Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Anthony Johnson ready to entertain at July 19 UFC

by Staff on Jul 09, 2008 at 3:22 pm ET
UFC welterweight Anthony Johnson truly believes things happen for a reason.

So after trying out for "The Ultimate Fighter 6" and feeling good about his performance, he wasn't too disappointed when the show's producers skipped him over for 16 other UFC hopefuls.

After all, the very next week, Johnson's manager called and broke the news: he had just been offered a contract with the UFC.

"It worked out great for me," Johnson, who next meets Kevin Burns at UFC Fight Night 14 event in Las Vegas on July 19, told ( "God had a plan for me. I wasn't supposed to be on the show. There were bigger and better things in store for me."

In that UFC debut, Johnson (5-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) went on to defeat fellow welterweight Chad Reiner in stunning fashion at UFC Fight Night 10. After taking the fight on just one week's notice, he knocked out his opponent in a mere 13 seconds.

"I respect the guys who go on the show and all that stuff," said Johnson, 24. "But I also think it makes us guys who didn't make it to work a little harder, push it a little more, try to prove ourselves more."

There was a buzz about Johnson after that remarkable octagon debut, but since he had just four professional fights, some wrote him off as a fluke -- a hard-hitting wild swinger who had gotten his 15 minutes of fame.

However, what few fans realized was that for all his striking prowess, Johnson's real skills were developed in amateur wrestling. In fact, he first plunged into the sport at the age of 8.

"My granddad put me into it because I always watched the WWF back in the day," Johnson said. "I always liked physical sports. Anything that came with the possibility of getting hurt, I was down with it."

Johnson stuck with the sport, and after two state high school titles in Georgia, he picked up a junior college national championship in 2004 while wrestling for Lassen Community College in California.

Johnson, who's since picked up a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, displayed some of those wrestling skills in a loss to Rich Clementi at UFC 76, but in April at UFC Fight Night 13, it was right back to his stand-and-trade approach. And it worked as he defeated Tommy Speer -- the runner-up from "The Ultimate Fighter 6" -- with a quick and violent 51-second TKO.

So, why didn't we see any of those wrestling skills?

"Overall, I think that's how you see who's the better man and the better athlete -- by seeing who can really take a punch and dish it out," Johnson said. "People want to see that. That's why everyone pays so much money to come watch a fight. They want to see people beat up. I know it sounds brutal, but it's the truth."

So, Johnson is happy to oblige. But what about that jiu-jitsu experience?

"I'm just a blue belt; it's not like I'm a brown belt or anything, and I'm not going to say I'm phenomenal by any means," he said. "I try, though. But I know that I need to do it. You have to know how to handle yourself out there. To me, though, that's the most boring part (of MMA) -- it's the jiu jitsu and rolling around with some other dude."

With his quick hands and a growing arsenal of kicks, Johnson is content to keep a fight standing. And now, training with Strikeforce world middleweight champion Cung Le -- a San Shou kickboxer who's one of the few who has successfully adapted the skills to MMA -- Johnson knows his striking will only get better.

Johnson, who trains just about daily with his mentor, said that Le has taught him the technique he was lacking.

"I really wanted to develop kicks," he said. "I don't mind kicking, but there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. I was kicking the wrong way but thought it was right. Man, was I wrong."

Le, though, quickly straightened him out. In fact, the two have become nearly inseparable at the Cung Le Martial Arts Training in Milpitas, Calif. Despite the fighters competing in different weight classes, Johnson said he's built more like a middleweight, and Le is built more like a welterweight.

"We both have the right builds for the other one," he said. "It makes our training time very effective."

Johnson expects that training to lead to a victory against Burns in what will be his first live, nationally televised fight. However, his two previous wins were shown via tape delay, and yes, it's garnered him some attention.

"I raise pit bulls, and I go to a lot of shows for my kennel," said Johnson, who's completely against dog fighting. "At first, it was no problem. But now [I] start to notice people kind of giving me a weird look and whispering to each other and looking back at me. It's easy to tell who the UFC fans are."

His popularity could reach an all-time high with a victory on July 19, and while a 3-1 record in the UFC could mean a step up in competition, Johnson isn't about to declare himself among the division's top fighters just yet.

"I mean, I think I can hang with anyone, and I'll fight anyone," he said. "But to be near a title shot, you need to beat Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Diego Sanchez, Karo Parisyan -- I'd have to beat so many guys to even be considered a top fighter.

"Everyone is going to say, 'He needs three wins and he's a contender.' I'm like, 'Yeah, but those are three of the toughest fighters I'd ever have to face.'

"I don't know. In my mind, I already think I'm a contender now because of how hard I work. But I think this is the toughest division in the sport. Anyone from the top 10 could take out the No. 1 guy. It's that close."

For Johnson, though, it's all about building a legacy. And to do that, he needs one thing.

"I just want to be the UFC champion," he said. "That's it. I want to be the UFC champion, and I want everyone to remember me as the guy who went out and give it everything he had -- that I gave it all every fight."



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