Friday, January 13, 2012

UFC 142: Worth the Weight

Anthony "Rumble" Johnson will enter the Octagon as a middleweight for the first time in his career. 
EDITOR'S NOTE: This was written hours before Anthony Johnson failed to make weight for UFC 142 by coming in 11 pounds over the required weight of 186 pounds for a non-title middleweight fight. Johnson's camp insists he was not able to make weight due to an illness, but with so many past indiscretions it's hard to accept this as true. By request of Vitor Belfort, the fight would go on so long as Johnson weighed in at under 205 pounds on fight day. He made that weight, then went on to gas and be subbed by Vitor in the 1st round of their fight. 

Now, I'm a big Rumble Johnson fan. I think he has the tools to be exciting and fun and maybe a champ. But with all of this nonsense, a poor showing, and now reports he has been released by the UFC, I can only wish him well. The UFC has a history of being forgiving, so maybe we'll see him soon. But in the meantime, get your act together, Rumble.

The last event the UFC had in Brazil was the first in a couple decades. They return only a couple of months later to Rio and UFC 142: Aldo v Mendes. While there isn't he same fanfare as when Anderson Silva was headlining, true to geographic form, the UFC has put several other high profile Brazilians on the card.

And if you are Brazilian, you probably want to be on this card not only to fight in front of your home country, but also because every Brazilian won on the previous card (every fight was a finish as Brazilian).

There is definitely an energy that Brazilians took to the fight, and that will be the same when MMA legend and Rio native Vitor Belfort takes the ring on Saturday night. However, when his opponent is in there to meet him, Vitor may need to double check with his manager to make sure he is indeed scheduled to fight at 185 lbs.

The reason odds makers and experts are picking Anthony "Rumble" Johnson, the middleweight debutant, is because middleweight is probably where Johnson should have been fighting all along.

At 6'2 and a self-proclaimed lover of the night life and a good fast food burger, Johnson made or tried to make it a habit to shed nearly 55 pounds from his walking around weight to fight at the welterweight limit (170 lbs.). The physical toll on his body didn't necessarily show in the ring as he has a 10-3 record with enough KO finishes that he could lend some out to Jon Ftich. But in the biggest fight of his career against Josh Koscheck, the Dublin, GA raised Johnson had trouble keeping up with the lighter and endurance filled wrestling style of Kos. Something he would only see more of  at 170 if he had hopes of earning a title.

Along with that, Johnson also missed weight numerous times which resulted in KO's for him, but a lighter purse. Combined with a smaller pay day, Johnson has been injury prone. Some freakish like an eye poke and unrelated to weight cuts, but others like damaged knees could very well lend itself to arduous calorie dumping and weakening the body only to blow it back up again.

When the UFC gave him this opportunity to fight Vitor as a co-main event at 185, Rumble said he had to take it. What may have started as a guest spot at 185 could be his permanent home.

Being able to train with his Blackzilians camp in Florida and walk around at 215-225 lbs and only worry about dropping 40ish as opposed to 55 put Johnson at ease. All reports from camp indicate that his healthy, happy, and in the best shape of his life. Cardio shouldn't be an issue for the former collegiate wrestler, and the fatigue and stress associated with not only losing the weight pre-fight but re-hydrating post-fight will be a mere formality aside from the gigantic burden it used to be.

The fact that Rumble is favored is surprising, but the reasoning is all there. At 170 Johnson was always going to be extremely heavier than his opponent, which showcased his power and strength. At 185 he will more than likely always be bigger and stronger than his opponent, but now he'll be healthy and not have to worry about the excessive wrestling (except for Chael of course) that runs the welterweight division. The middleweight class is built on heavy hands and clean, smooth striking. Rumble has that.

Staying close to Vitor shouldn't be in anyone's game plan, but if Rumble is as ready as he says he is, there's no reason to think he can't have his way at 185 and become a threat in the division. He will face a steep challenge in Vitor, but should he come out in decisive fashion, we can let Yoshiyuki Yoshida finally sleep soundly at night that Rumble won't be in his town anymore. He's moved on to bigger and better things.

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