As the MMA world mourns the loss of Anthony "Rumble" Johnson, let's take a look back at his unforgettable career and its ten most defining moments
Mixed martial arts fans were shocked and saddened to see headlines this past Sunday as the world heard about 38-year-old Anthony "Rumble" Johnson's untimely passing.
The former two-time UFC title challenger was known for his ridiculous knockout power and athleticism, an imposing figure that struck fear into his opponents yet by all accounts was an extremely caring and considerate man outside of the cage. This can be seen by all the fighters (including past opponents), training partners, coaches, friends, and fans of Rumble that have been sharing their first-hand experiences with Johnson on social media following the news of his passing.
Anthony last competed in May of 2021 in his debut bout for Bellator, after having retired from the sport in 2017 to pursue the launch of a CBD oil venture called Competitive Body Development. A victory there saw him earn a spot in the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix semi-finals, but Johnson would be forced out of the tournament due to an undisclosed illness.
That cancelled fight marked the first time fans became aware that Johnson was battling health issues; though Johnson kept his health problems out of the public eye right up until his premature passing, it would post-humously be revealed that he had been suffering from hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (a severe autoimmune disease that causes hyperinflammation) and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer.
As would be revealed by his friend and former training partner Kamaru Usman, he didn't discuss his illnesses publicly because he didn't want people to treat him differently, or to see him losing so much weight and going through such a tough situation.
One of the only messages Johnson had posted publicly about his health was back in September of last year, which came in the form of an Instagram post asking for prayers as he was battling a health issue that was not COVID related. Little else would be revealed over the coming months about what he had or went through, but a positive turn came in May of this year as Rumble posted that he heard good news from his doctor, noting that he had made big improvements and was given a clean bill of health.
It wasn't until October that fans would learn that Rumble was back in the hospital and according to his manager Ali Abdelaziz, was "not doing well". Without any further updates, just weeks later the world would learn of Johnson's passing.
The news shocked everyone in the MMA community, and while many people knew he was dealing with health issues, no one expected Rumble to pass away so young.
Scott Coker, CEO of Bellator MMA, would even state this week that he was talking with Johnson just a few months ago, relaying that he was in good spirits and was even getting excited about coming back to the cage, indicating that his health must have taken a rather drastic turn for the worse very recently.
Whether he was misdiagnosed, something else caused his ailments to worsen, or other prior health issues also played a factor, no one seems to know, and fans may never get the answers to those questions depending on what his family wishes to disclose.
While the MMA community as a whole joins Anthony's family and friends in mourning a great man who was taken way too soon, what better way to pay tribute to Anthony than to celebrate the many great memories he has given the sport and its fans over the course of his career?
Please join me in taking a walk down memory lane and remembering the finest moments in the career of a man they called Rumble.
Rumble Enters the Big Show in Style
vs. Chad Reiner @ UFC Fight Night 10, June 12 2007
Anthony Johnson was first introduced to mixed martial arts when he was just 20 years old after a friend suggested he try it given his wrestling background and physicality.
While being raised by his grandparents in Georgia, Johnson wrestled his way to a scholarship for Lassen College in Susanville, California, where he would become a junior college national freestyle wrestling champion at 174 pounds before he sought out the next chapter in his life and found MMA while working as a bouncer in California.
An incredible athlete, Johnson picked things up quickly and soon fell in love with striking given his raw knockout power and explosive speed, his wrestling ability creating a very dangerous double threat for his opponents to have to deal with.
Just two years after he began training he made his professional MMA debut, picking up a 69 second TKO on a regional show in California. His ridiculous power quickly earned him his trademark nickname, "Rumble", as if a strike from the mountain of a man could make the very earth tremble beneath your feet.
A month later he entered a welterweight tournament in Colorado, where he would win two fights (both were only two rounds given the tournament format) by decision in one night to crown himself the tournament champion.
Johnson would then try out for The Ultimate Fighter's sixth season, though ultimately he wasn't picked by producers for the show for reasons unknown - looking back, it's most likely due to the fact that contestants would need to make weight multiple times in a short time frame, something that would be next to impossible for a welterweight as big as Rumble.
Regardless of not making it onto the show, a short notice opportunity would earn Johnson a call up to the UFC anyway at the promotion's tenth Fight Night event on Spike TV, all the way back in 2007.
Taking the fight on just a week's notice, it's a miracle that Johnson was able to make the welterweight limit without more prep time - at a sculpted 6'2, he was absolutely massive for a welterweight and how he ever managed to make 170 pounds has always been a mystery for fight fans, let alone to do so on such short notice.
