When he made his emotional retirement speech after a second-round submission defeat to UFC light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier at UFC 210 in Buffalo on Saturday, Anthony Johnson called for head coach, Henri Hooft, to join him at the centre of the octagon.
But Hooft was nowhere to be seen.
When a transcript of the conversations being had in, and the instructions being yelled from, Johnson’s corner emerged on Sunday, there was rampant speculation that the reason for Hooft’s absence was anger. The Dutch trainer seemed both baffled and infuriated in the corner because of his fighter’s decision to wrestle with Cormier, when a striking approach was obviously a more sensible option.
However, on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, Hooft explained that the real reason was far more innocent.
The former Blackzilians head man said that he wasn’t surprised by the retirement necessarily, as ‘Rumble’ had discussed the possibility with him previously, but Hooft added that he didn’t know for certain what was going to happen after the fight. Not anticipating that Johnson would make the announcement so suddenly, Hooft walked backstage to make a wardrobe change.
“I didn’t really know on Saturday that he would retire,” he said. “Right after the fight, I was on the cage and he came to me and said, ‘I f*cked up,’ something, and I said, ‘come on, man, I know it’s hard but get up, it’s already done.’ It’s what a coach says after a loss. You cannot just, at that moment, talk about stuff. I was at the cage and said, ‘keep your head up, come on, let’s go.’ Then I stepped off and it was very busy in the cage, so I walked back to put another shirt on(Transcription via MMAFighting).”
“When I was in the back, I heard that he was saying that he was retiring and looking for me and looking for other people, and I was like, ‘oh sh*t.’ I was on my way back, then I saw him at the curtain (to go back onto the arena floor). … He cried with me and he talked to me and everything, then it really [sunk in]. But I’m not surprised, because again, we talked about it. I’ve already (had) six years with Anthony. I’ve known him for so long, and these last couple of months have been difficult for all of us with all of the stuff that happened (with the Blackzilians). It was a crazy time.
“We’re getting better now, and we were just hoping that it was the next thing for us, beginning six years ago and ending with the title. It was just hard. He was very disappointed. I was very disappointed, of course. So it was strange for me to hear that he did it there, but that was his moment, Anthony’s moment, so he did it when he thought it was good and I think we all need to respect that. I respect it. And I had my moment with him alone, and I think that’s very important.”
Hooft expressed frustration with Johnson’s performance, saying that the 33-year-old had beaten himself, and admitted that he couldn’t explain why the light-heavyweight knockout artist had strayed from the gameplan, which was to maintain distance and stay away from Cormier’s potent wrestling.
“If you’ve ever fought before, especially at this level, sometimes stuff happens that sometimes you can’t explain. Only the fighter can explain. Not the trainer, not the audience,” said Hooft. “Sometimes stuff happens in a fighter’s mind.”
However, he denied abandoning his fighter and rubbished claims that Johnson hadn’t given it his all.
“I got a lot of bad sh*t over me and everything. You know how it goes with social media,” Hooft said. “When everything is good, everything is good. Like, I’m leaving my fighter? I’ve never left anybody, especially me and AJ. We’re very good together.”
“People just start spreading out stupid stuff, like him quitting the fight and just throwing the fight. All kinds of stuff. And it’s all bullsh*t that has nothing to do with our sport. So I just feel bummed because I wanted to end this one with the title, and Anthony has all the qualities to do it, but he didn’t do it.”
Johnson may have called it a day without ever claiming UFC gold, but over the course of an eleven-year career he compiled an impressive record of 22-6 and claimed big name scalps in the welterweight, light-heavyweight and even heavyweight divisions.