When certain athletes undergo a career rejuvenation of sorts, it often takes some fans by surprise. In some cases, the athlete changes up the way they train, usually by bringing in people who specialize in unique training methods or altering their diet in some respect. This holds especially true for athletes in mixed martial arts, who understand that every opportunity can and will have potential to alter their careers in some way, shape, or form, though the brunt of career resurgences in MMA often come from simply fighting closer to one’s natural weight class.

For example, let’s look at Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. He spent the majority of his first UFC run as a welterweight. Johnson experienced clear struggles with making the 171 pound limit, which ultimately cost him his job in the UFC. Then, after some time in World Series of Fighting, Johnson got the call to fight Phil Davis, who was surprisingly overwhelmed by Johnson’s takedowns in their UFC 172 bout. Of course, just a few months back, Johnson followed up that win over Davis with a strong finish over PRIDE legend Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

Fast forward to now, and all of a sudden, Johnson finds himself just a few wins away from knocking on the door for a shot at the UFC light heavyweight championship, regardless of whether reigning champion Jon Jones can retain the belt at UFC 182, when he faces undefeated former Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier.

When it comes to “Rumble” and his rise to the apex of the UFC light heavyweight ranks, it certainly seems like Johnson is an untouchable force of nature. If all goes according to plan, he may face the likes of Ryan Bader, Glover Teixeira, and Alexander Gustafsson, all of whom have made their case for the next shot at the winner of the Jones-Cormier title fight.

At this point, Johnson can get either Bader and Teixeira, and while both men would not be easy fights for Johnson, they would still be winnable fights for him.

Gustafsson, on the other hand, unquestionably stands the best chance of derailing what we’d like to call the “Rumble Express.” Like Johnson, Gustafsson battled Davis at one time, though Gustfasson would end up losing to “Mr. Wonderful”. Since the loss, however, Gustafsson has been a force of nature in himself as well, and for him, the journey towards the light heavyweight title culminated with his UFC 165 thriller with Jones. Although many found outrage in the outcome of the bout, which ended in a unanimous-decision win for Jones, even some of Gustafsson’s critics admitted that nobody gave Jones as tough a fight as he did.

Simply put, Gustafsson’s overall skill-set stands in a league above anyone not named Jones. This means that he can exploit holes in Johnson’s game that many might have overlooked, not only in the grappling department—where Johnson has lost by submission before—but also in the striking department. At his core, Johnson is a feared striker because he throws more than just punches when he hunts for knockout. But when he struggles to wear a man down, it leaves him looking for just one big shot.

Anyone who ever looked for just one shot against Gustafsson, from Matt Hamill to Vladimir Matyushenko, all the way down to Jimi Manuwa,  have all paid for it either by a flurry of strikes or by tapping out. Not to say Johnson cannot take Gustafsson down, but it will prove difficult for Johnson to take someone with Gustafsson’s takedown defense to the ground and control him there, if the two should ever compete.

Of course, this potential fight may hinge more on Gustafsson than Johnson. Remember, if you will, that “The Mauler” planned on seeing his rematch with Jones at UFC 178, but an injury forced Gustafsson from the bout. When Jones got injured and had to pull out of his bout with Cormier, also booked for UFC 178, the fight got moved to UFC 182, much to Gustafsson’s chagrin. As a result, Gustafsson may elect to wait for the next title shot, though UFC president Dana White might have other plans.

Either way, this would serve as a tough outing for both men, even if the odds went against Johnson. Still, a tough test from Gustafsson does not necessarily mean that Johnson could not win this fight. After all, while few ever doubted his chances against Nogueira, even fewer expected him to win as much as a round against Davis.

Without a second thought, some would likely write Johnson off before the fight got signed. Crazy as it may seem, though, maybe Johnson wants that fight. It may prove even sweeter when that fight comes and the “Rumble Express” keeps moving forward at the expense of the man that made the champ look mortal.

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.

  • Jason Schielke

    Right now, I like Rumble’s chances against anyone in the division, Including Gus and Jones. He looks horrifying at 205.