But make the weight he did, and UFC fans around the world were thus introduced to Anthony "Rumble" Johnson in spectacular fashion.
Few would have picked Johnson to pick up a win at the time given he was facing such a big step up in competition - it was just his fourth pro fight, while his opponent, Chad Reiner, was 13-2 and was coming off of a competitive fight with Josh Burkman for his UFC debut.
Despite the odds, it took Johnson just 13 seconds to dispatch Reiner.
Clipping his overly aggressive opponent with a left hook, Rumble found his opponent wobbled and backed against the cage after the very first exchange. An uppercut just grazed as Reiner thought better of attempting a takedown, but as a result his head came up and right into the path of another Rumble left hook.
The lights went out in Georgia at the moment of impact and Reiner half-faceplanted into the canvas, as stiff as a board as the referee jumped in and saved him from a follow-up shot.
Just like that, there was a new and extremely dangerous threat in the UFC's loaded welterweight division.
Johnson Exacts his Revenge on Kevin Burns
vs. Kevin Burns @ The Ultimate Fighter 8 Finale, December 13 2008
Following his explosive Octagon debut, Rumble's path toward stardom took a few unexpected turns.
Just three months after his debut he would again take a short notice opportunity, this time at UFC 76 against the vastly more experienced Rich Clementi, whose 35-12-1 record stood tall opposite Rumble's meager four cage appearances.
It also marked the first time Johnson would miss weight, something which would unfortunately cause major issues for him in the future - and when he missed, he missed by a lot, as he tipped the scales at 177 pounds, a full six pounds over the welterweight non-title fight limit of 171.
Regardless of the penalty to his fight purse, the fight continued as a catchweight affair and Johnson's meteoric rise seemed destined to continue as he dropped the seasoned vet in the opening minute. Following Clementi to the ground in order to rain down punishment from above, Rumble had to slam his way out of a triangle attempt in order to continue dropping bombs on his hurt opponent, but Clementi's experience and durability paid off as he was able to weather the early storm.
As the fight settled down, Clementi was able to secure a takedown and ground Rumble, but Johnson showed he was no slouch there either as he chased a kimura that enabled him to end the round on top and he scored a few solid shots from inside Clementi's guard.
After a short and rather bizarre time out early in the second due to Johnson losing a contact lens, Johnson knocked Clementi off-balance with a jab as Rich threw a kick, but this time he opted to stay standing rather than follow the more experienced grappler to the mat.
After a rough cut and an action-packed first round took their toll, fatigue began to set in for young Rumble and Clementi began to pour on the pressure, eventually forcing Anthony to go for a takedown to try and catch a breather.
Unfortunately for Rumble, Clementi would soon reverse the position, and in a clear sign of inexperience, Johnson once again pursued the kimura, fully committing to it even after Clementi had adjusted, leading the veteran to take his back and eventually secure a rear-naked choke.
The submission loss marked the first blemish on Johnson's professional career, but given the vast experience gap, the short notice he took the bout on, and his performance leading up to the finish, it was hardly something to hang his head over.
With the benefit of a full camp, Anthony made weight for his next outing opposite Tommy Speer, a 9-2 fighter with a solid wrestling background of his own.
Johnson bounced back from his first career loss with aplomb, easily dispatching Speer in just 51 seconds, stuffing his takedown attempts and rocking him in the first exchange before folding him like a lawn chair with a vicious right hand.
It was then that things took a weird and unfortunate turn. Johnson's next performance would be against the 6-1 Kevin Burns, who we would hammer with vicious shots and score explosive takedowns on at will. To his credit, Burns was tough and managed to survive and extend Rumble into the third round for the first time in his career and made it into a competitive scrap - but not one without controversy.
Throughout the fight, Burns was warned by referee Steve Mazzagatti not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times for eye pokes as he kept extending his fingers into Rumble's eyes while the two were trading blows. Late in the third, with Johnson clearly ahead in the fight, disaster struck as what appeared to be an uppercut sent Johnson flopping to the canvas and covering his eye in agony.
Replays would soon make what happened become clear - as he framed with his left hand, Burns' fingers lodged themselves deeply into Johnson's right eye, the uppercut that followed harmlessly sailing by as it clearly missed Johnson who had instead recoiled in pain from the brutal eye poke.
