Anthony Johnson may be on the verge of becoming the biggest free agent on the MMA market. “Rumble” is heading into the last fight of his World Series of Fighting contract against Mike Kyle at this weekend’s WSOF 8 event, and barring an upset victory for Kyle, Johnson could leave WSOF in the middle of a six-fight winning streak. Considering that Johnson also has some much-needed name value to go along with his talent, it wouldn’t be surprising if all three major MMA organizations threw their hats in for the “Rumble” sweepstakes.

Since finding his niche as a light heavyweight—and occasional heavyweight—fighter over the last few years, Johnson has finally started to look like the competitor that his talent has always hinted at. After years spent in the UFC trying, and often failing, to cut sometimes north of 50 pounds in order to make the welterweight limit, Johnson was released from the promotion after a bungled attempt to move up in weight to the middleweight division. It was tough to fault the UFC for releasing the fighter after his numerous infractions on the scale, and when Johnson again missed the middleweight limit in his first fight outside of the Octagon, it looked like Zuffa had made the right call.

Then, “Rumble” decided to stop cutting ridiculous amounts of weight and start getting real. Since moving up to 205 pounds and beyond, Johnson is an impressive 4-0, with a couple of solid performances under his belt. If he adds a fifth straight impressive win to that total against Kyle this weekend, his value is only going to go up.

Assuming that all three major MMA players—the UFC, Bellator and Johnson’s current employer, the WSOF—go after Johnson, he will have three very different options following his fight this weekend.

The first, and most high profile, would be to resign with the UFC after his two-year stint away from the promotion. The UFC has given its fair share of second chances over the years, and since “Rumble” has proven he’s been able to make 205 on at least two separate occasions thus far, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Zuffa brass throw an offer at Johnson.

Outside of the top tier of fighters in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, the rest of the weight class is struggling for talent at the moment, and “Rumble” would be a welcome addition to the roster. Fights with everyone from Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to Jimi Manuwa would be available for Johnson over the next few years, and he would have the opportunity to compete at the highest level of the sport once again.

The main obstacle between Johnson and a UFC contract would likely come down to dollar amounts. Although the UFC could certainly afford to break the bank for “Rumble,” it’s doubtful that the promotion is going to hand over its checkbooks to a fighter that it has already given up on once.

Bellator or the WSOF may not have the same reservations, and since Johnson has already made it clear that he’ll “go where the money is,” the odds of him entering the Octagon in the near future definitely take a hit. There’s always the off chance that Johnson decides to forgo a chunk of change in order to compete under the bright lights of the UFC, but it will be tough to take a pay cut on what may easily be one of Johnson’s last big contracts as a professional fighter.

If Johnson decides to take the money and run, he still has two very viable options in front of him with Bellator and the WSOF.

A move to Bellator would give Johnson some Spike TV exposure to go along with his contract, and it would also allow Bellator to bring in a fighter who’s been featured on Spike countless times before. Over half of Johnson’s 11 UFC bouts aired on the cable network, and outside of a loss due to an accidental eye poke, “Rumble” has never been defeated on Spike airwaves. With high-profile fights against guys like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Tito Ortiz looking like very realistic options for Johnson upon signing with Bellator, the Blackzilians product could earn some solid opportunities while competing under the Bellator banner.

However, if a world title is what Johnson’s after, Bellator may not be the best spot for a fighter with known weight-cutting difficulties. The insanely paced schedule for the fighters in the Bellator tournaments doesn’t allow for a whole lot of weight fluctuation in between bouts, and that could be a problem for Johnson. Even while fighting at 205, Johnson is still forced to cut a bit of weight, and it may be too much to ask of his body to try to get on weight for three fights in three months. It’s possible that Johnson could walk into Bellator and be the promotion’s most talented 205er, but the tournament format doesn’t favor “Rumble” making it to the belt without incident.

Before Johnson can even consider taking his talents to another organization, he needs to finish out his current contract with WSOF, and there’s no doubt that the promotion’s chief, Ray Sefo, and company are going to try to resign their most popular light heavyweight. And for what Johnson is looking for, staying at home may be the answer. The World Series of Fighting promotion is still growing, but it doesn’t have any major names on its roster to which it is currently forced to give massive amounts of money. As one of the two or three biggest stars in the company, “Rumble” may be able to walk away with a decent contract a bit easier with the WSOF than he would with Bellator or the UFC. Throw in that the WSOF has offered an immediate title shot to the winner of Johnson’s fight with Kyle this weekend, and “Rumble” could walk out of WSOF 8 with a new contract and a crack at the belt if he chooses.

Sure, the WSOF may not be on par with the UFC or even Bellator quite yet, but the promotion has been doing its best to make some noise in the MMA world over the last year and has had some reassuring results. The promotion has built two budding stars under its banner with Marlon Moraes and Nick Newell over the course of its seven events, and the recent proposal to set up a super card with Bellator made waves in the MMA scene. Obviously, there’s the chance that things don’t work out the way that the WSOF has planned and it remains the clear-cut No. 3 promotion in the United States, but it at least made an effort to break into the conversation with the big guns.

As long as “Rumble” is able to get by Kyle this weekend, he should at least field some offers from all three of the major MMA organizations. There’s a serious lack of talent in the light heavyweight division for all of the major players right now, and for the UFC or Bellator, adding Johnson would be a solid option to help bolster the division. For the WSOF, losing Johnson would be a tough blow to recover from, and “Rumble” is likely a fighter for which the promotion will be willing to put up a fight.

In the end, though, the ball will be in Johnson’s court, and ultimately he’ll decide where he’s ready to “Rumble” next.

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.

  • Betting BiG

    Rumble by KO