When Anthony Johnson finally squares off against Mike Kyle next Saturday at WSOF 8, he'll do so on the last fight of his World Series of Fighting contract. And while the siren song of free agency may call him, Johnson will have a nugget of added incentive should he wish to re-sign.
"If Anthony comes out on top in this fight, he'll definitely be fighting for a title in his next fight," WSOF President Ray Sefo told MMAFighting.com on Thursday.
Since Johnson's abrupt release from the UFC, the former welterweight has reinvented himself as a bruising light heavyweight, stringing together a run of five post-UFC wins, including a victory over former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski.
Johnson says he won't make a decision regarding his next move until after WSOF 8, though the 29-year-old could set himself up for a hefty payday with a decisive victory over Kyle.
"I love (WSOF matchmaker) Ali (Abdel-Aziz), I love Ray. I love WSOF, I love (WSOF executive) Shawn (Lampman). Everybody. I'm really enjoying myself here," Johnson said.
"It's makes me feel great (to hear my next fight could be a title shot). But like I tell everybody else, the title isn't on my mind right now. I have to fight Mike Kyle and beat him, and then I'll think about the next step. So first and foremost, my mind is on January 18, not after that."
Both Abdel-Aziz and Sefo were adamant that re-signing "Rumble," who's become one of the faces of WSOF over the past year, will be a top priority.
However if Johnson receives a better offer elsewhere, neither Abdel-Aziz nor Sefo will attempt to stand in his way.
"Anthony has been here since day one," Abdel-Aziz said. "He's one of the pioneers. We love Anthony. At the end of the day, after this fight, win, loss, or draw, we would love to have Anthony around. But if Anthony has any other ideas, we will support him 100-percent wherever he goes. That's it. You cannot do your best at any place if you're not happy 100-percent. If we want Anthony to continue with us, or any fighters, I want them to be happy and comfortable."
Abdel-Aziz, who's been critical of rival Bellator MMA in the past, went on to compare Johnson's situation to that of his Blackzilian teammate, Eddie Alvarez.
Alvarez, of course, saw his lucrative offer to fight in the UFC blocked by Bellator officials. Following a contentious legal battle which sidelined Alvarez for most of 2013, Alvarez ultimately agreed to re-sign with Bellator rather than waste another potential year of his prime sitting on the sidelines.
"You have to understand, Eddie Alvarez, he's singlehandedly ruining one promotion because of all this drama," Abdel-Aziz said.
"They can't sign anybody because of one guy. Why would I force a guy to stay with me when he doesn't want to be with me? You have to understand, the fans are always going to go with the fighters if the fighters are right. And Eddie was right. If Anthony's contract is over and he wants to go fight for a different brand, guess what? I'm going to give him a big, huge hug, and I'll say good luck, I wish you the best of luck. This is 2014. We're not in boxing. This is a different sport, and if somebody has a dream to fight wherever -- the UFC, wherever -- who am I as a human being, as an individual, to keep him from achieving his dreams? Everybody has a dream, and me and Ray and Shawn, when we started this promotion, we said, fighters first."
For his part, Johnson simply wishes to focus on the fight at hand -- a showdown against Kyle that's been delayed not once, but twice due to injury.
Only after his unfinished business is settled will Johnson look ahead toward a potentially profitable future.
"I feel like things are going to happen whenever they're supposed to happen," Johnson said in closing.
"Like I said, I'm just having fun. I'm just enjoying myself. I've seen a lot of guys say, oh, I want a title shot. Then they have a fight, and that next fight they have is supposed to be a chance to get that title, and they end up getting beat up (without getting there). I don't want to be one of those guys, so I'm just going to wait until it's supposed to happen."