The flagrant foul resulted in Johnson suffering a cracked retina that would require surgery, but the referee decided to add insult to the injury.
Despite the fact the fight was stopped due to an illegal foul (one in which he was warned for no less than four times, making a DQ the obvious decision), Mazzagatti incredulously awarded Burns with a TKO victory.
The athletic commission upheld the ridiculous ruling even after Johnson's team appealed, leaving a loss on Rumble's record that should at worst be a No Contest; for his part, Burns claimed he wasn't intentionally fouling, but instead a broken hand was making him unable to close his left hand properly which resulted in the eye pokes.
Due to the controversial result, a rematch was deemed necessary once Anthony recovered and once again the two put on a competitive fight, though Johnson's wrestling really separated him from his newfound rival and once again seemed to be the deciding factor heading into the third round. Thankfully in their rematch, his eyes went unharmed and it was Burns that would be taking a trip to the hospital.
Early in the third, Johnson decided a decision wasn't a satisfactory way to end his budding rivalry - and instead he put his opponent away in as emphatic of a fashion as you can imagine.
After using good head movement to avoid several wild swings from Burns, Anthony threw up a nasty lead head kick that clanged off the side of Burns' head, sending his unconscious body crashing to the canvas.
The beautiful finish put his unfortunate saga with Burns in the rear-view mirror so he could get back to his march toward the upper echelon of the UFC's stacked welterweight division.
Rumble Slaughters Poor Charlie Brenneman
vs. Charlie Brenneman @ UFC on Versus 6, October 1 2011
Following his two part series with Kevin Burns, Johnson built up steam with a first round drubbing of the always-tough Luigi Fioravanti that earned him a step up in competition against Matt Brown.
Unfortunately, Brown was forced to withdraw due to injury and instead Johnson faced Yoshiyuki Yoshida at UFC 104, where once again his weight cutting issues reared their ugly head.
Anthony tipped the scales at 176 pounds, a full five pounds over the welterweight limit, and with it being the second weight miss of his UFC career (with both being by a large margin), many questioned if the welterweight division was the correct one for such a massive fighter - especially when he would later reveal he typically had to shed an astonishing 55 pounds in order to make the welterweight limit.
The attention soon turned to the brutal knockout that Johnson delivered instead of his issues on the scale however, as Rumble hurt Yoshida early and proceeded to starch him with a vicious right hand as Yoshida desperately attempted to tie Johnson up in the clinch. The entire fight took just 41 seconds from start to finish.
With a quick victory in hand, Rumble took another short-notice bout less than one month later, this time in a true step up in competition against Josh Koscheck.
Johnson re-assured fans of his committment to welterweight as he was able to make the weight once more, and he started off his bout with the NCAA Division I All-American wrestler extremely well, stuffing Koscheck's takedowns and even rocking him midway through the round with a right hand during a series of wild exchanges that earned the pair "Fight of the Night" honours.
After once again stuffing a takedown, Johnson found himself on top of Koscheck in a sprawl position, where Koscheck repeatedly got up and then put his knees back down in an attempt to jostle for position while keeping himself "downed" in order to not be kneed in the head. As Rumble attempted to time a knee to Koscheck's face when Josh attempted to stand up, he misjudged the timing and instead threw a blatantly illegal knee toward Koscheck's head while both of his knees were down.
Koscheck complained to the ref as he fell backward, the entire crowd convinced he had just eaten a brutal, and illegal, knee to the face. Unfortunately for Koscheck as he flopped around and held his eye, instant replay is a thing, and the replays showed that the knee mostly hit Koscheck's forearm, barely even touching his head in the process, with Johnson's pinky grazing Koscheck's eyelid as he pushed off of him being the only thing that really contacted his eye.
As a result of the much-less-impactful-than-initially-thought foul, no points were taken and the action resumed, but soon after Koscheck was finally able to get Johnson down onto the mat, wearing on the much larger man as the round drew to a close.
The controversy was far from over however, as early in the second round, Rumble would get poked in the eye by Koscheck (Josh would later become rather notorious for this) - likely seeing shades of his past issues against Burns, Rumble looked notably antsy after the poke, and shortly after, during a wild exchange Koscheck would again poke Rumble right in the eye which caused another stoppage in action as the fight devolved into a foul-filled affair.
After a stern warning the action resumed and Koscheck was able to take Johnson down, this time finally managing to establish proper control on the ground, landing heavy ground and pound before eventually taking Rumble's back and securing a rear-naked choke which forced Rumble to tap.
