Anthony Johnson predictably ran through Mike Kyle in the co-main event of last night's World Series of Fighting 8 show in Florida, extending his unbeaten streak to 6 since his UFC release back in 2012. The Kyle fight was his last of his WSOF contract, meaning he's a free agent as of today and could either stay with the promotion or see what else is out there.
I've documented this in an earlier op-ed, but the UFC's light heavyweight division is absolutely a mess. As of our latest roster count, there are fewer fighters at 205 lbs than at flyweight, a weight class formed by the UFC only two years ago. It is starved not only for talent, but fighters with youth on their side. The only light heavyweights presently in the UFC below the age of 30 are Gian Villante, Alexander Gustafsson, Phil Davis, and Jon Jones. That's out of 29 on our table, so that's not even 15%. Re-signing Anthony Johnson accomplishes two things:
1.) Sign someone who isn't already on the wrong side of 30.
2.) Bolster the depth of light heavyweight.
Look at the present top 16 rankings (Jones + next 15 best):
Mousasi, Belfort, Machida, and Te-Huna are all fighting at middleweight within the next few months. Sonnen's future at LHW is uncertain and he's just clearly not going to factor as a serious contender in the division. The only wild card here is Daniel Cormier, who hasn't fought at LHW but will fight Rashad Evans next month.
The division is a wasteland and 1/3 of the top 15 is occupied by guys who are currently in another weight class. For all of his faults, Johnson's UFC release had nothing to do with in-cage skill and more to do with repeatedly missing weight by metric tons at both welterweight and the Vitor Belfort fight at middleweight. I'm not vouching for him as an instant title challenger, but I think he'd be more than competitive if not a favorite against the likes of Ryan Bader, Ryan Jimmo, Jimi Manuwa, and other fringe contenders populating the division. With careful matchmaking it wouldn't take much for him to be placed in the top 10. He has lethal head kicks, one-punch KO power, a seemingly solid chin (although he's prone to the occasional eye poke KO!), and has a style that is generally pleasing and entertaining to MMA fans. His biggest problems in the past have been his cardio, inability to do anything off of his back, and submission defense, so it'll be interesting to see how much he's improved since joining the Blackzilians camp.
Considering he's teammates with Tyrone Spong, I see no value or purpose in Johnson staying with World Series of Fighting. Could Bellator make a push for him? I can certainly see that, and it would be a fairly big signing for them, but It's in the UFC's best interest above other organizations to improve the quality of light heavyweight by adding him back to their roster. He's earned his 2nd shot at the big leagues and hopefully the UFC sees it the same way.
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