Earlier this month, the long-rumored issues within Boca Raton’s Blackzilian squad finally entered the public eye when founding member Rashad Evans and striking coach Henri Hooft indicated they had split from the team. In an interview on The MMA Hour, Evans revealed that he — along with Anthony Johnson, Kamaru Usman, and several other key Blackzilian members — had moved into a new Florida gym, Combat Club, to continue training under the tutelage of Hooft and Greg Jones. Hooft posted a statement on Instagram that same day confirming Evans’ remarks.
Less than a week later, the UFC announced that Johnson’s title rematch against UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier was finally official for April 8 at UFC 210. So considering all of the change among the former Blackzilians that has occurred in recent months, it is only natural to wonder how the splintering of the team is affecting Johnson heading into UFC 210. But with the biggest fight of his life looming, “Rumble” indicated that things are all good down in Florida.
“I moved onto other things now, and my attention is somewhere else,” Johnson said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I still have love for the guys regardless, but I’m not going to sit back and cry about whatever happened. So I just keep moving forward. I’ve got a title fight to think about, and not think about the things that happened that separated the team.”
For Johnson, the rematch against Cormier is one a long time in the making. He first challenged the Olympian as a short-notice opponent switch back in May 2015, knocking Cormier down early in the contest but then fading to lose via third-round rear-naked choke at UFC 187. The disappointing performance has marred an otherwise flawless UFC run for Johnson, and he said it took him nearly six months to watch the first Cormier fight back.
“One day I was just laying in bed,” Johnson said. “I didn’t perform to the best of my ability, and I think it was probably six months after that I finally watched the fight. I just woke up at like two in the morning and decided to watch the fight. I woke up and it was on my mind and I just watched it to see what my mistakes were, and I was like okay, they were bad mistakes but they weren’t mistakes that were so bad they couldn’t be fixed.
“Nobody wants to watch themselves lose,” Johnson added. “It was a weird feeling in my stomach, because like I said, I didn’t perform at the best of my abilities. I think that’s what disgusted me the most. It made me disgusted. So the next time, it’ll be a different story on my end.”
Johnson made several key changes to his training regime in the aftermath of the Cormier loss, with the most significant being the addition of decorated grappling coach Neil Melanson to his team. Johnson has since gone on to score devastating knockouts over Jimi Manuwa, Ryan Bader, and Glover Teixeira, racking up a trio of impressive victories while looking nearly unstoppable in the Octagon. He expects that momentum to continue into UFC 210, and both Melanson and Hooft will be in his corner to help.
“I still train with Rashad down at Combat Club,” Johnson said. “I train there and I train at CSMMA. The Blackzilians are pretty much done, but I’m still at Blackzilian at heart. I helped start the team. We’ve been through a lot of things, the Blackzilians, so overall I still love the Blackzilians. It’s just, it doesn’t last forever. And nothing lasts forever, but the little bit of time that we had together, I definitely am grateful that I was a part of that crew.”
Johnson and Cormier were originally slated to dance last December, however plans changed when Cormier withdrew from UFC 206 at the eleventh hour due to a training injury. Johnson elected to wait for Cormier rather than take another fight, and he said on Monday that he did not regret his decision, regardless of whatever criticism may have been directed his way. He now expects to go through much of the same promotional process as he and Cormier went through for UFC 206 — joint media tours, etc. — but if running those appearances back is what it takes to get what Johnson another shot at the title, than he’ll do what is asked of him without complaint.
“Hell, it feels like it’s natural now at this point, we’ve done it so much,” Johnson said. “But DC and I are professionals, we know how to control our emotions and say the right thing and be respectful. There’s no point in being disrespectful to each other and making ourselves look dumb, look stupid. So we definitely have to have respect, and we do what we have to do to get everybody tuned in, but come April 8th, somebody is getting f*cked up.”
And while Johnson knows a few verbal jabs may be thrown his way in the lead-up to UFC 210, he is unworried about anything Cormier might say.
“He can yap all he wants,” Johnson said. “He knows what’s coming.”