Seeking to bounce back after the second true loss of his career, Rumble's comeback would be postponed after a knee injury kept him out for the entirety of 2010, sidelining him for what would be the longest stretch of inactivity in his entire UFC career.
When he returned early in 2011, he faced off with former title challenger and UK superstar Dan Hardy and put on an excellent performance that was perhaps the most well-rounded of his career up to that point, dropping the British slugger in the opening minute and going on to dominate with his wrestling and powerful ground and pound.
After an injury forced him out of a main event slot against Nate Marquardt, Johnson later took on wrestling standout Charlie Brenneman at UFC on Versus 6, who at the time was 3-1 in the UFC and coming off a win against the surging prospect Rick Story.
From the get-go Brenneman looked desperate for the takedown and Rumble was having none of it, sprawling hard on top of the grappler and landing some rather vicious punches and knees to the body as Brenneman desperately held onto his leg on his hands and knees.
Brenneman would soon be forced to turn to his back and after absorbing some more shots, he was able to momentarily get to his feet, only to be grazed by Rumble's trademark left high kick as he ducked down to shoot in for another takedown.
Brenneman moved wildly in his attempts to avoid getting clubbed while on his knees, eventually standing up only for his unsteady legs to cause him to nearly fall into the fence, his hand on the cage to keep himself upright.
That moment, if he can even remember it, must have been terrifying as all he could do was watch as another Rumble head kick came up and slammed into his face.
The kick sent him right back to the canvas, Mario Yamasaki mercifully stepping in to save the overmatched wrestler from any further damage at the hands of Rumble. It was a good old fashioned one-sided beatdown and one that warned other wrestlers that Rumble wasn't simply going to let them take him down and submit him so easily.
Johnson's Record Weight Miss & Pink Slip from the UFC
vs. Vitor Belfort @ UFC 142, January 14 2012
Unlike the rest of the highlighted moments of Johnson's career, this one was certainly not a good moment for Rumble or his fans and was easily the low-point of his time in the sport, but it was an important experience that ultimately led Johnson down a path which saw him mature as a fighter and got his career into a stable and consistent groove.
Seeking to move up to middleweight after such gruelling cuts to 170 pounds, Johnson earned a crack at top five middleweight Vitor Belfort at UFC 142 to mark his first fight at the higher weight class.
Unfortunately, Johnson foolishly believed he could gain more weight and still cut down to middleweight in less time than before since he'd have an extra 15 pounds to work with - that decision proved to be absolutely disastrous as doctors stopped his extreme weight cut on the day of weigh-ins. Rumble officially weighed in at 197 pounds, a full 11 pounds over the maximum non-title fight allowance 186 pounds.
It was the largest weight miss in UFC history by far and marked his third time missing weight for the UFC (this time in a higher weight class to boot) and he did so in his biggest opportunity to date.
Despite moving up a weight class, Johnson dwarfed Vitor Belfort, who had spent most of his career at 205 pounds and even fought at heavyweight. Rumble quite literally threw the Brazilian legend (who would later become Johnson's teammate in Florida) on his head in the opening seconds of the fight as he managed to catch a kick from the former light heavyweight champion champion.
Though he managed to stay on top for a while, he largely just held position and seemed oddly content to just hold his opponent down, soon being stood up by the ref for inactivity before he immediately shot for another takedown, seemingly intent to not stand and trade with the fast hands of Belfort.
After the fight stalled against the cage and the ref stepped in again, Johnson again desperately shot for a takedown, getting stuffed and eating a solid knee before a mistake from Vitor forced him onto the mat once again.
The ref would again force them back up after the action stalled, and once again a lethargic Rumble dove for a takedown, forced into a sprawl as Vitor stood up and landed a few shots while Johnson waited on his hands and knees for an opportunity to initiate another takedown.
Instead, Vitor smartly jumped on Rumble's back, where he broke down his posture and rained down shots until he could slip his arm under Rumble's chin and lock in a rear-naked choke, forcing the tap and marking Johnson's third submission loss via RNC.
It was a disappointing performance not only in the cage but on the scale as well, and after such a monumental miss combined with his history of weight issues, the UFC opted to cut Johnson from the promotion, stating that he would be welcome back if he could get things together but until then he would have to fight elsewhere.
The loss and the historic weight fiasco, combined with being ousted from the world's premier MMA organization, undoubtedly made his fight at UFC 142 the low point of his career. But Rumble would pick himself up and sort things out eventually, and when he did, he would become one of the most feared men to walk the planet...
