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Anthony Johnson thinks Jon Jones should still be next, but keeping an eye on ‘gangster’ Misha Cirkunov

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Anthony Johnson
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The light heavyweight division is in an awkward spot heading into UFC 210’s championship rematch between Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson. With a dearth of upstart contenders climbing the ranks, the gradual fading of the old guard, and the possible exodus of Ryan Bader to Bellator, whoever wins the April 8 clash between Cormier and Johnson may find himself ruling over a weight class without many compelling match-ups left to play with.

Because of that, it is entirely possible that ex-UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will find an easy path to the title waiting for him once he returns from his one-year USADA suspension in July, even despite all of the damage the former kingpin of the 205-pound division has done to his reputation over recent years. UFC president Dana White threw his support behind the idea this week, and if it was up to Johnson, the notion of fast-tracking Jones back to the top is the correct move.

“He should be (next). I think he still should be,” Johnson said Monday on The MMA Hour.

While Jones’ many indiscretions have torpedoed the former champ’s fighting career over the past two years, it is hard to argue against the competitive triangle of Jones-Johnson-Cormier remaining the best thing going right now at 205 pounds.

That being said, Johnson is nonetheless encouraged by what he has seen from his fellow light heavyweights in Jones’ absence. “Rumble” noted that the vacuum left by Jones at the top of the division has opened the door for other fringe prospects and contenders to make the leap into title contention.

“A lot of guys in the weight class have been putting in good work,” Johnson said. “Jimi Manuwa, he just came out of a fight with OSP and knocked him out. That was a clean knockout on his part. Who else is out there? Gus is still out there. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to make Gus and Jon fight again, just to see if you have a different result. So there’s a couple of guys up there who definitely have my attention.

“I think, besides DC, the one guy that has my attention is, what’s him name, Misha (Cirkunov). That dude is a beast,” Johnson continued. “He’s a beast, man. I like his style, and he’s built like a brick house. I think his ass is gangster. I don’t think he’s close, but he’s definitely somebody you’ve got to watch out for.”

Cirkunov, a 29-year-old fighting out of Toronto, carries an undefeated 4-0 record under the UFC banner and likely represents the best chance for an up-and-comer to break into the upper echelon of the light heavyweight class. That being said, Cirkunov is also a free agent currently at the end of his UFC deal, and it would be a significant blow to the division if a young blue-chipper like him were to leave for greener pastures.

But either way, despite the fact that young talent has been slow to populate the light heavyweight ranks, Johnson is motivated when he sees fighters like Cirkunov who at least offer new blood in a division that badly needs it.

“It did (stall out for awhile), but now the competition is getting thick again,” Johnson said. “And I’m excited about it.”