After a surprise retirement following a loss to then-light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson was constantly dogged with questions as to when — not if — he’d return to MMA.
And now, the wait is over. Only this time there’s a major surprise in this story. Rumble Johnson will be back in the light heavyweight ranks, only this time he’ll be doing so in a Bellator cage.
ESPN’s Ariel Helwani broke the news via Twitter this morning:
Anthony “Rumble” Johnson is headed to Bellator.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) December 9, 2020
“Rumble” has agreed to terms with Bellator, per sources. He hasn’t signed his deal just yet, but he’s expected to imminently, sources say.
Johnson recently mutually parted ways with the UFC, according to sources.
Helwani continued with the following:
Johnson is slated to fight in the first half of 2021 and is expected to debut at light heavyweight, per sources. No debut fight set yet.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) December 9, 2020
He last fought in April 2017 versus Daniel Cormier in Buffalo at UFC 210.
While Johnson’s been away for just over three years, his social media has shown him continue to train at Sanford MMA in South Florida with his teammates and friends, so it’s not unreasonable to expect he won’t have much rust to knock off. After an arduous set of weight cuts forced him out of welterweight and middleweight, he managed to be a force at heavyweight (against Andrei Arlovski in World Series of Fighting) before landing back in the UFC at 205. His last stretch of UFC wins included three vicious finishes against Ryan Bader, Glover Teixeira and Jimi Manuwa, sandwiched between losses to Daniel Cormier. Prior to that, he had unforgettable finishes over Alexander Gustafsson and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
From a sporting perspective, this is an exciting development. There’s a series of possible opponents such as Linton Vassell and newly-arrived Corey Anderson, but also possible rematches against former UFC talents (and former Bellator champs) Ryan Bader and Phil Davis. These could be compelling fights, and he may not need many wins to end up facing current champ Vadim Nemkov.
There’s much to celebrate on the excitement front, but there’s also some awkwardness from a public relations standpoint. We still have the specter of his past domestic violence accusations, which have been extensively covered here and discussed at length by Bloody Elbow’s own Trent Reinsmith. This will most likely not be discussed widely, but is important to keep in mind.
Given the haphazard nature of fights being scheduled and cancelled, there is no other precise information available as to who and when Johnson will make his return. For now, we wait for further announcements from Bellator as we enter the new year.