Anthony “Rumble” Johnson’s return to the UFC is a story very few people saw unfolding as it has. After a failed first stint that saw him miss weight a few times while primarily attempting to compete as a welterweight, Johnson now finds himself in the heat of the chase for light heavyweight gold.

Rumble dispatched of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in just under a minute at UFC on Fox 12 to secure a second victory in his return. Now, the 30-year-old light heavyweight has two wins under his belt—one of which is a big victory over top-10 fighter Phil Davis.

It was hard to see the success coming for Johnson, despite the tear he went on after leaving the UFC in 2012. Rumble sees himself on an eight-fight winning streak. He is at the point now where we can start talking about just how much more he has to do to get a shot at the belt.

In his eight-fight winning streak Johnson has looked great, even as he continued to bounce around weight classes. The fact that he even went to heavyweight and beat former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski is a feat in and of itself, especially considering the recent revitalization of Arlovski’s career.

Johnson has always been a great fighter. There was never any doubt around that. The problem with him was always the question of whether he could make weight. After a stint at welterweight, followed by a short stretch at middleweight, the 30-year-old has found his home at 205 pounds.

Johnson’s UFC release in 2012 proved to be a saving grace for the fighter. It allowed him to truly find himself as a fighter and figure out that he was competing in the wrong weight class. Without that release, Johnson might have stuck around at welterweight and been one of the middling fighters who lingers around the top 10, but never breaks the hump. He also would have continued his battle with the scales, further marring his career.

Instead, Johnson has somehow become better and more efficient in knocking out his opponent. Going up in weight hasn’t hindered anything. Instead, it has only enhanced his skills. His power has become much more of a threat now.

Yet, a win over Nogueira is not what it used to be. “Lil’ Nog” isn’t the same fighter he was several years ago. He has been battling injuries and stands on the wrong side of 30 years old. That win alone doesn’t mean what it did would have against a prime Nogueira, but when coupled with the win over Davis, it goes to solidify Johnson as a legitimate title contender just waiting to unfold.

Rumble needs a couple more wins under his belt before he can be deemed worthy of fighting for the title, and those wins need to come against top-10 fighters. Having fought guys like Josh Koscheck, Dan Hardy and Vitor Belfort, Johnson has the experience to know he is capable of the challenge of that climb to the top.

Johnson is an exciting fighter who has what it takes to hang around the top of the light heavyweight division. Now, we can start looking at the top guys of the division to start really assessing just where he belongs and how good he really has become.

If the UFC wants to go in a direction to truly please and entertain fans, then a fight with Glover Teixeira should be the next step in seeing if Rumble is capable of being a No. 1 contender. Both guys will swing and try to decapitate each other, and it will be a fight no fan wants to miss. It would be raw knockout power versus raw knockout power.

Johnson is certainly capable of making the climb up the ladder, and it’s all thanks to his UFC release two years ago. If it wasn’t for the UFC’s decision to part ways with Johnson in 2012, things could be totally different now. We could be talking about a welterweight Johnson missing weight yet again. Instead, we get a new, improved Johnson. He is a fighter who has seized his opportunity and turned his release into a shining example for other fighters who have been cut. Now, we have Johnson on the cusp of returning to the top, just waiting for that next step, and if his release and comeback has shown us anything, it’s that Johnson will knock out that opportunity.

About The Author

Sal DeRose
Staff Writer

Sal hails from New Jersey and is currently training for his first MMA fight. He hopes to use his knowledge and insight to generate articles that interest and entertain you. Outside of MMA, Sal is a big fan of every other sport. He's a diehard New York sports fan, with the exception of cheering for the Packers.