Johnson excited for heavyweight debut

March, 21, 2013
3/21/13
7:41
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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TBDDave Mandel/www.sherdog.comNo stranger to moving up in weight, Anthony Johnson will make his heavyweight debut at WSOF 2.
It sometimes seems like decades ago when Anthony Johnson was one or two wins shy of a UFC welterweight title shot. But it's been just a year and a half since he last tipped the scale at 170 pounds.

Johnson knocked out Charlie Brenneman in the first round of a UFC event on Oct. 1, 2011. It would be his final appearance at welterweight.

Departing the weight class in which he found much success, however, did not come as a surprise. Johnson struggled on several occasions to make the required weight limit.

As his body continued to mature, Johnson often walked around at 220 pounds -- sometimes heavier. Attempts to shed more than 50 pounds for a welterweight bout began taking a toll on his body and Johnson pulled out of at least two 170-pound fights with knee injuries.

His body was developing so rapidly that Johnson couldn't even make weight for a nontitle middleweight showdown in Januray against Vitor Belfort and tipped the scale at a whopping 197 pounds. The nontitle middleweight limit is 186 pounds.

A sluggish Johnson lost to Belfort by first-round submission and was released by UFC shortly thereafter. But what could have been a dismal period in his professional fighting life proved to be a blessing.

With the welterweight and middleweight divisions no longer an option, the Dublin, Ga., native, now 29, found comfort at light heavyweight.

There was never a reason to knock Johnson's ability inside the cage -- he's a highly skilled wrestler with above-average punching power and speed. And since moving up in weight, Johnson has proven to be a beast inside the cage by winning all four of his post-UFC bouts, including three knockout victories at light heavyweight -- a division he has proven he clearly belongs.

But one area in which a yellow flag could be raised is Johnson's unwavering desire to fight anyone, at any weight, at any time. Whenever Johnson is offered a fight, he eagerly accepts and concerns himself with making weight later.

On Saturday night at Revel Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., Johnson will again venture into difficult territory when he meets hard-hitting Andrei Arlovski in the main-event at World Series of Fighting 2.

It will be Johnson's first foray into the heavyweight ranks and despite being an underdog, he isn't worried. Arlovski is a difficult opponent, but with a solid training camp behind him, Johnson is confident an upset is in order.

"No matter what, I feel I always get the most out of my training," Johnson said Tuesday during a media call to promote the bout. "So, I can fight at light heavyweight or heavyweight and do what I have to do to win. It doesn't really matter to me."

Johnson expects to enter the cage on fight night weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 235 pounds. It will represent, by far, the most weight he's ever carried on his 6-foot-2 frame for a fight.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Johnson
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesFor the first time in his MMA career, Anthony Johnson will not have to worry about issues making weight when he faces Andrei Arlovski on Saturday.
Conventional wisdom says the additional weight will result in Johnson relinquishing speed, power and elusiveness. But he begs to differ.

"Everything is still there -- the speed and the power," Johnson said. "I'm still an athlete. I don't feel I'm sacrificing anything, except height. I believe Andrei is bigger than me and a little heavier than me. But that's it."

After a two-year period that saw him suffer through four straight losses, the 6-4, 245-pound Arlovski has regained his form. The former UFC heavyweight champion has defeated four of his five most recent opponents, with the lone blemish being a no contest against Tim Sylvia at ONE FC 5 in Aug. 2012.

If ever there was a time not to fight Arlovski, it's right now. His confidence is at an all-time high due to the training he's received under Albuquerque, N.M.-based trainer Greg Jackson.

"Greg Jackson gave me hope after four losses," Arlovski said. "Some people told me I lost it, but he told me to come to Albuquerque and he gave me hope."

Lack of confidence is never an issue for Johnson. He steps into the cage Saturday with no doubts or reservations. Besides, Johnson knows he's in a no-lose situation.

He doesn't turn down fights, which is exactly why he's here. WSOF president Ray Sefo and senior executive vice president Ali Abdel-Aziz asked him to move up in weight for the good of the card and he agreed.

"Unless my man Ray Sefo and Ali ask me to take another fight at heavyweight, this is probably my one and only fight at heavyweight right now," Johnson said. "[Light heavyweight] is still where I want to be -- it's still my home. We'll see. Hopefully this is a good show. But for me and Andrei Arlovski, maybe win, lose or draw they might want to see a rematch and I might have to fight at heavyweight again."

One thing is for certain, Johnson's days of struggling to cut to 170 and 185 pounds are in the past. He will not drop that low again. And as a result, he is a better fighter who might just raise a few heavyweight eyebrows on Saturday.

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