Rumble Young Man, Rumble...at Heavyweight?
vs. Andrei Arlovski @ WSOF 2, March 23 2013
After an embarassing ouster from the UFC, Johnson signed with a smaller regional promotion and squared off with a fellow UFC vet in David Branch, a middleweight who was previously in the UFC himself and held a solid record of 10-2 (Branch would later become a two-division champion for the World Series of Fighting).
Again attempting his move to middleweight, the embarassment wasn't over for Rumble, as he again missed weight badly, ultimately weighing 194.2 pounds and forcing another catchweight bout to proceed. Though he rather easily took home a decision victory, the continued weight struggles that derailed his UFC career persisted and seemed like they would forever follow the exceptional athlete no matter where he went in his career.
Instead, Johnson opted to stop messing around and moved up to his natural weight class of light heavyweight (205 pounds), a move that was way overdue and would pay dividends in the long run as he was finally able to maintain his natural weight through fight camps without needing such drastic weight cuts in order to make it to fight night.
Fighting an unheralded fighter in a smaller promotion, Johnson picked up a safe and easy second round TKO coming by way of ground and pound in his debut at 205 pounds. He kept up the momentum by battering another former UFC fighter in Jake Rosholt, rocking him numerous times and opening up a nasty cut before a head kick dropped Rosholt and the referee saved him from further damage.
From there Anthony signed with the World Series of Fighting, where he would face D.J. Linderman. Johnson would hurt Linderman with a series of shots late in round two before an eye poke would hurt Johnson, this time going uncaught by referee Herb Dean who allowed the fight to continue despite Johnson's protest.
Linderman then made the mother of all mistakes by trying to pour pressure on a pissed off Rumble. Johnson stood his ground and threw a right hand straight from the pits of hell, absolutely starching Linderman and sending him face first into the canvas.
Despite his success in his newfound home of light heavyweight, Johnson saw an opportunity to face UFC heavyweight legend Andrei Arlovski and took it, moving up once more to another new division, this time in one where he would face no weight cut whatsoever.
The former welterweight not only held his own way up at heavyweight, but managed to get the better of the former UFC champ en route to a massive right hand that dropped Arlovski late in the opening stanza. He poured it on the turtled heavyweight until the ref stepped in and celebrated as he thought he had finished the fight, only to find out that the referee had stepped in because it was the end of the round.
Saved by the bell, Arlovski (who would later reveal he suffered a broken jaw during that first round) would prove his toughness by battling back and staying competitive with Johnson for the next two rounds, but ultimately he lost a decision as Rumble extended his win streak to five and earned a win in his heavyweight debut.
With his weight issues a thing of the past, Johnson set his sights back on the promotion he once called home.
A Resurgent Rumble Puts the UFC's Light Heavyweights on Notice
vs. Phil Davis @ UFC 172, April 26 2014
For the last fight on his contract with the WSOF, Johnson once again left his victim facedown on the canvas as veteran Mike Kyle opted to charge at Rumble midway through the opening round of their bout, soon kissing the canvas for his efforts.
With six straight victories and his weight now firmly under control fighting up at 205 pounds, the UFC welcomed Johnson back into the Octagon and immediately thrust him into the deep end of the division, pairing him up with a surging 12-1 prospect in Phil Davis.
An NCAA Division I Champion wrestler during his tenure at Penn State, Phil Davis was amongst the best grapplers in the division and his incredible wrestling ability combined with excellent submission skills led many to believe he could impose his will on Rumble, who had previously been outgrappled by Vitor Belfort, Josh Koscheck, and Rich Clementi in lower weight classes.
As a 3-1 favourite, Davis soon found himself dumbfounded at the new and improved version of Anthony Johnson that stood across from him - an imposing figure of muscle and raw power even two full weight classes above what he once competed in, Rumble had matured into a well rounded, confident, and most importantly calm fighter who could follow a game plan.
Using his own wrestling background along with his pure physicality, Rumble stiffled Davis' takedown attempts at every turn, forcing the superior grappler to stay on the feet where he was noticeably uncomfortable facing such a heavy hitter. At range, Johnson easily outstruck his opponent and slammed in heavy uppercuts to deter the wrestler from further shots at his hips.
Johnson also proved he had the stamina to go rounds as he pitched a shutout for the entire 15-minute affair, putting a striking clinic on a heavy favourite whose lone career defeat up until that point came against former champion Rashad Evans.
