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Making sense of Rumble's stunning retirement

The members of the UFC’s light heavyweight division sleep a lot easier tonight, knowing that Anthony Johnson won’t be around to throw hammers at them anymore.

That was the consensus after “Rumble” announced his retirement from the sport of mixed martial arts on Saturday, just moments after losing his championship rematch with Daniel Cormier in the main event of UFC 210.


It was a shocking turn of events for a fighter seemingly in his prime. But as he told Joe Rogan in the Octagon, it was something he knew going into the bout at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, as he had decided to go in another direction in his life at the age of 33, regardless of the outcome of his rematch with Cormier.

Maybe it isn’t so shocking though, considering the rigors of the fighting life and Johnson’s admissions over the years that he was in a place he never pictured himself in.

“He’s a hardcore fighter,” Johnson told me when talking about the man he fought in March 2011, Dan Hardy. “I can’t say I’m a fighter; I’m an athlete that turned into a fighter. Hardy was born a fighter. I respect that more anything. I don’t know if he’s from the streets, but when you’re hardcore and just want to fight, fight, fight, whoever he fights is gonna have a problem because that’s what they live, breathe, and eat. I’m an athlete that loves competition. I don’t want to get hit in the face. (Laughs) Who wants to get hit in the face? That hurts.”


Johnson was more than an athlete, though. Despite his protests, he was a fighter, a title earned not just by 28 pro MMA bouts, but by a resilience that saw him overcome several obstacles over the course of his nearly 11-year career.

Of course, he was blessed with power that Hardy recently described to me as unlike anything he had ever experienced.

“I don’t like to throw around the word supernatural, but it doesn’t feel like a natural power,” he said. “It feels like he could quite easily have an X-Men costume on, let’s put it that way.”

That power led Johnson to score 16 of his 22 wins by knockout, 11 of those finishes coming in the UFC. He was also a junior college national wrestling champion for Lassen Community College. But it was when he returned from a harrowing eye injury suffered against Kevin Burns to knock Burns out five months later that the world saw something more. And after issues with making weight prompted the UFC to cut him in 2012, the Georgia native quietly rebuilt his career with a six-fight winning streak that brought him back to the Octagon as a light heavyweight.

“A lot of people would have given up when they got kicked out of the UFC, but I didn’t, and I faced so many demons and had so many battles and I’m still here,” he said in 2015. “I came back and I came back stronger.”

That’s an understatement.

 
After decisioning Phil Davis in his UFC return in 2014, he won five of seven bouts, knocking out Rogerio Nogueira, Alexander Gustafsson, Jimi Manuwa, Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira while establishing himself as the most feared knockout artist in the sport. His only two defeats in that second Octagon run were in championship bouts to Cormier, but it’s unlikely that those fights will be the enduring memory of Rumble.

Instead, when the name Anthony Johnson is mentioned by fight fans, expect to hear stories of those knockouts, that power, and the quiet attitude that accompanied it all. Because when a fighter hits that hard, he doesn’t have to make a lot of noise. The fists and feet speak volumes.

And humble Rumble was just fine with that.

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