NEW YORK – A lot has changed with Anthony Johnson since he last fought in the Octagon at UFC 142 two years ago. In that fight, which was meant to be contested at middleweight (yet fatally ended at a 197-pound catchweight), he got choked out by Vitor Belfort in Brazil. He was a trouble case for the UFC, a guy who had began as a massive 170-pounder yet ended by not making weight at 185.
Since that time Johnson has gone 6-0. He has a steady home at the Blackzilians in Boca Raton, Fla., where he now trains with Belfort, and he is, at long last, acting like a light heavyweight in a light heavyweight’s body. No more massive weight cuts for "Rumble." If he experiments in other weight classes it’s as a heavyweight, which he did at WSOF 2 against Andrei Arlovski in March of 2013.
And guess what? After knocking out Mike Kyle at WSOF 8 a little over two minutes into the bout, Johnson is a free agent. And with a winning streak, a stable camp and a realistic weight cut, Johnson suddenly becomes one of the more attractive free agents on the market.
Even to Dana White, the guy who cut him loose two years ago.
Speaking to the UFC 169 media scrum on Thursday, White was asked about his interest in signing Johnson to fortify its own light heavyweight division.
"Me and Joe [Silva] were talking about him the other day," White said. "I mean, I like the kid. I always did."
With Jon Jones having done away with many of yesterday’s champions and contenders at 205 pounds, Johnson would add some depth and intrigue to the class. Johnson has knocked out four of his opponents on his recent winning streak, and at 29 years old is just coming into his prime years.
Asked if he had been watching Johnson in his last few fights in the World Series of Fighting, White said he’d caught glimpses here and there. But even when he personally didn’t, the UFC was keeping tabs.
"I think I saw the Arlovski fight," he said. "I saw the Arlovski fight, and I saw another one. I didn’t see the [Mike Kyle] fight. Lorenzo and Joe saw it."