Anthony Johnson has been called his fair share of unkind things over the years, but few would label him as unentertaining.
The same can’t be said for his upcoming opponent.
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Johnson will try to take the next step toward another shot at the UFC light heavyweight championship when he faces fellow contender Ryan Bader at UFC on Fox 18 on Jan. 30 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Since returning to the UFC as a light heavyweight in 2014, “Rumble” Johnson is 4-1 with his lone loss coming to champion Daniel Cormier in a title fight last May. Bader is enjoying an impressive run as well with five straight wins of his own dating back to December 2013.
Johnson’s last three wins have come via early knockouts from devastating punches. All of Bader’s recent victories required judges’ decisions. Bader’s style may not be the most popular with fans, Johnson said, but he’s still a dangerous fighter.
“People just get him mixed up because his fights end, usually, in decisions,” Johnson said.
“He might not be that entertaining, but Ryan Bader is a damn good fighter.”
Bader, a two-time All-American wrestler at Arizona State, doesn’t apologize for his style, which has put him near the top of his division.
“I want to go out there and use what I’m best at – my wrestling, my grinding ability to go out there and shut down his game and implement my game,” Bader said.
Throughout his career, Bader (21-4, 13-4 UFC) has been able to neutralize many of his opponents with an overwhelming mix of grappling and striking, something he expects to do again when he meets Johnson (20-5, 11-5).
“If you look at his losses, the guys that go and beat him are the ones who take him into deeper waters,” Bader said. “They put the pressure on him, make him work and don’t just stand in front of him.”
In Johnson’s previous loss, Cormier was able to survive an early knockdown to engage “Rumble” in a grueling ground battle, eventually forcing a submission in the third round. If Bader can survive Johnson’s early onslaught, he likes his chances.
“I want to take him into deeper waters where I’ve been before. I’m willing to go the whole five rounds hard because I’ve been there,” Bader said. “He’s used to going out there and knocking people out and his losses are when it’s not going his way and it starts getting more difficult and he tires down a little bit. “
While he may know Bader’s M.O., Johnson doesn’t want to get caught napping.
“This is mixed martial arts, I don’t know what to expect but I have to be prepared for everything,” Johnson said. “I have to be ready for his wrestling. His striking has improved tremendously, his cardio, stamina is really good and he has a great team behind him.”
No matter where the fight ends up, both men know how far a win would go. While the light heavyweight class is at a crossroads awaiting the return of former champion Jon Jones, the rest of the division is lining up for the next crack at gold.
Despite Bader’s five-fight win streak, Johnson didn’t think he deserved a championship fight after his latest performance, leading Johnson to call him out.
“Rashad [Evans] has been out for two years,” Johnson said of Bader’s previous opponent. “I just don’t see how you can feel like you deserve a title shot after beating someone who’s been out for two years.”
When Bader didn’t get that chance, he decided fighting Johnson would be the next best thing.
“I assume I’m going to fight all of the guys at the top at some point, it’s just a matter of when,” Bader said. “We were looking at trying to fight for the title right there, then it looked like it was Cormier and Jones, so we’re moving on to what I have now, and that’s No. 2-ranked Anthony Johnson.”
Fine by Johnson.
“At the end of the day, both of us feel like we’re the head honchos,” Johnson said. “So why not duke it out and see who’s the better fighter that night and we’ll see who deserves that title shot.”