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Kevin Iole chats with former UFC light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Johnson, who returns to the cage Friday to face Jose Augusto at Bellator 258 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
KEVIN IOLE: Hey, everybody. I am Kevin Iole, and welcome to Yahoo Sports. And my guest now is a familiar face. If you like knockouts, I know you'll like this guy. Anthony "Rumble" Johnson, he is back. It is hard to believe it's been four years, but it is four years and one month since we saw this young man fighting on Friday at Bellator 258.
He will be back, unfortunately not against Yoel Romero. Romero had a medical issue that took him out of the fight. Instead, Rumble will be fighting Jose Augusto. Rumble, good to see you, my man. How you been?
ANTHONY JOHNSON: I'm great, man, how are you?
KEVIN IOLE: I am doing awesome. First of all, you know, when you're away from the sport for four years and then you get an opponent change, essentially, a week before the fight, what does that do to you? I mean, I know you're a veteran. You're used to that kind of thing. But after four years off, does that create any additional problem?
ANTHONY JOHNSON: No, no problems. I still have that hunger, you know, still want to fight. It can be frustrating, though, you know? Whenever you're prepared to fight somebody and then at the very last second-- this isn't the first time this happened to me, you know.
I've had other opponents change on me within the week. It gets frustrating because you're mentally-- mentally prepared and physically prepared to fight an individual. And it doesn't happen. But you just got to keep it moving, man. This is why we're professionals.
You know, you just got to-- you got to adapt, adjust, and keep it moving and then finish the task at hand. And whatever-- regardless of whatever is going on with Yoel. Like I said in other interviews, I wish him the best. I hope whatever it is, he can overcome it and get back to fighting because he is an amazing fighter. I look forward to fighting him one day. It just sucks that we can't both fight on our debut against each other and give the fans an incredible, incredible fight.
KEVIN IOLE: What do you think-- obviously, as you fight over the years, you mature and your style adapts and adjusts, right? But now that you haven't been doing this, do you feel physically better than you were when you fought before? Or do you feel like there's going to be rust? Like, what is the impact of this layoff going to be on you?
ANTHONY JOHNSON: Well, I can tell I'm not 32 and 33 anymore, you know, being 37 now. What is it-- what is this impact going to do to me, being away from so long? I don't think it's going to do anything but just keep me more-- it gave me more hunger, let's put it that way. You know, which I don't think will ever leave me at the end of the day.
I don't know, man. I've been training, it feels like, forever, for the last year and a half. And my teammates have been there for me consistently. And my coaches have been there for me consistently. And my circle has gotten smaller, and the people that I need to be there, you know? I need them and really want them to be there for me, have been there for me more than ever.
So right now, man, I'm just in a great place. And I don't think the four years are going to do anything. I've been training my butt off. And we're committed to this, you know what I mean? So hopefully everybody gets to see what they've been missing the last four years.
But I've gotten ton of messages, and people have even told me in person that it hasn't been the same. They don't get knockouts like they used to at 205. And they mentioned Frances, of course. He's a monster, you know? And mad props to him for winning the title. But people say it all the time. It's still not the same, still not the same type of knockout, it's still not the same type of entertainment, you know what I mean?
KEVIN IOLE: Everybody loves knockout punchers, no doubt.
ANTHONY JOHNSON: Everybody loves that. There's no question who win whenever you get a knockout. But hopefully I bring that excitement back even more. I know Frances, he's a knockout artist. And he usually does it with his fist. I try to do it with everything.
I try to knock you out in any way possible, any way that I can. So I think that's what people miss. It could be a kick, it could be a punch. You just never know when it comes to me.
KEVIN IOLE: You know, it seemed to me-- you talk about you've got the hunger back. Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but as I look at your last fight with Daniel Cormier, UFC 217, it almost looked like you didn't want to be there, like you accepted the submission almost, right? And it seemed like maybe in that fight that you were half a foot out the door.
I know you had businesses that you were working on. Did you-- did you lose the hunger somewhere toward the end of your UFC reign, and did you manage to get it back as you were off?
ANTHONY JOHNSON: You're the second person today that brought that up. I can't switch my story because I'm just not that person. I think--- it's not even that I think. I know. I know I just-- I was disappointed, man, that I just didn't get to fight John. You know, and I knew I wanted to do other things too.
But I was just so disappointed that I didn't get the fight John because of the situation. I know I didn't have that fire, that desire. You know what I mean? Because that was my goal was to fight John. And I'm like, man, I'm fighting the same individual twice, when I should be fighting the champion-- I should be fighting John Jones, you know?
But I can't take anything away from DC. I mean, DC is an incredible athlete. He elevated the 205 division. He was-- to me, DC was still the best champion at 205 that we've had because of how he carried himself. And he carried that belt with pride. And it meant a lot to him. And he had his head on straight and stuff like that.
