In a month where the UFC held four major events, one could make the argument that Anthony Johnson -- one of MMA’s great resurrection stories -- stole the show in January.
Johnson went to Stockholm, Sweden to face the country’s native son Alexander Gustafsson at UFC on FOX 14, in what was a set-up for a rematch between Gustafsson and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. So what did he do? In front of 30,000 partisans, Johnson scored a TKO victory over Gustafsson. He not only stole away the Swede’s rematch, but he sold himself as a viable challenge to the throne with a raw demonstration of power.
And as "Rumble" watched an emotional Gustafsson cry in the Octagon afterwards, he couldn’t help but feel a little bad for having to do what he did.
Johnson made an appearance on The MMA Hour on Monday, and said it was the first time in his MMA career where he felt a pang of sadness in victory.
"I did because, I mean, we all knew what the deal was before the fight," he told Ariel Helwani. "He was supposed to have his title shot and then he got injured, and then Jon and DC [Daniel Cormier] had their beef going on, so they let that fight continue, even though I think DC got hurt. And Alex should have had his title shot back then. It should have been Alex fighting instead of DC. But this is the UFC. This is their business so, they can do what they have to do. It’s Zuffa.
"It just seems like he’s been through Hell and back to get his rematch for a title, and he just didn’t get his opportunity again. I mean, I felt bad for him. So when he was crying, to me that’s what was going through my head. I was like damn, his dreams just got shot to hell. I just felt bad about it."
One thing Johnson didn’t feel bad about was the idea that he might have headbutted Gustafsson before the end sequence that put him away. When the topic was broached, Johnson said he was fairly certain that their heads never connected.
"There wasn’t no headbutt," he said. "I don’t remember touching him at all. I don’t remember a headbutt or anything at all. I heard his corner say throw the push kick, and I heard it, and I was ready for it whenever he did it. I just didn’t think it was going to be at that moment, but I was expecting it. And when he did it I didn’t even get a fresh hit on him. I kind of hit him on the jaw line and the neck at the same time.
"But I don’t remember a headbutt. I mean, I could have, but I really doubt it. [Gustafsson] even said he didn’t feel a headbutt, but from the angle I can see why a lot of people would say a headbutt. If you look at it from the top, it doesn’t look like a headbutt. But if you look at it from the side that I was on, it looks like a headbutt. Whatever angle you look at it, it just really depends, but I don’t remember headbutting the guy. And if I did, I apologize because everybody knows I’m not a dirty fighter."
Now the UFC is looking to match the 30-year old Johnson against Jones in May, and Johnson will look to become one of the greatest turnaround stories in the sport. Johnson fought 10 times as an oversized welterweight in the UFC, and failed to make weight twice. In his lone trip to middleweight against Vitor Belfort in 2012, he missed weight by a dozen pounds. He lost and was cut from the promotion.
But after winning six fights outside of the UFC, primarily in the World Series of Fighting and primarily as a light heavyweight, Johnson came back at UFC 172 in Baltimore this past April. He upset Phil Davis, and has rolled since then. A first round finish of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC on FOX 12 in July, and now his latest upset victory over Gustafsson.
The one constant of the "Rumble’s" career is his power. And if there’s anything he brings to the table that Jones hasn’t faced in his storied career, it’s the sheer strength in his hands.
Asked if he thought that Jones had ever faced anybody like him before, Johnson mostly demurred.
"I don’t know, he’s fought the best of the best," he said. "I don’t think he’s fought anybody with knockout power like I have. But he’s fought so many different styles, I don’t know man. He’s faced it all already, so we’ll see."
Since getting the title shot, Johnson has been nothing short of complimentary towards Jones, even as the champ goes through another round of scrutiny from having failed a drug test from December for cocaine. Other fighters, such as Dan Henderson and his Blackzilians' training partner Rashad Evans, have sniped at Jones in the media as being less than genuine. On Monday, Johnson had nothing but good things to say about Jonny "Bones" Jones.
"Whatever he had with Rashad was with him, it wasn’t me," he said. "Dan Henderson’s got his own opinion for whatever. That’s his own opinion. Dan Henderson wants to get in his business like that, go ahead, he can be one of the Gossip Girls if he wants to. That’s not my thing."
Johnson called Jones the best pound-for-pound light heavyweight in UFC history, and said he no qualms with anything going on in his personal life.
"He’s a champ," he said. "He’s a crazy athlete, obviously. Hell, what else am I supposed to feel? I don’t have anything against the guy."