It may not have ended in explosive fashion like many of his other victories, but his dominance over Phil Davis was one of the best performances of his career and highlighted just how much he had matured as a fighter.
A Rumble that could shut down his opponent's grappling and stay composed for an entire fight? That was something that instilled fear in the hearts of light heavyweights everywhere.
Anthony Johnson Earns a Crack at UFC Gold
vs. Alexander Gustafsson @ UFC on Fox 14, January 24 2015
Entering the top ten following his dominant outing against Phil Davis, Johnson returned in a matchup against aging PRIDE vet Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC on Fox 12.
Although Nogueira was coming off of wins over former champions Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans and was known for his iron chin (like his more famous heavyweight twin brother), there was no doubt that the legend's best days were behind him as he neared his forties. He may have held a name and a deserved spot in the top ten, but to put an aging legend in there with the freight train that was Rumble had fans feeling justifiably uneasy.
Those concerns proved justified as "Lil Nog" was demolished in just 44 seconds, a series of brutal uppercuts marking just the second time in the legendary Brazilian's career he had ever been finished.
The quick finish earned him a contendership fight against former title challenger Alexander Gustafsson on his home turf of Stockholm, Sweden.
Gustafsson had famously gone toe-to-toe with Jon Jones for 25-minutes just over a year prior, with many fans believing he had done enough to earn the decision and take the strap from Jones' waist.
Unfortunately for Gustafsson, the judges saw it differently and he was forced to build himself back up for a rematch, bouncing back with a second round TKO over Jimi Manuwa to put himself right back into title contention.
With his range and striking ability, combined with how well he did against the division's dominant champion, Gustafsson was a considerable favourite heading into their main event showdown on Fox - sadly for him, his home crowd would not be leaving happy that night.
Less than two minutes into their title eliminator clash, Gustafsson threw a front kick that was caught by Johnson, who then threw a vicious overhand right which rocked the durable Swede.
Although he valiantly tried to survive the onslaught coming his way and managed to avoid many fight-ending blows, Rumble was relentless, eventually trapping Gustafsson on the mat and smashing him with brutal shots until the referee stepped in to save the hometown hero.
The stunning victory saw Johnson finally realize his enormous potential as a truly elite fighter and as a result secured him a shot at the light heavyweight title against one Jon "Bones" Jones.
Rumble Drops DC, Nearly Takes the Crown
vs. Daniel Cormier @ UFC 187, May 23 2015
To say fans were excited about the matchup between Rumble and Bones was an understatement - for many, Rumble seemed to be Jones' kryptonite, and many (including myself) still believe that he had all the tools to end the reign of the dominant champion.
Jones always struggled taking down foes that were similar in size, which, combined with his elite takedown defense and raw physicality, was a great sign for Rumble's chances of keeping the fight on the feet.
There, although Jones fought well at range, he had always been hittable and anyone who got hit by Rumble was in very deep trouble - especially someone who relied so heavily on stiff arming and backing straight up when uncomfortable, something that doesn't work nearly as well against a man of similar stature.
The only really concerning thing about the matchup was Jones' affinity for eyepokes - given Johnson's luck when it came to his opponent's trying to gouge his eyes out, and Jones' notoriety for causing such pokes, there was a strong possibility for a disastrous ending to come to fruition.
Unfortunately, the matchup would never come to be as a month before their scheduled showdown, Jones committed a hit-and-run where he collided with another vehicle (breaking a pregnant woman's arm in the process) before fleeing the scene on foot. The incident resulted in the UFC stripping him of his UFC title and suspending him indefinitely (he was later reinstated after about six months), nixing his highly anticipated showdown with Rumble.
In his stead, former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier stepped up to face Johnson for the vacant championship belt. Cormier, who was previously the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion, had just suffered his lone career defeat via decision to Jones in a grudge match; despite Cormier's credentials and stellar record, Johnson closed as a slight favourite, his recent performances convincing fans he was destined to be a champion.
Those thoughts appeared very apt as UFC 187's main event unfolded - just 30 seconds into their title fight, Johnson landed an overhand bomb which sent Cormier flopping to the canvas.
Showing his championship mettle, Cormier got up and managed to tie up his bloodthirsty opponent, surviving the early onslaught before he began to impose his will with his incredible wrestling and clinch game.
As the fight wore on, Cormier's relentless pace and superior grappling proved to be too much for Rumble, who eventually succumbed to another rear-naked choke midway through the third round.