So he was a great champion at 205. And now he's a commentator. And he's an even better commentator, you know what I mean? So mad props and much love to DC. And I don't take anything away from him. He beat me. He beat me up, you know? But just know, on the inside, I didn't have that it factor about me at the time.
Yeah, it was off, man, because I knew I was supposed to be fighting John. And you know how you have your goals and your hopes set on something so bad, and it doesn't happen? It just takes the life out of you. And I know that's what it did to me.
KEVIN IOLE: Well, see, that's my concern for Friday night because you had your hopes set on fighting Yoel Romero so bad, and now you've got a different guy, like uh-oh.
ANTHONY JOHNSON: Hey, I took four years off. I'm smarter than that now.
KEVIN IOLE: There we go. There we go.
ANTHONY JOHNSON: I was supposed to fight Yoel Romero, and I was-- I was excited, super excited to fight Yoel. He's dangerous, super dangerous. And he's been-- he was off, laid off for what? A year and a half or something like that.
And he's not getting any younger. So I know he was going to come to fight. He's a competitor. But you live and you learn. I learn from my mistakes, how to accept things now and how to take things whenever they appointed changes. And I see Jose the same way that I saw Yoel.
He's a competitor. We're both here for a reason. Things happen all the time. Nothing ever goes the way that you truly plan it to go. But I just got to keep the drive, keep the hunger. And that's what I have. I'm like, dude, I've been training for the last-- feels like ever, for the last year and a half, to fight.
And I'm not going to miss this opportunity to fight again. So it sucks that Yoel can't fight but Jose is a worthy opponent. You know, this man comes in, has nothing to lose and everything to gain. That's a dangerous individual.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, he got to have this to get in the ring with Anthony Johnson. So we know--
ANTHONY JOHNSON: Yeah. Hey, man, just to be in this tournament, you've got to have some big kahunas, you know what I'm saying? So it didn't matter if it was me that he was facing or anybody else at the last minute. The man is taking a chance. So that alone-- he has all of my respect for that alone because, you know, the guy that was supposed to be the alternate, he's dumb for not taking that opportunity.
You know, he may never get this opportunity again. You know what I'm saying? You never know. You just never know. So why not jump on whenever you can? So we are the best of the best so far in the light heavyweight division. And I know a lot of those other guys feel like they're the best too, they're one of the best I should say. So why didn't-- if they had the opportunity, they would take it is what I'm saying. This is the moment where whoever had an opportunity should have taken it.
KEVIN IOLE: You have an opportunity, if you advance in the tournament, to fight the Bellator champion of the [INAUDIBLE]. And I wonder what your take on him is. He's a guy that maybe a lot of people were introduced to the first time when he fought Ryan Bader. Now he's coming off a win over Phil Davis, a pretty strong opponent. Handicap him. I mean, he might be a guy that a lot of people aren't too familiar with. Handicap him, and what do you think, if you ever face him, how--
ANTHONY JOHNSON: He's a monster. He's a monster. He's a monster, man. To do what he did to Ryan Bader and to be able to do what he did to Phil Davis and take him down and to beat him twice, that says a lot about him. Plus he comes from a legit team, you know?
He's young, he's hungry, he's a great fighter. As far as him, though, I can't really think about him, you know? I've been pushing up [INAUDIBLE] because I have other monsters I have to face before I get to the next monster, you know what I'm saying? So honestly, dude, my focus has just been on the task at hand, the people that are in front of me. I can't look past them.
KEVIN IOLE: And the last thing-- I'll let you get out of here, Rumble. I appreciate you. Making the 205 weight, you look good. Like, you look like you're pretty lean. How much do you have to go, and do you feel-- do you feel that'll be an easy cut coming up? I don't know weight cut's easy, right? Let me take back that. But as weight cuts go, how will this one go?
ANTHONY JOHNSON: Got six pounds to go.
KEVIN IOLE: Six?
ANTHONY JOHNSON: Yeah, six pounds to go.
KEVIN IOLE: I was looking at you, and I thought you look-- I thought you were maybe in a 215, 218 range, you know, but--
ANTHONY JOHNSON: I weighed in this morning, man, I stepped on the scale. And it said 212.
KEVIN IOLE: OK, [INAUDIBLE].
ANTHONY JOHNSON: And for me, that's low for me.
KEVIN IOLE: Going to the ocean? We got a ship out there. Sounds like a honk.
ANTHONY JOHNSON: Yeah, my phone is going crazy. But that's-- you know, this is low for me. You know what I mean? Usually, fight week, I get to the event, fight week, and I'm about 218. And when I start my weight cut, I'm about 215 th. I'm 212 already, man, and I haven't even really start-- I haven't cut anything. So I'm good to go.
KEVIN IOLE: My man, Anthony Rumble Johnson. On Friday, Bellator 258. You will see him against Jose Augusto. Rumble, great to see you again, my friend. All the best to you. Good luck on Friday and in the rest of the tournament.
ANTHONY JOHNSON: Thank you, man. I really appreciate it.