New gym, new team, new fighter
Anthony Johnson has a salty side. He can get irritated, especially when hit with the same questions, over and over. You can see it in his eyes, read it on his face.
He got that way at the post-fight press conference following his victory over Dan Hardy in March, when the majority of the questions from the assembled media alternated between his previous weight-cutting issues and the unexpected game plan he used to earn a unanimous decision over the former title contender. Known for his knockout power and ferocious striking, “Rumble” wrestled his way to victory, and it caught everyone off guard, most of all Hardy.
He also has a very personable and charismatic side as well.
“What was I supposed to do, give everybody my game plan? Just hand it to him, let him know what I was going to do with that fight?” asked Johnson, a booming laugh filling the air following the rhetorical question.
“I don’t give a shit what anybody has to say about how I fight, because at the end of the day, they’re either going to watch me or they aren’t. They’re either going to love me or they’re going to hate me, so I’m going to continue to be me. If I say I’m going to punch you in the eye, I might not punch you in the eye; I might kick you in your leg, you know what I mean? I’m going to always do the unexpected.”
It’s not as if Johnson was the first fighter to express one strategy publicly while planning another behind closed doors. That’s the chess game fighters play before each fight, and Johnson knows it all too well, having fallen victim to it himself in his bout with Josh Koscheck.
Throughout the weeks leading up to their meeting at UFC 106, the talkative TUF 1 alum repeated the same refrain: he was going to stand with the Johnson, beat the striker at his own game. When the fight began, Koscheck wrestled Johnson to the ground, and kept him there throughout the first round, before submitting him with a rear naked choke in the second.
“I took that from him. I learned a lesson from the Koscheck fight. Don’t fall into the hype; that’s what you don’t do. You don’t believe everything somebody says they’re going to do. That’s what makes you a mixed martial artist — being prepared in every aspect of the game.
“When I fought Koscheck, he said he was going to bang with me and I was ready to bang, then all of a sudden he took me down. He used my weakness against me. Now it’s to the point where I’m training for all aspects, and I learned a lesson from him.”
Saturday night, Johnson returns to the Octagon for the first time since defeating Hardy, taking on Charlie Brenneman, a rising divisional star coming off the biggest win over his career back in June. The 9-3 Johnson was actually supposed to headline that event opposite the man Brenneman eventually replaced, Nate Marquardt, but a shoulder injury forced him to the sidelines.
“The shoulder is great; I haven’t had any problems with it at all this training camp,” reported Johnson, speaking with Heavy MMA earlier in the month. “I feel 100-percent. I haven’t had any injuries at all this training camp, thank God, knock on wood. I’ll be ready to show up and battle.”
You can’t blame Johnson for uttering the superstitious cliche; he has a history of getting hurt, usually at inopportune times.
“With this sport, injuries are going to come no matter what. Yeah, I’ve had injuries where there were really important fights and stuff like that — I don’t know what’s wrong with my body or my luck, something always happens when I have a really big fight coming up. But that’s the way that God wanted it, so I’m not complaining because it is what it is; I can’t change it.”
Healthy? Check. Weight?
“Oh no — I’m on point. I feel good. I have no worries; I’m gonna make weight,” Johnson answered, chasing his words with another round of booming laughter. He knew the inevitable question was coming. “It’s always going to be a topic; for the rest of my life it’s going to be a topic.”