Less than a year and a half ago, Anthony Johnson was competing in the UFC’s 170-pound division. And thriving. His October 2011 TKO of Charlie Brenneman was his fifth victory in six outings and earned him a bonus check as Knockout of the Night.
The man known as “Rumble” was moving on up. In more ways than one.
He’d seen success inside the octagon all right, but he’d struggled in the other venue so vital to mixed martial arts: the scale. Johnson twice had weighed in above the welterweight limit. So he moved to middleweight for his next fight … and missed the limit by 11 pounds. A promising future with the sport’s top promotion came to a screeching halt.
Johnson eventually found a home in the brand-new World Series of Fighting … in the light heavyweight division. Back in November, in the promotion’s first event, Johnson stopped a 205-pounder, D.J. Linderman, as if he were a lightweight, dropping him in the first round.
On to bigger and better things?
Well, bigger, anyhow. Johnson headlined Saturday night’s second WSOF event in Atlantic City, N.J., by getting the better of Andrei Arlovski -- who as a 34-year-old journeyman is a mere shadow of the UFC heavyweight champion he once was -- via unanimous, if uninspiring, decision.
The bout did have its moments early on, as the fighters traded shots in the first round until Johnson (15-4) dropped the Belarusian just before the end of the round and pounced. He was on the verge of ending the fight when the horn sounded.
It would have been better for both guys, not to mention the fans, if “Rumble” had finished the job right then. The two rounds that followed were tedious slow motion, with Arlovski (19-10) putting forth little offense and Johnson mysteriously settling for clinches and takedowns.
The explanations came afterward, when Johnson complained of an injured hand and Arlovski’s team said its fighter suffered a broken jaw in the first round. One could quibble that neither injury explains the two empty gas tanks we watched lumbering around the cage for the better part of the final 10 minutes. But since Johnson and Arlovski were injured, we'll simply say they were warriors. That didn’t make their fight pleasant to watch, though.
Apparently it wasn’t so pleasant even for the winning fighter. “The man hits like a ton of bricks,” Johnson said afterward, in reiterating his earlier statements that the heavyweight bout was a one-time departure from his home at light heavy. “These guys like Andrei Arlovski are too big for Anthony Johnson.”