Although he came up short in his first shot at UFC gold, he put up a good fight and became the first man to drop the Olympian and future double-champ. With a few adjustments, it seemed to just be a matter of time before Rumble would be wearing championship gold around his waist.
Johnson Works His Way to Another Shot at Gold
vs. Glover Teixeira @ UFC 202, August 20 2016
Following his failed title bid at UFC 187, Rumble carved a path right through the UFC's light heavyweight division that led straight back to a UFC championship fight.
Everyone that stood in Johnson's way was summarily smited, beginning with Jimi Manuwa, a heavy-handed slugger and knockout artist in his own right.
Johnson dominated Manuwa for the entire first round thanks to his wrestling, mauling him on the ground and forcing the English boxer to fight off of his back. Just 28 seconds into the second stanza, Johnson sent Manuwa home early with a vicious right hand that began a three-fight knockout streak en route to a second showdown with Daniel Cormier.
The next victim of Rumble's knockout spree was Ryan Bader, who at the time was riding a five-fight winning streak and would win his next seven bouts as well. Against Rumble however, he looked like an outright amateur.
If you ever want to see an elite fighter look quite visibly scared of an opponent and proceed to crumble, then take a look at Ryan Bader's 96-second performance against Anthony Johnson.
Just seconds into the bout Bader desperately shot for a takedown. The attempt was the kind of desperation shot you'd expect to see from a fighter that was out of other options while getting mauled on the feet, or was exhausted after getting beat up for rounds - not the kind of thing you'd expect from an NCAA Division I All American wrestler less than ten seconds into a fight in which he had yet to even be touched.
Johnson sprawled hard on the ill-advised attempt and turned to Bader's side, eventually taking Bader's back and flattening him out before dropping bombs on his helpless opponent. It was an easy night at the office for Johnson, and it showed how even top-tier opposition can be intimidated when they're facing an absolute monster like Rumble.
Johnson's final victim would be one Glover Teixeira, a heavy-handed slugger with a similar wrestle-boxing style, paired with a granite chin and the heart of a lion. The Brazilian was riding a three-fight finish streak of his own which included victories over Ovince Saint Preux and Rashad Evans. The fight was expected to be an exciting back-and-forth affair, as Glover was one opponent that wouldn't be scared to throw down even with a man of Rumble's size.
In fact, Glover would against all odds later become a champion in 2021 at the age of 42, putting together an unforgettable six-fight win streak that culminated in him capturing UFC gold before engaging in one of the best title fights in UFC history against Jiri Prochazka earlier this year.
At UFC 202 however, Glover's title aspirations would be put on hold as Rumble absolutely demolished his opponent in just 13 seconds.
Never one to back down from a firefight, Glover pressed forward and attempted to put pressure on Johnson in the opening seconds of their contendership bout. Unfortunately for him, as he looked for his trademark right cross he instead found himself eating a nasty uppercut from Rumble, one that instantly shut his lights off and sent his unconscious body tumbling to the Octagon floor.
It was a shocking and incredible finish that marked the first time Glover had been knocked out cold, and just the second time he was finished in his 30-fight career, with the first being in his very first professional bout all the way back in 2002.
The victory saw Johnson earn his second crack at UFC gold and a shot at redemption against Daniel Cormier.
Rumble Returns & Mounts a Comeback in Bellator
vs. Jose Augusto Azevedo @ Bellator 258, May 7 2021
In the time since their first meeting in 2015, Cormier had beaten Alexander Gustafsson in a thrilling five-round war and followed it up with a less-thrilling non-title decision victory over Anderson Silva at the historic UFC 200.
Backing up to the time following his win over Gustafsson, DC was originally slated to face Jon Jones in a grudge match at UFC 197, but an injury forced Cormier to withdraw and instead saw Jones win a lackluster decision over late replacement Ovince Saint Preux for an interim title.
The two were then scheduled to square off at UFC 200 in what promised to be a massive event, but just two days before the bout, Jon Jones was taken off the card after testing positive for two banned substances (hormone regulators typically used to come off a doping "cycle") during a random drug test. The failure caused the UFC to pull him from the event and subsequently strip him of his interim belt.
With few options available on such short notice, middleweight king and living legend Anderson Silva stepped up just a day before weigh-ins to face Cormier on the card in a non-title bout, with Cormier using his wrestling to hold the smaller man down and take home a safe decision under the incredibly bizarre and unfortunate circumstances.
