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Anthony Johnson 'pissed off' at Alexander Gustafsson acting like he's the champion when he's not

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Johnson surprised many when he issued a public callout for sidelined Swedish light heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson to emerge from his self-imposed hiatus and accept what effectively amounted to a number-one contender fight. After all, Johnson had avoided such provocations up to that point in his second life as a reenergized UFC contender.

So what changed?

"I just wanted a yes or a no to the fight," Johnson explained to host Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "With him not responding, it just pretty much pissed me off.

"Gus gave Jon (Jones) a run for his money, the toughest fight Jon has ever had. Everybody either has a fight lined up or they're injured, and the only people in the top-five who don't have a fight are me and Gus, so why not just do it for the fans and just see what we can do? Gus says he's one of the best in the world, and I feel like I'm one of the best in the world, so why not just do it and see what happens?"

Gustafsson ultimately accepted Johnson's challenge late last week, however the road to reach that point was far from amicable.

Spurned by the UFC's decision to pass him over in favor of Daniel Cormier in the title shot pecking order, Gustafsson initially stated his desire to wait and fight the winner of Jones vs. Cormier, regardless of how long it took to play out. He quickly dismissed Johnson's callout, telling Swedish outlet Expressen that the two fighters "are not in the playground anymore" and Johnson needed to work his way up the ladder.

"To me, that's what made it personal," Johnson said. "That's what made it personal, him saying that. He doesn't have to be impressed with me, but saying that I need a few more fights to get to him or something like that, in my opinion, dude, nobody knew who you were until you fought Jon. You were just an average Joe, just like me, until you fought Jon. You gave Jon a great fight, now the whole world knows who you are. You're like an overnight celebrity.

"That's what happens when you go in there and fight your ass off. But don't try to belittle me. You didn't win; don't make it seem like you're the champion and you can say those type of things. That kind of got to me, like he's just the head honcho when he isn't, he lost to the head honcho."

Johnson said he has yet to receive a bout agreement for the proposed match-up, but expressed a desire to stage the fight before the end of 2014, suggesting a headlining spot on December's vacant UFC on FOX event in Phoenix, AZ.

Gustafsson is currently rehabilitating the torn meniscus in his right knee and has stated that a timetable for his return would line up with January 3rd's meeting between Jones and Cormier. In theory, Gustaffson-Johnson would be a sensational co-main event for the light heavyweight title fight.

For his part, Johnson said he'll accept the 2015 date if offered, however he also made it clear that, to him, the scenario is far from an ideal one.

"I'll still take it, but I want to fight again before the year is over with," Johnson said. "I don't care who it is. They can put me in the prelims for all I care, I just want to fight again. I just want to stay active, I want to stay busy. Each fight, you can't do anything but get better and better, so that's what I want to do."

And in the meantime, if either Jones or Cormier suffer a setback before their grudge match can be settled, "Rumble" would be more than willing to throw his name into the conversation as a late replacement.

"I'd definitely take my chances," Johnson said. "I have that much confidence in myself."