When Anthony “Rumble” Johnson announced his intention to comeback from retirement, there was immediately a jolt of excitement to see one of the most devastating knockout artists in the history of the sport prepare to return to action.
Perhaps there was an even bigger surprise when it was confirmed that Johnson had then decided to exit the UFC and instead signed a new multi-fight deal to join the roster at Bellator MMA. According to the former two-time title challenger, he was actually out of contract from the UFC for approximately a month before signing his new deal but now he’s happy to call himself a Bellator fighter.
“I’ve just got so much going on and my life is taking me in a different direction,” Johnson told MMA Fighting on Wednesday. “I’ve been out for a while anyway and I was pretty much up with my [UFC] contract. It was just best if I go another route right now, especially with the business I’ve got going on. But whenever UFC and I went our ways, it was never a drop of bad blood or negativity or any kind of dispute or ‘oh we’re just going to cut you.’ No, it was nothing like that. Everything was all good. Mutual and respectful. I have a ton of respect for the organization, Dana [White] and even the Fertittas for taking it as far as they did already.
“Now, I’m on a new journey. I’m excited to be doing what I do now and with who I’m with Bellator.”
Just days after the signing was announced, UFC president Dana White reacted to the news by saying he had nothing but admiration for Johnson it “just didn’t work out” for him to remain with the promotion for now. White didn’t add any further details while leaving it up to Johnson to reveal as much or as little as he wanted about leaving the UFC and joining Bellator.
It turns out there was no major conspiracy theory at work because Johnson says it was ultimately more about his businesses outside the cage that led him to Bellator MMA.
“There was no dispute,” Johnson said. “I’m just going a different route. I have a different type of business, I’m in the cannabis business and all that stuff and just trying to do multiple things. UFC, they’re a lot more strict than a lot of other promotions and that’s just the name of the game with them. That’s business. You’ve got to respect it. Respect it or kick rocks. I wasn’t trying to just kick rocks. I definitely respect what they were doing and their rules.
“They respect me enough to give me the opportunity to check out other options and see what’s out there and see what can happen. Like I said everything was very respectful and mutual and really cool. The way it happened with me, it was super, super dope and respectful. I can’t say any other words cause that’s honestly how I feel. I came in on good terms [with the UFC] and we’re ending on good terms. I want to keep it that way.”
Once he was officially a free agent, the 36-year-old veteran fielded offers from several promotions but in the end, he felt at peace signing the deal to join the Bellator MMA roster.
“My manager Ali [Abdelaziz], he’s the best,” Johnson explained. “He’s got a good relationship with everybody for the most part that I know of in the game and he did what he does. He worked his magic and got me with Bellator. We had other organizations looking at me and negotiating and stuff. There was some good numbers but you’ve got to go with your gut. Why not just stay home? Bellator is a nice spot. I like Scott Coker a lot. I watched him whenever Strikeforce and all of that stuff, when he was running it in the Bay area.
“He’s just did some amazing things. He’s very respectful so why not fight for a man of his caliber? He treats his fighters great from what I’ve heard from multiple guys. I look forward to having that relationship with him, too.”
Johnson joining Bellator comes at a time when the ViacomCBS owned promotion has been adding several high profile names to the roster. Prior to Johnson’s signing, Bellator inked former top-five ranked UFC light heavyweight Corey Anderson to an exclusive deal and just recently signed multi-time UFC title contender Yoel Romero to a contract as well.
Add to that, Bellator already sports a deep roster at 205 pounds including reigning champion Vadim Nemkov as well as veterans like Ryan Bader and Phil Davis.
“They’re not some slouches,” Johnson said about Bellator’s light heavyweight division. “With myself and Yoel Romero coming on board, the competition just got thicker, crazier. We’ll definitely be adding a lot of craziness to the mix. I look forward to it. Bellator has some studs. Just because I beat Ryan Bader before, everybody thinks he sucks. Ryan’s tough. Super tough. You’ve got my guy Corey Anderson doing his thing, super happy for him and his family.
“I look forward to compete against everybody at light heavyweight.”
Of course not everything has to be put in the context of UFC versus Bellator when it comes to level of competition but Johnson believes he’s got plenty of worthwhile opposition ready to welcome him back to the cage in 2021.
“It’s stacked,” Johnson said. “Trust me, I don’t think there’s any slouches, especially in the top five and I already claim myself in the top five and I haven’t even fought in this thing yet.”
As far as a timeline for his debut, Johnson is currently targeting spring 2021 for his first fight, although nothing has been set in stone just yet but he’s anxiously awaiting that call to come.
“If it’s up to me I’ll be fighting in April sometime,” Johnson said. “That’s when I want to fight, personally, in April. I haven’t been offered anything, any opponents yet at all. But for me, I’m shooting for April. If it happens in May, I guess I’ll be fighting in May but I don’t want to fight before then.
“I want to make sure I get every bit of training in before I step foot in the cage. I want to make sure I’m complete.”