Anthony Johnson knocking people out is great. It’s just the best.
Some poor guy goes in there, brimming with confidence that he’s The One, that his path to victory is assured and that he won’t be the next highlight on a Rumble reel that’s beginning to grow too long to count. Then the bell rings and Johnson knocks that poor guy out cold in the first or second exchange, pulled off by the ref as he pounds his chest with animal fury, unscathed.
It’s so formulaic at this point that you can see it coming the moment the contract is signed for his next fight. “Anthony Johnson vs. Next Opponent Signed,” reads the headline, and the gears start turning in your head, creating the inevitable knockout GIF and almost willing it into existence.
Then, on fight night, Johnson provides it. Almost every single time.
At UFC 202, it was Glover Teixeira, who’s got a few GIFs of his own floating around out there. As a swaying, weaving hulk of a boxer, he’s repeatedly shown a capacity to take one to give one, and the one he gives usually ends the fight for the one who takes it.
Teixeira was confident this would be the case against Johnson, or at least the outcome suggests as much. He swayed and weaved into range, swatting lightly at Johnson before stepping in. The two clashed briefly, then reset.
They engaged again, and the next time Teixeira had a conscious thought in his head, it was directing him to double-leg the ref as fast as he could manage. An uppercut slipped in on that second exchange, finding Teixeira’s chin and knocking him cold.
But as good as it looks on a highlight reel, it doesn’t tell us much about Johnson’s next move. Now the undisputed, undeniable top contender for Daniel Cormier’s light heavyweight title, it looks like there will be a UFC 187 rematch in the offing by the end of the year. That fight was a back-and-forth affair that ended in a successful Cormier submission, but Johnson had his moments.
Actually, he’s had them in every fight before and since then, and they’re the same moment: Send a man skidding across the octagon at some point, and hope he doesn’t get up. The main issue is that Cormier did get up. A few times. And every time he did, Johnson faded a little bit more until Cormier was on his back, throttling him and turning the unslayable into the slain.
As exciting as Johnson’s UFC 202 finish was, and the ultra-violent stoppages he’s produced since the Cormier bout, none have really provided a reason to think his next try for the title will be any different.
Cormier took his best shots and kept coming. That’s something no one’s done in the 205-pound career Johnson has built in the UFC. Every time a new foe crumbles, it just reinforces something we already know: Most guys cannot take those punches.
Cormier can, though. He’s proven it.
It may be why he was so excited to inform the world he’d fight Johnson again at the earliest mutual convenience; everyone else thinks he’s crazy to want it, but he thinks everyone else is crazy for forgetting how he handled Johnson the first time.
What would have been useful was some new wrinkle in Johnson’s game to have come out, either against Teixeira or against the others who have been obliterated by the savage power striking that’s become his signature. Without such a wrinkle—evidence of improved cardio, better tactics or more refinement in the things he’s already expert at—there’s no reason to think he’ll take the title on his second try.