Anthony Johnson is getting a huge opportunity to make a major splash in the UFC light-heavyweight division this weekend in Baltimore. “Rumble” will be returning to the Octagon for the first time since 2012 when he tangles with No. 4 contender Phil Davis at UFC 172.
Johnson’s first stint with the promotion was highlighted by some spectacular performances but was also plagued by well-documented weight issues. He was finally cut loose after a disappointing performance at UFC 142 against Vitor Belfort. Johnson was badly overweight for that middleweight contest and was submitted in the first round. He compiled a 7-4 Octagon record, mostly as a welterweight, before being shown the door.
“Rumble” gets another opportunity with the promotion thanks to a six-fight win streak. His most recent effort was a first-round starching of Mike Kyle at a World Series of Fighting event in January. Johnson’s explosiveness brings immediate excitement to the division, and if he can turn in an impressive performance against Davis it would automatically make him a major player in the 205-pound ranks.
Johnson has 11 knockouts in 16 career victories, many of them of the highlight-reel variety, and comes into this contest with plenty of momentum. He’s finished four of his last five opponents and a key to success will be to keep the fight standing.
Davis is no match for Johnson in the striking department, but he has an outstanding wrestling background and strong submission skills. His last fight was a hotly disputed decision victory over Lyoto Machida at UFC 163. His only loss in 14 career fights came against former champion Rashad Evans, and he owns a submission win over top-contender Alexander Gustafsson. Davis has never been knocked out in his career.
UFC President Dana White was recently quoted as saying he thought Davis was too comfortable in being a top-5 fighter who didn’t seem to have the drive to be a champion. Not surprisingly “Mr. Wonderful” took exception to the remarks and has vowed to destroy everybody the organization puts in front of him until he gets a title shot.
Davis also showed he’s willing to engage in some trash-talk as he launched a verbal assault on champion Jon Jones during a media conference call promoting this weekend’s event. However, it won’t be the talk that will pave his way to the top; it will be based on his performance.
While Davis’ career record of 12-1-1 is formidable, he doesn’t have a track record of being involved in exciting clashes which has hampered his bid for a title fight. He just hasn’t been must-see TV. If Davis is serious about impressing a skeptical UFC brass, he will not only need a victory, but he will need to win in impressive fashion. Another grinding decision victory won’t raise his championship stock.
This shapes up as a very intriguing matchup with plenty at stake for both fighters. Johnson wants to make the most of this prime opportunity against a top contender, and a knockout of Davis would automatically vault him into the title picture. Davis will be intent on spoiling Johnson’s Octagon return and inching closer to a title shot that has so far eluded him.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports