Anthony Johnson says his recent “distractions” are behind him. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Although he was nearly 5,000 miles away from the warm weather and sun-splashed beaches of his Florida training home, Anthony Johnson seemed thrilled to be in chilly Stockholm on Tuesday.
The massive light heavyweight, in Sweden to promote his UFC on Fox 14 headlining bout against Alexander Gustafsson, was generally effusive in his praise of the locale. Despite the cold, near-constant darkness and distance away from home, “Rumble” nonetheless found his preview of the Nordic country to be a pleasant change of pace.
“It’s cold. I’m used to the Florida weather, it’s 80-85 degrees and a beach. It’s cold here and no beach. You wake up at 11 and it’s dark by 2:30-3 -- I’m not used to it,” Johnson said during a pre-fight press conference . “The people here are really relaxed and calm. The pace here is just mellow. The food is awesome, but I’m trying to keep this physique.
“So far everybody here is so respectful, and I appreciate that. That’s what makes you really want to come here and put on a show for the fans because everybody is so respectful,” he continued. “This fight here to me is awesome. I’m speechless because I’ve never been in a place like this that’s so chill in an arena that’s so awesome and people that are so respectful. That’s what makes me look forward to it.”
That Johnson was even able to discuss usual pre-fight fodder such as weight -- a popular topic throughout his career -- instead of troubling domestic violence issues was a major victory for the UFC contender.
Two months ago, Johnson was suspended indefinitely by the promotion after it came to light that the mother of his two children had obtained a restraining order against him due to alleged threats and a history of abuse. The details of the case were disturbing, especially considering that Johnson had already been arrested in 2009 following an altercation with a different woman. Back then, he would plead nolo contendere to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence in 2010 and was sentenced to three years probation, community service and domestic violence counseling.
The latest accusations against Johnson came at time where he had rebuilt a UFC career that had once floundered on the scale as he consistently struggled to squeeze his oversized frame into the welterweight picture.
Fighting at a much more natural 205 pounds, Johnson put together a winning streak outside the Las Vegas-based promotion and then established himself as an intimidating force with dominating triumphs over Phil Davis and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in his return to the Octagon earlier this year. Title contention was in his grasp until the allegations surfaced.
It appeared that Johnson’s second chance in the UFC was slipping away. However, a civil lawsuit against the fighter was dismissed earlier this month. The promotion, which had conducted its own investigation into the matter, reinstated “Rumble” shortly after the ruling.
Johnson broke down when the Gustafsson bout officially became a reality.
“It was a shocker and it was a blessing at the same time. With everything that had happened to me, to get good news like that, you can’t help but cry in a situation like that,” he said. “I was just excited to be able to fight a guy like Alexander. It’s an honor.”
While such a tidy resolution leaves many questions unanswered and seems curiously convenient to the UFC’s cause of building light heavyweight contenders, the man at the eye of the storm has gratefully thrown himself back into the day-to-day routine of the gym.
“Being focused again on my career is a feeling you can’t describe, having the distractions like I had,” he said. “I’m glad that’s behind me now, and I’m moving forward. God puts things in front of you to test you -- to see how you handle it -- and I think I handled that situation well... I’ve won one battle, and hopefully I can win this next battle on Jan. 24.”
The UFC has already announced that the Johnson-Gustafsson winner will receive a 205-pound title shot. It’s unlikely that the ghosts of Johnson’s past will fade away as the glare of the spotlight intensifies. The legal system may say that Johnson’s slate is clean enough to compete, but the possibility of him eventually fighting for a championship is hardly everyone’s feel-good story.
Johnson claims that he isn’t going to let anything distract him now, not with the biggest fight of a rejuvenated career looming on the horizon.
“[The situation] affected me, but it made me focus more on what I need to do with myself as a person and as a fighter. Now I’m focused more than ever in my training and my life,” Johnson said. “So I’m moving straight ahead. I’m not worried about what’s going on to my left; I’m not worried about what’s going on to my right. It’s made me focus more. A focused man is a dangerous man.”