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Henri Hooft says Anthony Johnson’s post-MMA career ‘has to do with football’

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Anthony Johnson may not be aiming to be the next great linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams, but according to Johnson’s longtime head coach Henri Hooft, the next career for the newly retired UFC light heavyweight contender still has something to do with the gridiron.

“I’m not going to go into details, because I don’t know the real details, but everybody sees his (social media) pages and it has to do with football,” Hooft said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I don’t know, I didn’t really discuss the details, but he seems to be busy with this for awhile and enjoying it. It has something to do, totally different than with MMA, and I think if you really want to stop fighting, you really need to step away from it, because if you keep hanging in there, you’ll probably get lured back in there.

“Anthony is 33 years old, so you never know what happens in the future, but if you want to step away from it, you really need to step away from it. Or you need to become a coach, like I did after my fight career. But it’s totally different than MMA. I think it has something to do with football. If you look at his Twitter and his social media, people will find out sooner or later what’s really going on.”

Johnson stunned the MMA world on Saturday at UFC 210 when he announced his retirement from mixed martial arts following his second-round submission loss to UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, exiting the sport in the prime earning years of his career. The 33-year-old Johnson was vague about the logic behind his decision afterwards, revealing only that he had another lucrative opportunity lined up for his post-fighting life.

“Rumble” did vociferously deny rumors that he’d be joining the LA Rams as a player after many observers noted that his Twitter profile was littered with Rams tributes. Nonetheless, even if Johnson won’t be playing for the team, Hooft implied that Johnson’s next job will indeed be involved with the Rams.

“I think so,” Hooft said. “Listen, I’m a European guy. I know everything about soccer, but not much about the NFL. Sorry about that.”

Hooft, a coach of Johnson’s for the past six years in Boca Raton, said that he knew Johnson had retirement on his mind heading into his rematch against Cormier, but that he didn’t know Johnson would make the announcement on Saturday night.

“He talked about retiring and the end of his career for some time,” Hooft said. “I know he has an interest in other things he wants to do in life. We talked about it a lot, and we had an idea we talked about of getting that belt, and then probably dropping it in the middle (of the cage). That was an idea that we had, that he had, and that we talked about, but I didn’t really know on Saturday that he would retire. But I knew about his feelings and I’m not surprised.”

While Hooft was not surprised, Johnson’s retirement was still a shocking development for the rest of the MMA world. “Rumble” was — and still is — widely considered to be one of the most talented and fearsome light heavyweights in the world. His second stint under the UFC umbrella included five vicious knockout victories over many of the most respected names in the division, including Alexander Gustafsson, Ryan Bader, Jimi Manuwa, and Glover Teixeira.

But Johnson nonetheless decided to hang up the gloves by retiring inside the Octagon at UFC 210, and Hooft admitted that even he didn’t see the moment coming.

“Right after the fight, I was on the cage and he came to me and said, ‘I f*cked up,’ something, and I said, ‘come on, man, I know it’s hard but get up, it’s already done.’ It’s what a coach says after a loss,” Hooft said. “You cannot just, at that moment, talk about stuff. I was at the cage and said, ‘keep your head up, come on, let’s go.’ Then I stepped off and it was very busy in the cage, so I walked back to put another shirt on.

“When I was in the back, I heard that he was saying that he was retiring and looking for me and looking for other people, and I was like, ‘oh sh*t.’ I was on my way back, then I saw him at the curtain (to go back onto the arena floor). ... He cried with me and he talked to me and everything, then it really [sunk in]. But I’m not surprised, because again, we talked about it. I’ve already (had) six years with Anthony. I’ve known him for so long, and these last couple of months have been difficult for all of us with all of the stuff that happened (with the Blackzilians). It was a crazy time.

“We’re getting better now, and we were just hoping that it was the next thing for us, beginning six years ago and ending with the title. It was just hard. He was very disappointed. I was very disappointed, of course. So it was strange for me to hear that he did it there, but that was his moment, Anthony’s moment, so he did it when he thought it was good and I think we all need to respect that. I respect it. And I had my moment with him alone, and I think that’s very important.”

Hooft said he has since seen heavy criticism lobbed at both himself for not being there when Johnson called for him post-fight, and also at “Rumble” for the curious way Johnson approached his UFC 210 rematch by choosing to wrestle with Cormier. And while Hooft called all of the chatter “bullsh*t,” he shrugged it off as best he could.

“I got a lot of bad sh*t over me and everything. You know how it goes with social media,” Hooft said. “When everything is good, everything is good. Like, I’m leaving my fighter? I’ve never left anybody, especially me and AJ. We’re very good together.

“People just start spreading out stupid stuff, like him quitting the fight and just throwing the fight. All kinds of stuff. And it’s all bullsh*t that has nothing to do with our sport. So I just feel bummed because I wanted to end this one with the title, and Anthony has all the qualities to do it, but he didn’t do it.”