With Jones suspended and thus out of action, Rumble was now set to face off with Daniel Cormier once again for the light heavyweight title.
Johnson closed as a slight favourite once more - despite Cormier earning a victory in their first meeting, many believed with an adjustment to his approach that it was Rumble's time to run the division.
In a move that surprised everyone (Cormier included), Rumble came out in his second title bid...looking to wrestle. With an Olympic wrestler.
It was an utterly bizarre strategy and one that confounded and frustrated his own corner, which was frantically calling for him to do the exact opposite.
Though he still found a few moments of success, such as with a head kick that hurt Cormier, his confusing decision to wrestle not only allowed Cormier to easily tire out the bigger man, but led to Johnson once again succumbing to a dreaded rear-naked choke, this time late in the second round.
The performance was peculiar to say the least and was an unfortunate way to end his MMA career, but Rumble announced he'd be retiring from the sport in his post-fight interview to pursue other ventures, like the launch of a CBD oil company.
With the fact that he was planning on retiring combined with the pressures of competing in a title fight when your heart is no longer in it, Rumble's odd performance made more sense in retrospect, even if it was a disappointing last appearance in the famed Octagon for Johnson.
In the time after his retirement, Johnson would speak candidly about his career, even going so far as to say that he didn't consider himself a "fighter" - despite fighting in a cage for a living, he saw himself as an athlete, one that competed because he was good at it and it came natural to him, but he admitted he wasn't the kind of guy that lived to fight or poured his heart and soul into it like some did.
The reality is there are plenty of fighters that don't love fighting, and there are many that have given up inside the cage - whether their heart wasn't in it anymore, they simply knew they were bested, they were too exhausted to go on, etc. - but rarely was anyone willing to admit such a thing let alone in public.
That kind of honesty was par for the course for Johnson; in a world where hubris and trash talk sells tickets and makes careers, Johnson had always been respectful of the sport, its fans, and of his opponents. He chose to always stay true to himself, letting his performances speak for themselves rather than partaking in gamesmanship and shows of bravado.
A few years after retiring, Johnson flirted with the idea of a return to the UFC up at heavyweight, but ultimately he and the UFC would part ways and instead Johnson signed with Bellator late in 2020. His debut for the promotion was announced early in 2021 and set for May, a full four years after he had last competed in the sport.
Paired up with another former UFC legend in Yoel Romero, Johnson was entered into a Bellator light heavyweight Grand Prix, a tournament featuring eight of the top 205-pound fighters in Bellator's stable including their champion Vadim Nemkov.
Just over a week prior to their bout however, a health issue forced Romero out of the bout and in stepped late replacement Jose Augusto Azevedo, an unheralded 7-2 prospect who came into the bout with literally nothing to lose.
After four years outside of the cage, Johnson looked rusty at times in the opening round, but still managed to rock Azevedo and back him up against the fence in the opening stanza with a few big shots; after landing a nasty body shot, Johnson was staggered by a left hook, then was dropped by a combination from the hungry underdog who gave Rumble everything he had.
It looked as though a massive upset had just occurred, especially given that Johnson had never before in his career come back to win a fight in which he was losing or responded well to adversity inside the cage.
But Johnson managed to hold on and survive, and despite his previous remarks about being an athlete and not a fighter, he proved that night that he was capable of more than he thought - that when the time came, he could summon strength from the same reserves that other "true fighters" could draw from.
Johnson fought through the rough opening round and in the second, announced to the MMA world that Rumble was back courtesy of a beautiful overhand right.
Tragically, his triumphant comeback would be short lived.
Anthony was forced to withdraw from the semi-finals of the tournament, which was a matchup with Vadim Nemkov with the Bellator light heavyweight title also on the line, as a result of illness that at the time was undisclosed. This effectively ended his career and on November 13, 2022, his life.
The tragic ending to Rumble's story is one that his family, friends, and every MMA fan will mourn for years to come as his life was cut far too short.
By all accounts, he was as kind outside of the cage as he was devastating inside of it, a gentle giant who ignited the crowd every time he threw a strike yet was never too busy to stop and take a picture with a fan in his everyday life.
Even when he was going through hell, he still sought to inspire and support those around him and always sported a smile on his face.
Anthony Johnson may have passed on, but as they say, "legends never die"; their legacy continues in the hearts and minds of those they inspired, now and forever.
In the world of MMA, Anthony Johnson was a legend. So, let us spread the memory of that legend; the legend of a man we called Rumble.