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Johnson Ready to Rumble? Not Yet

Preview by Brady Crytzer

On Saturday the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to its home city of Las Vegas to present a night of action featuring fighters at various crossroads of their careers. While the main event features an epic rematch between two of the sport’s top light heavyweights, the evening’s co-feature highlights two of the best young welterweights in mixed martial arts.

Despite the fact that Josh Koscheck has battled some of the best in the world over his four year career, all eyes will be on 25 year old Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. A thoroughbred athlete that cuts nearly fifty pounds to reach the 170 lb. limit, Johnson’s wrestling pedigree and penchant for scoring highlight reel KO’s has the MMA world buzzing. But, is Johnson ready to perform on a higher level against the best in the world?

If he is, Saturday night will prove it.

At 6’2, Johnson is an imposing figure for anyone in the welterweight division. In just seven Octagon appearances, Johnson has delivered some of the most aggressive and spectacular knockouts in UFC history including wins over Luigi Fioravanti, Tommy Speer, Kevin Burns, and most recently Yoshiyuki Yoshida just four weeks ago.

By playing these clips in rapid succession fans would be justified in agreeing that his potential is seemingly endless. A strong wrestler who dominates in the stand up is hard to find, and one that can easily jump between two weight class (in this case 170 and 185) is an instant jackpot.

But what is to be said about his two UFC losses? Should we write them off as merely circumstantial?

For a young fighter competing amongst the best in the world? Maybe.

But not this time.

Johnson made his UFC debut in impressive fashion knocking out Chad Reiner with just one punch in June of 2007. There was an excitement surrounding the then 22 year old, but hopes were quickly deflated when he battled gritty veteran Rich Clementi in September. Though Clementi was a natural lightweight, small for even 155 lbs., he handled the hulking Johnson with ease and tallied a second round submission victory.

Therein lies the fundamental critique of Johnson. Even though he trains at one of the best camps in the sport and has every physical tool that a young fighter could hope for, he simply hasn’t shown the “fight IQ” to contend with the best in the world.

Despite his size disadvantage, Clementi had seen every bad position possible in the sport of mixed martial arts and defeated Johnson on experience alone.

Case in point. Following a devastating knockout over Tommy Speer in April of 2008, Johnson was once again befuddled by an opponent in Kevin Burns that he should have put away easily. After being illegally poked in the eye time and again by Burns, Johnson failed to see a way around his overmatched, perpetually fouling opponent. The fight was unjustly stopped giving Burns the TKO victory.

Fight IQ can and does improve. In the rematch Johnson registered one of the most spectacular finishes via headkick in UFC history, and he did it using crafty footwork. Training with Josh Thompson for the Burns rematch gave him a new asset in his very small bag of tricks.

Now, after wiping Yoshida off the face of the earth in just 21 seconds one month ago, Johnson returns to face his biggest challenge yet in Josh Koscheck. Koscheck, a workhorse with arguably the best wrestling pedigree in the division and a recent proclivity for ending fights with vicious punching power, has proven that his experience is at the level that it needs to be to match up with the best in the world.

Now Johnson is, for the first time, faced with an opponent with experience and world class skills; a potentially dangerous situation. Let’s face it, Fioravanti is as tough as they come, but he was not world class. Koscheck is as good as a fighter can be (without being French Canadien and training in New Mexico.)

If Johnson is truly ready to take the next step, he will need to prove that his new mental weapon is just as sharp as his hands.

After all, it’s not having the experience that counts…it’s what you learn from it.

 


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