Anthony “Rumble” Johnson has faced a lot of top competition throughout his career, but rarely has anyone been able to threaten him with the same kind of power that he generates.
Typically recognized as arguably the hardest hitter in the history of the light heavyweight division, Johnson has turned the lights out on a number of fighters over the years, including Glover Teixeira, Alexander Gustafsson and reigning Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader.
When he returns to action at Bellator 258 on May 7, Johnson will enter the Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix against an opponent with the same kind of ability to end his night with just one shot landed.
Multi-time UFC title challenger Yoel Romero may have come into MMA as an accomplished wrestler, which includes an Olympic silver medal, but his reputation in the cage has been built upon staggering knockouts. At his best, Romero is a human highlight reel capable of separating anybody from consciousness — just ask past victims like Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman and Lyoto Machida.
That’s part of the reason why Johnson is approaching his upcoming fight against Romero with the knowledge that one wrong move could end his night in dramatic fashion.
“Besides some of my training partners, yeah, I give Yoel that title,” Johnson told MMA Fighting on Wednesday during the Bellator 257 media day. “That I can think of right now, Yoel is the most dangerous fighters I’ve actually faced, I think.”
For Johnson, the fight against Romero is the only thing that matters to him right now, even with a chance to become Bellator light heavyweight champion in his next fight.
Because this is the last bout in the opening round of the grand prix, the winner of Johnson vs. Romero is already set to face reigning Bellator light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov in the next round.
While that might seem like an enticing prize to have dangled in front of him, Johnson promises that Nemkov and the title are the furthest thing from his mind right now.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” Johnson said. “I’m focused on Yoel. If I look past him one time, I’m done. I can’t look past him. I haven’t thought about Corey [Anderson], I haven’t thought about [Ryan] Bader, I haven’t thought about [Vadim] Nemkov. I’ve thought about Yoel.
“That’s the only human being that’s been on my mind for feels like forever. Mad props to those guys making it to the semis but they’re not my focus. My focus is Yoel. I’ve got to get past that monster before I can face the other monsters.”
The fight against Romero will also be the first time Johnson has competed since coming out of retirement after calling it a career back in 2017.
During that time away, Johnson had said that the only fight that would bring him back to the cage would be for the chance to finally face former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. They had previously been matched up in 2017 but the fight fell apart after Jones vacated the light heavyweight title following a hit-and-run accident in New Mexico.
These days, Johnson has put thoughts of fighting Jones far behind him not only because he’s fighting in Bellator but also thanks to the level of competition awaiting him in the grand prix.
“It’s still high. The competition is still high,” Johnson said. “Of course, it was a bummer I didn’t get to fight Jon but the past is the past. I haven’t thought about it anymore. The only people that bring it up are the fans and the media. I don’t really think about it cause it’s been so long ago. It will go down in history as one of those fights that never happened. I always told myself I didn’t want to be one of those stories but unfortunately I am one of those stories.
“But you know what, I feel I’m fighting Jon Jones regardless. I’ve got to fight Yoel and everybody else in the weight class is right up there, too. I got my hands full. Jon Jones is not even on my radar, hasn’t been for years. Now it’s all about Bellator.”