clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Anthony Johnson: With suspension behind him, it’s ‘like a huge amount of weight lifted off of me’

New, comments
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With his suspension behind him, UFC light heavyweight contender Anthony Johnson got his wish -- a fight with Sweden’s own Alexander Gustafsson. That fight will take place on Jan. 24 in Gustafsson’s native home of Stockholm as the main event for UFC on FOX 14.

The capacity for the Tele2 Arena -- a facility primarily used for soccer -- is in the northern range of 30,000 people. If the live gate hits anywhere near that number it will go down as the second largest in UFC history, behind only UFC 129 in Toronto (55,000 people).

That’s quite a juxtaposition to go from being suspended by the UFC after a domestic violence allegation to fighting in an historic event.

So, how did "Rumble" react after his civil case was dismissed…and all the charges were cleared…and he had his suspension lifted…and he got the call to fight the biggest draw in Sweden since Ingemar Johansson…all in rapid-fire succession?

"I cried," Johnson told Ariel Helwani on Monday, during a visit to The MMA Hour. "Whenever I got home, I cried. I cried just because with so much going on and me not giving up and still having faith and believing in myself and stuff like that…I was emotional man, you know? Going through so much in somebody’s career and you get one of the biggest opportunities of a lifetime, that comes right to you. I couldn’t do anything but cry."

This fall, just when he and Gustafsson were booked to fight, Johnson was abruptly suspended by the UFC for a lingering domestic violence charge in Florida. On September 19, the UFC put out a statement announcing his indefinite suspension, saying it would employ a third party law firm to conduct a formal investigation into the matter.

On Nov. 6, the civic case was dismissed in Palm Beach, and Johnson’s suspension was lifted. A week later, Johnson was booked into a fight with Gustafsson, which will presumably be a title eliminator to see who faces the winner of Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones (set for UFC 182 on Jan. 3).

During that month-and-a-half of suspension, Johnson said he went through some dark times.

"It was depressing, really -- it made me learn who I could trust and who are my real friends and where," he said. "It’s over with and life goes on and I still have a strong support system. My fans have been great. My family has stuck beside me. My teammates didn’t turn their backs on me. I’m blessed and I’m happy that I’m still here."

With all the negative press over the last eight weeks, Johnson was asked if he’d like to give his side of the story. 

"There’s nothing really to say; it’s been dismissed and that’s all that matters," he said. "Both parties went their own way. That’s the end of the story. I don’t have any hard feelings towards her. Like I said, I’m just going to stay positive no matter what. So there’s really nothing more to say."

Now the Blackzilians fighter Johnson can return his attention to fighting. Before the suspension, Johnson was closing in on a title shot at 205 pounds, having come off a 44-second dismantling of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC on FOX 12. Before then he made a successful return to the UFC against the heavy favorite Phil Davis, whom he defeated via a lopsided unanimous decision at UFC 172.

The most logical next step was to face Gustafsson, who was available after Cormier and Jones was booked (and then later rebooked for January as Jones recovered from a knee injury).

The 30-year old Johnson (18-4) said a fight with Gustafsson was more about him gauging how far he’s come as a fighter -- from the first stint in the UFC as a welterweight, through middleweight and other organizations, to the current moment as a top five fighter --  than it was about achieving contender status.

"To me it wasn’t about being the No. 1 contender, I just wanted to test myself and see how good I really am," he said. "I fought Phil [Davis]. I fought [Antonio Rogerio] Nogueira. At the time is was still Cormier and Jones, and then I think Phil and Glover [Teixeira] had already fought…and [Blackzilians’ teammate] Rashad [Evans] was injured. Obviously I am never going to fight him.

"So to me, the only person left that was in the top five was Gus. It made sense, to see if we can fight and see who is the better fighter."

When asked if he relished the role as an interloper, going to Stockholm to face the beloved Gustafsson in from of a partisan crowd, "Rumble" said he did.

"Of course, of course -- Gus is a hell of a fighter," he said. "I have the utmost respect for him. He’s a beast. Going into his hometown, his country, I really have to be on my A game and stay focused. Because right now I’m probably enemy No. 1 over there."