Anthony “Rumble” Johnson has been mulling about a comeback. Of course, fans were excited about the prospect of watching one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC compete again. Now Rumble is back but his return has taken a different turn.
ESPN reported that sources have confirmed that Johnson will be back in action next year. However, he won’t be returning to the UFC but will be fighting in a new home at Bellator MMA:
Anthony “Rumble” Johnson has mutually parted ways with the UFC and has agreed to terms with Bellator, sources told @arielhelwani.
Johnson is expected to sign his deal imminently and compete as a light heavyweight in the first half of 2021. pic.twitter.com/UJvXkkjGFW
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) December 9, 2020
The report was later confirmed by Bellator boss Scott Coker who posted this on his social media account:
— Scott Coker (@ScottCoker) December 9, 2020
Making a Comeback
Rumble retired after losing via submission to Daniel Cormier at UFC 210 on April 18, 2017. After the fight, Johnson announced his retirement inside the cage. In three-plus years outside the Octagon, he ventured into the medical marijuana business and was employed as an ambassador for Bare Knuckle FC. His physical appearance changed drastically as he put on weight. But the story didn’t end there.
— Scott Coker (@ScottCoker) December 9, 2020
Earlier this year, Johnson teased about making a comeback to the UFC this year. He was posting weight details in his social media accounts, keeping his fans in the loop by hinting at the divisions he wants to target. In one post, Johnson took a photo of his progress and captioned it “Going back down to 170lbs”. Obviously, going back to welterweight was a joke. But not the comeback.
In August of last year, Rumble talked about re-entering the USADA drug-testing pool which was a prerequisite for a UFC return.
Despite initial rumors that he was going to move up to the heavyweight division, he was determined to make a comeback at the 205-pound weight class. In October 2019, he confirmed that he was in talks with the UFC management for a possible April 2020 return. The pandemic delayed his plans. Rumble re-entered the pool in late August, making him eligible to fight again in February 2021.
Johnson was the UFC’s no. 1 ranked light heavyweight at the time of his retirement. He was well known for his brutal knockout power and intimidating presence inside the UFC Octagon. Rumble has the most “sub-minute” knockouts in UFC history with 5. He had a record of 5-2 with five knockouts during his second tenure with the UFC. He was a two-time light heavyweight title challenger during that run but lost both title fights via submission to Daniel Cormier.
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) August 27, 2019
Rumble was a National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association national champion wrestler. After three fights in the regional circuit, he was signed by the UFC. He started his career with a 2-2 UFC record then won three straight fights. He went 2-2 against with submission losses to Josh Koscheck and Vitor Belfort. He was released by the UFC for repeatedly missing weight.
Outside the UFC, he won six straight bouts, four by knockout, at Titan FC and the WSOF promotions. He earned a second stint at the UFC and that was when he made two runs at the title. Johnson has a record of 22-6 with 16 knockouts. His last five wins were by knockout and each of them earned him Performance of the Night honors.
An Exciting Development
While he has been away from the sport for three years, ring rust may not be that much of an issue for Rumble Johnson. He has been training since last year and has been posting these videos on his Instagram account. While he is already 36 years old, he still looks fantastic, and given his freak knockout power, he will always have a shot at winning fights.
Daniel Cormier: ‘Rumble’ Johnson, Not Jon Jones, Next for 205-Pound Title Shot https://t.co/tPHT1Tsfdy pic.twitter.com/574BEGOWlt
— Sherdog by Mandatory (@sherdogdotcom) August 23, 2016
From a sporting perspective, this is an exciting development. There’s a series of possible opponents waiting for Johnson at his hew home. The names of Linton Vassell and the newly-acquired Corey Anderson would be great matchups for Johnson. Then there are possible rematches with former UFC contemporaries and former Bellator champions Phil Davis and Ryan Bader.
Rumble defeated Phil Davis in a three-round decision at UFC 174 in 2014 while he sensationally knocked out Bader in a Performance of the Night winning effort in January 2016. Bader lost the Bellator light heavyweight title to Vadim Nemkov earlier this year. Given Johnson’s reputation, he may need just one win over any of those names to get a shot at the Bellator light heavyweight title.