Anthony Johnson left Alexander Gustafsson bloodied and beaten on the mat back in January in Sweden, the victim of a vicious first-round knockout. Now, though, in his next fight, Gustafsson will be getting a title shot.
And "Rumble" is stunned.
"Very surprised," Johnson said at an International Fight Week media day last month in Las Vegas. "Very, very, very surprised."
Johnson fell to Daniel Cormier via third-round submission with the vacant UFC light heavyweight title on the line at UFC 187 in May. He doesn't think he should be getting an immediate rematch for the title. But he also doesn't think Gustafsson should get it, either. "Rumble" thought it should have gone to Ryan Bader.
"In my opinion, Bader deserves it," Johnson said. "He's on a four-fight win streak. He deserves it. I fought three times and I got a title shot. Bader fought four times and he's still behind me."
On paper, Bader does have a better case. Like Johnson said, he's won four in a row, over Phil Davis, Ovince Saint Preux, Rafael Cavalcante and Anthony Perosh. The first three of those were top-15 ranked heavyweights before Davis departed for Bellator. By comparison, Gustafsson's best wins were Mauricio Rua and Jimi Manuwa and the big Swede, of course, is coming off a knockout loss. He only has one win since 2012.
Gustafsson, who challenges Cormier in the main event of UFC 192 on Oct. 4 in Houston, is best known for taking former champion Jon Jones, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, to the brink in September 2013. It was the toughest fight of Jones' career. And though Bader did his part to build up a fight with Cormier verbally, he's not the most fan-friendly fighter.
"I think it's about selling tickets," Johnson said. "Selling tickets and getting the fans excited. A lot of people like Bader, believe in Bader. But Bader isn't quite the guy that's gonna fill the arena. His style isn't that entertaining."
Johnson doesn't do any trash talking. However, he is a fan favorite, because of his pressure style and ability to knock opponents out with one punch. "Rumble" would recommend Bader change things up a bit if he wants to be more of a draw.
"He has to go out and start knocking people out instead of siting there and waiting and side-to-side and throwing jabs," Johnson said. "Whatever he does. That's just not entertaining people. That's just what it is. If he was like Conor McGregor, I'd be like, 'Dude, go and get it. You deserve it.' You talk your way there, but back it up at the same time. Bader doesn't talk that much and when he fights it's just not that entertaining.
"When he fought Phil Davis, they were booing. I wouldn't want that for a headline for a fight, especially going for a title. I'd be like, 'Man, I just spent so much money promoting this fight and they're booing. I want my money back.' I'm penalizing somebody. I'm deducting 10 percent of their check."
Johnson (19-5) thinks he'll be right back in the title hunt soon. He meets Manuwa at UFC 191 on Sept. 5 in Las Vegas. With the light heavyweight division thin, especially with Jones still being indefinitely suspended, "Rumble" will be right there in the conversation again if he beats Manuwa. Johnson is expecting another title shot in 2016.
"I think so," he said. "This fight still counts as me getting back to the title."
Bader might be ahead of him in line, which he understands. But then again, who knows?
"I still have respect for Bader," Johnson said. "He's a hell of a fighter. But if people aren't feeling you, then what do you expect?"