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‘Rumble’ Johnson vaguely explains stunning UFC retirement: ‘It’s just business’

UFC 210 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Anthony Johnson abruptly called it a career on Saturday night at UFC 210. Following his second-round loss to UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, “Rumble” shocked the MMA world by announcing that he had decided to hang up his gloves at the age of 33 in order to pursue another venture in his life.

And while Johnson remained cryptic about what exactly that venture was at Saturday’s UFC 210 post-fight press conference, he did elaborate on the reasons that led him to walk away while still in the prime of a lucrative fighting career.

“It’s just business,” Johnson said. “I want to do something besides going to the gym everyday punching and kicking and rolling around with another dude. That sh*t gets old. I’ve been doing this for so long, I’ve been in sports since I was 8, it’s just time to move on to something different. I won’t say better, but just different.

“And no, I am not about to play football for the (Los Angeles) Rams,” Johnson added, referencing the many Rams tributes that adorned his Twitter profile. “Because everybody’s hitting me up and saying some crazy stuff about (how) I’m about to play for the Rams. Why would I go into another sport that’s the same thing as this, and you take all this impact and stuff? That’s absolutely insane.”

Johnson (22-6) said his commitment to retire from MMA was not an impromptu decision. He revealed that it was something he had been planning since last year, even before his UFC 206 fight against Cormier fell through due to an injury suffered by the champion. Regardless of how things played out at UFC 210, Johnson said he already resolved to retire, win or lose, and he spent all of fight week in Buffalo with the knowledge that his rematch against Cormier would be the final fight of his career.

“I was just soaking it all in,” Johnson said. “But no matter what, I was going to go out there and do my best. I hadn’t checked out or anything, but I knew what I needed to do regardless. And of course, I’m an athlete. I’ve always been an athlete, so I wanted to go out on top. It’s been a fun ride. Honestly, it leaves you kind of speechless. You just don’t know what to say, really.

“Every fight to me was a career highlight. I’ve just had so much fun, from my very first fight in the UFC until now.”

Johnson exits the sport as one of the most feared power punchers in all of the UFC and an unquestioned top-three fighter in the light heavyweight division. But nonetheless, he still leaves on a low note, having fallen to Cormier for a second time in three years, this time quicker than the last.

To make matters tougher, Johnson puzzled many observers by fighting Saturday’s rematch at UFC 210 with a grinding, grappling-heavy approach, choosing to wrestle with the two-time Olympic wrestler rather than focus on his own striking prowess.

Johnson admitted afterward that whatever his initial game plan was, things “kind of fell off track” as the fight wore on.

“I felt great,” Johnson said. “I trained my butt off to fight Daniel. You still saw ‘Rumble’ out there trying to knock heads off and going out there and give it his all. So, I went out there and did my thing, and whatever happened was going to happen, so I wasn’t really worried about anything.

“The game plan was to win. Keep my composure, control the pace and things like that. And just in the middle of the fight, I just kind of fell off track and started playing his game, which was wrestling and things like that. I felt fine. I felt great. It wasn’t like I was tired. He beat me. I don’t take anything away from him.”

Johnson now calls an end to a roller-coaster UFC career that began in 2007 with a 13-second knockout of Chad Reiner. Johnson was still a welterweight back in those early days, and though he found some success at 170 pounds, he ultimately struggled to make the weight consistently and exited the UFC in 2012 after failing to meet the middleweight limit in his 185-pound debut.

However, “Rumble” reinvented himself like few fighters have, blowing up into a monstrous power puncher in the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions and winning 12 of his last 14 fights, highlighted by first-round knockouts of Alexander Gustafsson, Ryan Bader, Glover Teixeira, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in his second UFC run.

And when asked on Saturday how he’d like fans to remember him, Johnson was frank.

“Just a guy who went out there and went all out and just never gave up,” he said. “Even when I was down and was getting stepped on and kicked and things like that, I still kept going. I didn’t win all of my fights, obviously, but I went out there and did my best, and I think people appreciated what I did for them and what they saw in me out there. I hope that I made a lot of people happy and excited to see me fight. Not many people can go through hell and back like I did and still rise to the top. I didn’t win a title, but I was still knocking at that door.

“The toughest fight I can possibly think of was always with myself,” Johnson added. “That’s just what it is. That’s everybody’s fight. You always battle yourself and not the opponent.”

Johnson also acknowledged the one fight that got away, expressing remorse over having never gotten the chance to test himself against troubled ex-UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who was in attendance at UFC 210 on Saturday night.

“I’m an alpha male, he’s an alpha male. I wanted to see what I can do against him,” Johnson said. “I’m pretty sure he wanted to see what he could do against me, because you guys hyped it up so much, that I was supposed to be the guy to beat him and all this and that. You guys do your job very well, hyping things up, so props to you.

“But I feel I’m more, I don’t know if I want to say sad (or) disappointed, for the fans, because I know they really wanted to see it. Day in and day out, people were always talking about Jon Jones and myself fighting each other, and it just never happened. Maybe if I decide to come back one day, we can fight at heavyweight or something like that.”

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