There is no doubt that Anthony Johnson has been on a roll since falling to Daniel Cormier in their bout for the vacant light heavyweight championship at UFC 187.
In a little more than seven minutes of Octagon time, “Rumble” has dispatched Jimi Manuwa, Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira, earning himself a rematch with Cormier on Saturday in the UFC 210 headliner in Buffalo. Johnson started quickly in his first meeting with Cormier, dropping the American Kickboxing Academy product with an overhand right in the early moments of the first round. From there, however, Cormier imposed his will through wrestling en route to winning via rear-naked choke at the 2:39 mark of round three.
Some observers will point to Johnson’s victory over Bader, a former NCAA All-American wrestler at Arizona State University, as a sign of improvement in his overall game. Cormier says that fight, which ended via knockout 1:26 into the first round, is hardly indicative of some kind of wholesale change to Johnson’s approach.
“Ryan Bader shot from halfway across the Octagon. They said, ‘Fight’ and before Ryan Bader could meet Anthony in the middle of the Octagon, he shot,” Cormier said. “What people are missing is Anthony Johnson was never a bad wrestler. He always could wrestle and defend takedowns. Anthony is a junior college national champion wrestler. He’s not a bad wrestler. Nobody ever though he was a bad wrestler. I never said he can’t wrestle. He obviously can defend takedowns; he defended a lot of my takedowns. I never questioned that.”
There is some truth in Cormier’s words. While “DC” did take Johnson down three times in their first bout, “Rumble” also successfully defended five other attempts. Johnson also displayed some wrestling prowess against Manuwa, taking the British slugger down twice in the opening stanza before finishing his foe with an overhand right 28 seconds into the second frame. Still, Cormier hasn’t seen anything that leads him to believe Johnson will do something different when they square off in the Octagon at the Keybank Center on Saturday.
“We talk about him being a completely different fighter. I don’t know what you guys are basing this on,” Cormier said. “He beat Jimi Manuwa, he took him down. Of course he’s gonna take Jimi Manuwa down. He’s a wrestler and Jimi Manuwa can’t wrestle. Then you’re talking about him and Ryan Bader. If I would’ve shot on Anthony from across the Octagon, he would’ve done the same thing to me. He fought for a total of seven minutes since him and I fought, but he’s this completely different fighter. I have no idea where you guys are getting this from.”
With that in mind, Cormier still believes Johnson has one path to victory against him.
“He has no doubt in his mind if he doesn’t knock me out he’s not gonna win,” Cormier said.
It’s a familiar path for Johnson, who has finished 16 of his 22 professional victories by knockout or technical knockout. However, the 33-year-old implies that he might have a few tricks up his sleeve that Cormier isn’t expecting.
“He [Cormier] told the truth about Bader. He told the truth about how long I’ve been in the cage since him and I fought,” Johnson said. “So, that’s about the only thing that he said that was correct.”
Cormier is Johnson’s only loss in his last 13 bouts. A championship victory would cement his spot as one of the sport’s top light heavyweights. Whether that involves becoming a different fighter against Cormier remains to be seen.
“My mentality is go out there and do my best. Do what I have to do to win. Just be myself . Do my thing,” Johnson said. “The cards are going to fall where they’re supposed to. So I’m not really worried about anything.”