When fighters are cut from the UFC's roster, it normally places them on a long and winding path to get back to the biggest promotion in mixed martial arts. Some return to the company due to the need to find short-notice injury replacements, but very few fight their way back. However, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson may become one of those rare individuals, as he finds himself in the position of free agent, now that his contract with the World Series of Fighting is complete. And due to the landscape at light heavyweight, he might just be a highly-coveted one.
With his first-round knockout of Mike Kyle at World Series of Fighting 8, the 29-year-old Johnson may have cemented himself as one of the best prospects in mixed martial arts not signed to a Zuffa contract. And his timing couldn't be better for Johnson, who competes at both light heavyweight and heavyweight, as the heavyweight division is widely considered the weakest weight class in combat sports, and light heavyweight isn’t particularly deep either. As the UFC continues to search for new faces to put into the proverbial “mix” against the promotion’s biggest names, Johnson could be quite useful in that regard.
Johnson’s story is well known to longtime UFC fans. The former welterweight had a 7-4 stint in the UFC that included many issues with making it down to 170 pounds. He came in overweight three different times, and after Johnson walked up to the scale at 197 pounds for a middleweight fight against Vitor Belfort at UFC 142, UFC President Dana White decided he had enough and sent Johnson packing.
Since then, he's put together a six-fight win streak while establishing himself as a light heavyweight. During this time, he's had one unsuccessful attempt to fight at middleweight, and also competed at heavyweight, defeating Andrei Arlovski at WSOF 2. He may not have defeated any fighters at 205 pounds that are well-known to mainstream fans, but the fact that he has been able to put together the streak at all managed to build some interest.
And the UFC isn't the only organization that would want to bring in Johnson. Bellator is another viable option, as that company has a growing need for fighters to place in a light heavyweight or heavyweight tournament. Adding Johnson to either tournament field would create interest for that season. And fights pitting Johnson against Quinton Jackson, Emmanuel Newton, Cheick Kongo, and others would be better than most of the fights currently available for the top fighters on the roster who compete above 185 pounds. Furhermore, the World Series of Fighting should not be immediately counted out of the equation, as the promotion’s representatives have made it a point to let Johnson know that they still want his services, even promising him a title opportunity upon defeating Kyle. As that promotion looks to make multiple leaps in 2014, it may be economically smart for Johnson to stay put and allow Ray Sefo and company to build a division around him.
“Rumble” has made it clear that he's fighting for financial gain and wants to position himself to make the most money possible. And being a free agent right now will likely serve him well, as all the major organizations in mixed martial arts should come calling. With the potential for interesting matchups in two divisions in either the UFC or Bellator, and with a skill set that makes him a viable competitor no matter where he lands, the outcome of the “Anthony Johnson Sweepstakes” should be well worth paying attention to during the next couple of months.