In front of Anthony Johnson at a hotel restaurant in midtown Manhattan on Monday morning was a bowl of cereal. To his right, a pair of cell phones. To the left, a copy of the latest Inc. magazine. In his bag at his feet, a copy of the latest Forbes magazine.
Not the typical visuals associated with someone whose occupation is mixed martial arts, a sport bullish on punching and kicking opponents in the face, head, body and legs.
But the man they call “Rumble” is thinking beyond his current career. He has plans for when the fighting stops.
“Big money, big money, way more money than what I’m making now,” Johnson said. “And I’ll be making it every two weeks.”
Johnson said he couldn’t get into the details of his plans because nothing has been announced yet.
“If I can make what I’m making now every two weeks, what’s the point of getting punched in the face?” Johnson said. “I’ve been in sports since I was 8. I’m 32 years old. I’m tired of being in the gym.”
But, there’s business to attend to first, and that business is the hard-punching light heavyweight Glover Teixeira at UFC 202 in Las Vegas on Saturday. Johnson, one of the most powerful punchers in MMA, and Teixeira are the co-main event. The Conor McGregor-Nate Diaz rematch headlines the card at T-Mobile Arena.
Johnson (21-5, 12-5 UFC) isn’t planning on calling it quits now. That’s a couple years down the road, he said. He’s just taking the long-term view at life, something many athletes in higher-paying sports don’t always do.
Plus, he realistically is a win away from getting another shot at Daniel Cormier for the UFC light heavyweight title. Maybe two if Jon Jones is cleared of a doping violation by USADA in a shorter time than expected. (Jones faces a two-year ban, but on Sunday he said in a video posted to Instagram that he received “good news.”)
“I feel like I should be fighting for the title next, but Glover called me out so we have to fight,” Johnson said. “Let’s do it.”
Of course, the most deserving fighter doesn’t always get the next title shot. It’s not just about accomplishments in the octagon. There’s marketing to consider, demand from fans in social media, promotability and established draws in the pay-per-view world.
“This sport is weird because one second, you can be getting ready for a title shot, then they scratch you and say somebody else gets it just because that person has more power, more of a fan base, more popular,” Johnson said. “That’s just how the game works now. It’s a business.”
Johnson has won two straight fights and is 5-1 since returning to the UFC in 2014. Four of those wins came by knockout, including three in the first round. His lone loss in that span was to Cormier for the vacant light heavyweight title in May 2015.
Teixeira (25-4, 9-2) has won three straight, two via knockout and one by submission.
They are the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked light heavyweights in the UFC. For Johnson, that’s nice, but ...
“Overall, rankings mean nothing,” he said. “If you’re not the champion, you’re just a guy that’s good in the weight class. That’s it. That’s the way I see it. No. 1 is the only thing that matters, being the champion. If you’re the No. 1 contender, meh. If you’re just a contender, meh. If you’re the champion, you’re the man, period. No questions asked.
“I dont want any more questions asked. I just want everyone to say he’s the man.”
There is one ranking that Johnson does give credence to: his list of the hardest hitting fighters in the 205-pound division.
“When it comes to the most powerful guys in the light heavyweight division, it’s me,” Johnson said. “I think I hit harder than 99 percent of fighters, period. Two, I would say Glover, and three, Ilir Latifi. That guy hits like a ton of bricks.”
Fifteen knockouts, quite a few via one or two punches, backs up Johnson’s No. 1 claim. Perhaps one or two more and the only question being asked of Johnson will be: “Are you sure you’re done with this sport right now?”