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John­son aimed to dom­i­nate the UFC’s wel­ter­weight di­vi­sion, but stamina prob­lems and health wor­ries forced him to move up to light heavy­weight. Now he’s about to fight for the ti­tle

Men's Fitness - - Up Your Game -

AAn­thony ‘Rum­ble’ John­son’s rea­son for com­pet­ing in the 77kg wel­ter­weight di­vi­sion was sim­ple: ‘I felt I could be the dom­i­nant fighter – I was big­ger, stronger and faster than the rest,’ he says. For a while, this worked. He’d dwarf his op­po­nents in the Oc­tagon, and be­came known for his hard-hit­ting fight­ing style. How­ever, against an op­po­nent who could neu­tralise his power, John­son’s oxy­gen-hun­gry frame would of­ten start to wilt late on in fights. There was an­other prob­lem: the amount of wa­ter John­son would have to sweat out be­fore the fight meant he started to fail to make weight. ‘ Some­times my body wanted to work with me and some­times it just didn’t,’ he ad­mits.

Af­ter miss­ing weight a third time John­son was cut from the UFC, leav­ing him to work his way back up through smaller pro­mo­tions. John­son knew he had to change some­thing. ‘I didn’t want to dis­ap­point any­body any more so I de­cided to go up in weight. The first time I fought at light heavy­weight I made weight [93kg] fairly eas­ily.’

John­son wasted no time in his light heavy­weight de­but. ‘I beat the guy less than a minute into the sec­ond round, but it should have been stopped in the first,’ the Ge­or­gia-born fighter says. ‘When I got that feel­ing af­ter the victory, I thought, “OK, I need to stay here”.’

A big part of the switch up in di­vi­sion was food. ‘At wel­ter­weight I had a strict diet and couldn’t re­ally en­joy the finer things,’ says John­son. ‘ At light heavy­weight my diet hasn’t re­ally changed – I just get to eat more of it. I typ­i­cally start my day with egg whites, maybe some ba­con, oat­meal and fruit. For lunch I have pasta, and then at 3pm I eat some more fruit or yo­gurt. Din­ner is at 6pm where I eat an­other small meal like chicken with veg­eta­bles. It’s just about the right por­tion sizes and not pig­ging out.’

Now that John­son didn’t have to worry about mak­ing weight, the over­all qual­ity of his train­ing went up. ‘’My skill level went up tremen­dously,’ he says. ‘I spent so much more time on the mat than on the tread­mill [try­ing to keep my weight down]. I al­ways knew I had the tal­ent – I just wasn’t ded­i­cat­ing the time I needed to the sport. It’s helped my con­fi­dence go up a lot.’

Af­ter a string of wins out­side the UFC, he was in­vited back and has been on a tear ever since, most re­cently mak­ing short work of top-ranked Alexander Gustafs­son to earn him­self a shot at Jon Jones’s ti­tle in May.

‘I just feel very dif­fer­ent now. I’m more cheer­ful and hap­pier,’ says the 31-year-old John­son. ‘I’m smil­ing all the time. Life is beau­ti­ful com­pared with what it was at wel­ter­weight.’

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