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
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.’