In a bout that posed risk for both an aging former champion and talented fighter looking to keep his career rebuilding process on track, it was the one-time welterweight who would emerge the victor in a hard fought battle. In the main event. former UFC welterweight Anthony Johnson bested former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski at WSOF II at Revel Resort and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The judges all scored it the same: 29-28, 29-28 and 29-28.
The bout was not without controversy, however. The speed differential was immediately apparent as was the ability of Johnson to land in combination with hands and feet in successive order. Johnson opened the frame with crisp Thai boxing, landing hard jabs and counter hooks. Strangely, he also hunted for a takedown in the latter half of the first round against the fence, but referee Kevin Mulhall was forced to separate them after a lack of activity. As the 10-second bell count sounded, however, both fighters exchanged hard punches and a right hook from Johnson sent Arlovski crumbling to the mat. Arlovski tried to recover as Johnson attacked from his back, but the bell sounded before Johnson could earn a clear stoppage victory. Johnson briefly raised his arms to signal victory only to be told the bout would continue.
Still, the Blackzilian teammate picked up right where he left off. After a series of wild exchanges to start the second frame, Johnson attempted to press Arlovski into the fence for a takedown. Arlovski employed sensational takedown defense, though, which forced the action back to the feet. Johnson continued to get the better of exchanges, but also interrupted his own progress by shooting for takedowns. In the clinch against the fence towards the end of the round, Johnson absorbed a knee to the groin, which temporarily halted the action. The action resumed but neither fighter as able to land much with the time left.
The third round didn't look dissimilar to the second. Johnson was absorbing more strikes at distance from Arlovski, but continued to land punches of his own while pressing Arlovski into the fence for takedowns. While his attempts were largely unsuccessful, they did succeed in keeping Arlovski from striking.
After the judges' decisions were announced, Johnson was effusive in his praise for his opponent. "Try not to get hit so hard, that was the game plan," he said. "The man hit like a ton of bricks, I have so much respect for him. He's one of my idols. I've watched him whenever he first got on the scene, so I'm just grateful I got to fight another legend like Andrei Arlovski.
"He's a great fighter, a great technician," Johnson continued. "I'm just honored to be able to fight him."
As for a future competing at heavyweight, Johnson said he would prefer to return light heavyweight, but wouldn't rule out a one-off bout if WSOF made a request. "No, these guys like Andrei Arlovski are too big for Anthony Johnson. If the World Series of Fighting asked me to do it, I'll do it again."
Johnson moves to 15-4 in professional mixed martial arts while Arlovski slides to 19-10-1.