Johnson eyes shot at redemption
Anthony Johnson faces elite wrestler Josh Koscheck at UFC 106 on Saturday
Coming in six pounds over weight for his last fight still haunts Johnson
A strong wrestler as well, Johnson's best shot for a win is on the feet
Anthony Johnson wasn't pleased with how things went at UFC 104 in October. The welterweight showed up six pounds heavy at the pre-fight weigh-in, clocking in at 176 pounds for his bout with Yoshiyuki Yoshida. It not only made him look undisciplined, it also hurt his wallet; he had to forfeit a percentage of his purse and it likely cost him the $60,000 knockout-of-the-night bonus. Rarely have a few extra pounds been so expensive.
But even the fight itself, which he finished with a single right hand just 41 seconds in, didn't satisfy Johnson. He felt stiff. The knockout punch landed cleanly enough, but the previous 40 seconds were, according to him, disappointing. So he asked the UFC to give him another fight right away. He wanted to get the bad taste out of his mouth sooner rather than later. When the phone rang a few days later, he knew he was getting his wish.
Not only did the UFC offer him another bout on less than a month's rest, it offered him top 10 welterweight Josh Koscheck. Not one to back down from a challenge, Johnson took it. That he would be facing one of the division's toughest wrestlers on a shortened training camp didn't bother him -- at least, not as much as the idea of sitting at home and letting the shortcomings of his last outing eat away at him.
"After my performance in my last fight, plus with me not making weight, I just wanted to get back in there and make up for what I didn't do," said Johnson. "Not performing to the best of my ability, and not making weight, I felt like I owed it to the fans and the UFC."
Johnson (8-2) first made fans take notice of him with a highlight-reel knockout of The Ultimate Fighter Season 6 finalist Tommy Speer in April 2008, and since then, his striking power has become his most valuable commodity. After a controversial loss to Kevin Burns -- Burns illegally poked him in the eye -- Johnson rebounded with a head-kick knockout in the rematch, and followed up with two first-round knockouts in his subsequent fights.
But missing weight has a way of making people forget how impressive your victory was, especially when it's missed by a whopping six pound. At 6-foot-2 and with a broad frame, Johnson's already big for the division. If his diet isn't just right leading up to the fight, he admits, the weight cut can be a problem. In the run-up to UFC 104, a torn meniscus only exacerbated the problem.
"I had a knee injury and couldn't work out like I usually do," he said. "Then I started eating sloppy and not taking care of myself, but that's my fault. I can't blame the knee injury for that. I should have been eating healthier. The weight is not going to be a problem this time."
What might be a problem is Koscheck's wrestling ability. Though Johnson came to MMA from a wrestling background, as well, he's never faced anyone in the Octagon with Koscheck's credentials. It's no secret that Johnson would prefer to keep things standing, but considering Koscheck's takedown ability, it may not be a choice "Rumble" gets to make.
"He's a great wrestler, and he's a great fighter," Johnson said. "He's explosive, he's entertaining, and really respectable as a human being. I have nothing bad to say about him at all. I'll try to keep it on the feet because that's to my advantage, but you never know. I might be the one taking him down at some point, trying to work my jiu-jitsu."
A win over Koscheck (13-4) would be Johnson's most significant accomplishment to date in the UFC, and even just making weight for the bout would help silence some of his critics. But more than any other, the question this fight will really answer is whether Johnson has the wrestling chops to compete with the division's elite.
Johnson has the knockout power and the striking skills to be a problem for almost anyone in the weight class on the feet. But in a division where grapplers dominate, just staying off your back can be a difficult enough task. If Johnson wants to have any hope at trying his luck against the current champ, he needs a good showing against Koscheck to prove that he could make a fight of it. He may have to spend more than 41 seconds in the cage this time to make it happen, but at least he's likely to get more than a couple days of rest afterward.