a move to heavyweight after once occupying the welterweight division, there are almost shades of Roy Jones Jr. from this ascent – minus the championship belts, that is.
Although UFC gold has alluded him, the man has to be regarded as the hardest-hitter in the history of the UFC and for that reason, could well find himself facing off against a ranked-heavyweight upon his return so without further ado, here are five heavyweight fighters who could give ‘Rumble’ the welcome he deserves as he attempts to conquer what will be his fourth division in the UFC.
5. Alexander Volkov
The rising prospect Volkov could well be the breath of life that the heavyweight division needs right now and after his gruelling war with Stefan Struve at UFC Rotterdam recently, he will know that he is only one or two big-name wins away from getting a title-shot.
Volkov’s range and polished muay-thai will offer a truly different puzzle for Johnson to solve but despite that, this bout would work perfectly as a gateway for one of these two men to really push themselves into a top-5 spot. It may be a case of wasting one of these talents in the admittedly thin heavyweight roster, but still, both have time on their side and can easily rebound from a loss of any description.
4. Mark Hunt
I realise Mark Hunt is scheduled to take on Marcin Tybura later this year but really a win or even a loss against the rising Polish prospect isn’t guaranteed to change his standing in the division too much. We all know who Mark Hunt is and what he can do.
So why not try and match him up against the one guy who may well possess knockout power that shadows his own? Hunt has indeed taken far too much punishment in recent times, with he himself actually admitting it straight up but still, the man wants to fight as much as anyone I’ve ever seen and still believes he can compete with the very best, so I say let him prove it.
3. Loser of Overeem-Ngannou
The winner of the eagerly-anticipated showdown between the veteran Alistair Overeem and the genuinely terrifying Francis Ngannou could well find themselves facing the champ, Stipe Miocic, in their next walk to the octagon, so for the loser the consolation prize could well be a marquee name like Rumble’s and a chance to rain on his heavyweight parade.
The fight itself – which will take place at UFC 218 – is an absolute pick’em. Whether the chin of Overeem gets him in trouble could well be a major factor but still his experience and undeniable striking pedigree could make him a nightmare, and possibly even Johnson himself, should the fight go Ngannou’s way.
2. Cain Velasquez
Alright this one is a long-shot and would be a bad tactical move on the part of the UFC, if they chose to make it. Sure, you have one of the division’s biggest stars in Velasquez making his comeback – but still, a Cain-style mauling in the 265lb debut of Johnson may not be the best way to help his integration into his new home.
On paper, it’s a brilliant fight. But we’ve already seen Johnson struggle with the powerful wrestling of Cain’s teammate Daniel Cormier, and despite the excitement this fight would cause – and believe me there would be excitement – it could amount to another Cormier-Rumble style situation and prove to be a waste of Johnson’s potential at heavyweight.
1. Loser of Werdum-Lewis
This, in comparison is a pretty likely scenario. In Fabricio Werdum you have a legendary – but ageing – Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert who could well be on his last legs in the division. He lost his title in stunning fashion to Stipe Miocic last year and dropped a decision loss to Alistair Overeem last time out. If he does pick up another L against Derrick Lewis, I could see the UFC throwing him to Rumble on the power of his ‘ex-champ’ status alone.
Lewis, on the other hand, while not favoured in the fight against Werdum, is a fan-favourite and out of everyone on this list should probably just fight Anthony Johnson anyway because it would be a helluva lot of fun.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena