Anthony Johnson demonstrated his punching power on Saturday. | File photo: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones needed five grueling rounds to defeat Alexander Gustafsson in their epic encounter at UFC 165.
Anthony Johnson made the same task look far simpler on Saturday night, as he put the lanky Swede away a little more than two minutes into their headlining bout at UFC on Fox 14 at Tele2 Arena in Stockholm. Not only did Johnson emphatically end the notion of a Jones-Gustafsson rematch, he also firmly established himself as an intriguing challenger to the reigning 205-pound king.
Johnson himself is well aware of the difference between how he and Jones fared against a common opponent. He also believes he brings something special to the table, a different level of knockout power that “Bones” has yet to encounter in a fight.
“I think I’ll be the hardest puncher he’s ever faced, and he’s faced a lot of top-quality guys,” Johnson said at the post-fight press conference. “Hopefully I can just do things that nobody else has done to him. Alex gave him the worst beating he’s ever had.
“Hopefully I can give him one 10 times worse.”
Johnson’s power was on full display against Gustafsson. The course of the bout was permanently altered when the Blackzilians representative sent “The Mauler” to a knee with an overhand right. Gustafsson instantly went into retreat mode, but Johnson kept the pressure on and eventually dropped his foe with an uppercut near the fence.
A brutal barrage of ground-and-pound followed, and while referee Marc Goddard gave Gustafsson every opportunity to regain his senses, Johnson would not be denied. Several more heavy right hands under the Swede’s armpit brought an end to the title eliminator bout 2:15 into the opening round.
While Johnson says he was confident that he could finish Gustafsson inside of a round, he was concerned about allowing the Alliance MMA product to find a rhythm.
“My game plan was just to pressure and make him fight my kind of fight,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t let him get comfortable because once he starts doing his Ali shuffle, you know it’s about to be a long night for you.”
It was an emotional post-fight scene for both main event combatants. While the disappointing defeat moved Gustafsson to tears, Johnson was in a state of disbelief.
“It just didn’t seem real. I was like, ‘I can’t believe I just beat the guy who, in my opinion, beat Jon Jones.’ I was just in a state of shock. Nobody’s ever stopped Alexander before. I was just speechless,” he said.
“Rumble” also felt empathy for Gustafsson. Once upon a time, Johnson was an overblown welterweight whose struggles on the scale eventually led to his UFC release. After stints in Titan FC and World Series of Fighting, Johnson has looked rejuvenated in the Octagon at 205 pounds, adding his win over Gustafsson to dominant triumphs over Phil Davis and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
However, Johnson still remembers what it’s like to feel the sting of disappointment, which is why he didn’t take any joy in his opponent’s misery.
“I felt really bad; I saw him crying,” he said. I know how it is. You have a goal and something gets in the way. I felt this pain before. I guess I’m human. I just felt bad for -- I can’t say ending his goal -- but he didn’t reach his goal.”
Jones, meanwhile, had a different take. The champion wrote on Twitter that he was “not impressed” by Gustafsson on Saturday night. As he is known to do, Jones deleted the tweet moments later.
Johnson doesn’t harbor the same animosity toward Jones that UFC 182 foe Daniel Cormier did -- “I never come into a fight with any type of emotion,” he said -- but it also seems that he wasn’t especially fond of Jones’ post-fight reaction.
“This world is screwed up. In my opinion, when somebody’s down, people always want to step on you and keep you down,” Johnson said.
“Nobody really wants to help you up. Jon is who he is. He’s got bigger things to worry about than Alex.”