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Anthony Johnson on Jon Jones being stripped of the title: ‘I think it’s the right call’

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In the fallout of UFC light heavyweight Jon Jones being stripped of his title last week, the new realities for everybody else are setting in. Namely, that Anthony Johnson -- who was to challenge Jones at UFC 187 on May 23 – is now facing Daniel Cormier, who is getting a title shot mulligan after losing to Jones at UFC 182 in January.

With Jones now out indefinitely has he deals in legal matters and gets his life back on track after last week’s hit-and-run incident, the reconfiguration of the 205-pound division is underway. Contenders like Ryan Bader, who was supposed to face Cormier in New Orleans on June 6, is now in a spot where he could conceivably wait out the winner of Cormier-Johnson.

And "Rumble" Johnson, who was being faced with the challenge of upending Jones’ streak of eight straight title defenses, now fights for a vacant belt that doesn’t belong to anybody.

Not that he’s placing any less import on what that belt represents should he win it in Las Vegas on Memorial Day weekend.

"I'll feel like I’m the champ if I beat [Cormier]," Johnson told Ariel Helwani during an appearance on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. "I worked my ass off to get where I am. It’s not my fault -- it’s not anybody’s fault -- with what happened to Jon. Jon did that to himself, everybody knows that. But life goes on, and you’ve got to keep it moving. When he comes back, if I still have the title, and it’s my time to fight him I’ll fight him. But one day, I know we’ll eventually fight."

The 31-year old Johnson has resurrected his career that began as a UFC welterweight to look like a viable threat to Jones. Since being cut by the UFC after failing to make weight on several occasions, Johnson -- who trains with the Blackzilians in Boca Raton, Florida -- has found a home at 205 pounds. He has won nine straight fights, including a victory over Phil Davis on his return to the promotion at UFC 172, and another against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC on FOX 14 in Sweden.

The last one, which he finished in just 2:15 of the first round via TKO, propelled him towards Jones. That was set up to be one of the biggest fights of 2015 until the incident with Jones in Albuquerque. Yet even with the UFC taking the bold step of stripping Jones of his title and suspending him indefinitely, Johnson said he would have done the same thing if he were in charge.

"I think it’s the right call," he said. "If it was my business I wouldn’t want that to be…I wouldn’t want somebody who did anything like that to be the face of my company. You’re not representing the company the right way doing that type of stuff.  And nobody’s perfect, everybody makes mistakes.

"But regardless, if that was my company, if this was his first time doing something like that, I probably would have did just what they did right after that. It’s just something that doesn’t look good towards the fans, and it doesn’t look good on his family. It’s a tough road. It’s very hard to get over something like that."

Johnson knows a little bit about it, having faced disciplinary action from the UFC stemming from a domestic violence incident with the mother of his two children. Two months after being suspended indefinitely, upon the dismissal of the civil case, Jones was reinstated by the UFC in November 2014 to set up his No. 1 contender’s clash with Gustafsson.

Johnson says that he sympathizes a little bit with Jones, which he demonstrated on Twitter by sending the longtime champion a nice message. It’s not just Jones that Johnson was thinking of. It was all the people who are associated with Jones.

"I felt bad for a lot of people," Johnson said on the show. "I felt bad for his family…I felt bad for the UFC…I felt bad for the fans. Because the UFC lost a great champion, you know, and the fans didn’t get to see the fight that they wanted to see yet. His family had to deal with this stuff. Not just Jon, but his overall family and his team and stuff. It’s just tough. It’s a tough road.

"It is what it is. I hope he gets better. Best of luck to him, honestly."

Now set to face Cormier, who has a more telegraphed style as an aggressive wrestler, Johnson said he is more than up for the challenge. When asked if he took offense to some of the initial jawing taking place -- in which Cormier said that Johnson was essentially the same fighter he’s always been – Johnson said things like that don’t get to him.

"No, it doesn’t bother me, [Cormier] can think what he wants," he said. "I’m still going to be who I am. I’m nowhere to close to the guy I used to be, nowhere close to the fighter I used to be. So, a lot of people still think that I am that same fighter that I used to be when I fought at 170, but I’m a different kind of animal right now."

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