For the Blackzilians’ Anthony Johnson, Saturday shapes the future

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

If early 2013 was the disintegration of the Blackzilians -- an orphan colony that sprung out of Boca Raton, Florida -- then late 2013 has proven us a bunch of alarmists. Rashad Evans, who lost listlessly to Antonio Rogerio Noguiera, rediscovered his fire and beat both Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen. Eddie Alvarez, who lost his belt to Michael Chandler, went through the nine circles of hell to reclaim it. Michael Johnson, who slipped against Reza Madadi most unglamorously, proceeded to then wreck Joe Lauzon and Gleison Tibau to make amends.

Tyrone Spong? Beast. Vitor Belfort? A young dinosaur who eats beasts for breakfast. Glenn Robinson, Jorge Santiago, Kenny Monday and Henri Hooft? Reclamation project specialists. Revivalists. Spiritual overlords. Ability extractors. Fulfillmentalists.

And then there’s Anthony Johnson, the erstwhile miracle-welterweight who in 2013 fought only once, as a heavyweight, and downed Andrei Arlovski in WSOF. "Rumble," at 29 years old, remains one of those fighters of untapped, unknown potential. He ran into all that trouble trying to whittle his 220-pound frame into a 170-pound body. To put it politely, he had mixed results. Ditto with 185 pounds, which was the last weight he attempted to make (and missed by a dozen stubborn pounds) in the UFC. That was his Belfort encounter at UFC 142, which he lost via rear-naked choke. Now they are fast friends and teammates.

Since that time, while working with the Blackzilians, Johnson is rolling. Five wins in a row at catchweights, light heavyweight, heavyweight, you-name-it-weight. What’s been the difference with him and his guys at the Blackzilians?

"I don’t know, man. We just bonded and everyone got their act right," Johnson says. "We made a couple of adjustments. I don’t know -- maybe it’s in the water that we drink. We all meshed together and we push each other. I go in that gym and I see the bond between everybody. And during training I see that we’re all just wanting to improve. If somebody makes a mistake, we try to help each other out. We don’t just keep our mouths closed and let that person go on about their day. We let each other know, hey, you’re doing this wrong, you’re doing that wrong."

In his last WSOF appearance back in March, Johnson beat Arlovski via unanimous decision. Over the rest of 2013, Johnson was matched with Mike Kyle a couple of times, only to have things fall through cracks. First Johnson broke his hand, which derailed a September booking. Then Kyle busted his toe, which postponed a December meeting in Vancouver. On Saturday night, in Hollywood, Florida, they’ll finally meet at WSOF 8. It’s the last fight on Johnson’s WSOF contract, which means there’s added incentive for a good showing.

WSOF says he could fight for the light heavyweight belt with a win. But, as everybody knows, the UFC is another possibility.

"I think the World Series of Fighting is cool and it’s an honor, but as far as long term, I just have to see what happens after this fight," he says. "We’ll have to see what the results are going to be. I’m not looking past Mike Kyle at all. He is a fighter. Anything can happen. We’ll see what happens. I’m very honored to be in the position that I’m in. I’m blessed. I’m just going with the flow."

Though it’s been a quiet approach, Johnson is one of the bigger pending free agents out there. If he gets by Kyle to run his win streak to six, there would be plenty of interest from other promotions, and plenty of intrigue among fans as to how he might fit in the UFC’s 205-pound landscape. And that’s the weight class, after all the experimentations and sauna rituals, that Johnson wants to compete at going forward.

"Yeah, I plan staying at light heavy for awhile," he says. "If somebody asked me to fight heavyweight, every blue moon, then of course I’ll do it. But, I’m not going to make that my primary home. Heavyweight? Hell no -- those guys are too big. And I’m not trying to eat that expensive horsemeat."

Horsemeat is better left to another of his Blackzilians’ associates (Alistair Overeem), but wherever Johnson ends up after Saturday night, he says it’ll be a tribute to the unique assemblage they’ve created in Boca Raton.

"Our coaches do a great job with us…Henry, Kenny, Jorge Santiago, our manager Glenn Robinson, he does an awesome job with us," he says. "If it wasn’t for those guys we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. It’s just perfect timing. We had a great year last year."

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