Anthony Johnson is an enormous man. Standing 74 inches tall, his weight can swing well into the 220's when he isn't fighting. Big by any standards - ridiculously big by UFC welterweight standards. Setting those 50 pounds aside when it's time to step into the cage hasn't always been easy for Johnson. Twice in his UFC tenure he's failed to make the 170 pound cutoff. It hasn't been close either time. But coming off an 18 month absence from the cage to fight Dan Hardy on Spike Saturday, Johnson isn't concerned.
"I got pretty big. I got pretty big and I got lazy for a while, with my injuries, you know," Johnson said during a media conference call. "I was kind of feeling bad for myself and started eating all kind of crap, but that's nobody's fault but mine. So I can't blame anybody but me. And, now, I mean, my weight is great. I can't wait for Saturday."
It's never clear how an athlete will respond after a major injury - and Johnson's surgery to repair a torn meniscus last April could qualify as a career changer. But the popular fighter who was once in the mix for a welterweight title shot feels like he's ready to get his career back on track.
"I thought I'd make a statement every time I fight to let everybody know who I am. That's just who I am, period. And yet I have to go out there and show that I'm back, , so it's time to go out there, putting their hands up and doing what me and Dan does best, and that's to throw punches and blow blows and knock people out," Johnson said. "So one way or the other, somebody's getting knocked out. And like Dan said, no disrespect to him or anybody else, you know, when I play, I will be the winner. You know what I mean? And that's just how it is for with me. That's my mind frame."
Hardy, for his part, is trying to rebound from the most disastrous loss of his career. Losing in his home country, to a fighter he expected to beat, is the kind of defeat that can halt a promising fighter in his tracks. But the British star is intent on showing his run at the top of the welterweight class is far from over. More famous than ever, Hardy is focused on being better than ever too.
"I constantly hear about, oh, you know, you got lots of fans and your fan base grew and people - people know who you are now and stuff like that. But I look at it from an athlete point of view. And an athlete needs to win fights. And that's - that's exactly where I'm at. And all the positives that come out of it are nice, but that's just the - you know, the sugar on the top of the cake. And I didn't get the cake last year, so I'm kind of chasing it this year," Hardy said. "I need to establish myself as a permanent force in the division...And I've a lot of support, you know, because of last year, but I need to win fights at the end of the day. That's the bottom line and always will be."
Promises can be fleeting once the cage door closes, but right now both men are promising an exciting fight. Known as strikers, the two plan to let fists fly until somebody's brain turns off.
"You're talking to two guys that love to bang. All right, plain and simple. We don't - we don't like that, you know, lovey dovey stuff. You know what I'm saying? We wanted it keeping on your feet, give everybody what they want, what they paid their money for," Johnson said. "And in my opinion, that's why we should be the main event instead of the co-main event because we are the guys who are going to keep the crowd on their feet and giving them what they want, and that's standin' and bangin'. And that's what we do best and that's we love doing and that's what the fans love to see."
As the call heated up, the two were always respectful. It was a different Hardy, one barely recognizable from the verbal terrorist who got under the skin of Marcus Davis and tried the same trick with Georges St. Pierre. Hardy maintains that Johnson is too calm and collected for that to work well. But the UK's top fighter has other reasons to bust his opponent in the chops.
"There's always an emotion in the fight because it's either me or him. And, you know, I'm interested in my career, my future and that's got to be my main focus," Hardy said. "So it did get emotional. And especially with the things I have to sacrifice over at the training camp and - I mean, 11 weeks, I've been training for this fight, focused on it. And that didn't make me a little resentful because I have had to sacrifice and I have like to put myself through all this because of him. You know what I mean?"