TORONTO – From the moment he tapped the Octagon canvas back in May of 2015, Anthony (Rumble) Johnson has been thinking about this rematch.
Daniel Cormier won the light heavyweight title that night when he submitted the feared striker with a choke in the third round in Las Vegas, but Johnson has been on a tear ever since, and vows their Dec. 10 bout at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre will be a different story.
“I’m ready to get it over with already because I’ve been wanting to fight Daniel for a long time,” said Johnson, who was in Toronto on Tuesday to help promote the rematch. “Ever since I lost to him I’ve been wanting to fight, like the moment I stepped out of the cage I wanted a rematch. I paid my dues, I did what I had to do to get to this point, and I need to make the best of it.”
Johnson’s dues, since his loss to Cormier, have included a hat trick of stunning knockouts. His most recent was a crushing 13-second KO against Glover Teixeira at UFC 202 in August, his upper cut ending the fight almost before commentators had made their introductions.
“My mentality is definitely different and obviously my fights have been going exactly how I want them to go,” said Johnson, whose career record is 22-5. “Since I lost to Daniel, I’ve knocked everybody out to get back in the situation I’m in now. So hopefully I can win the title with a nice knockout, and make sure I walk away the champion.”
Cormier, who at 37 is five years older than Johnson, respects the younger fighter’s devastating punch, but believes it’s made him one-dimensional.
“For Anthony Johnson to win, he’s been knocking guys out,” Cormier said. “I feel like I have more avenues to victory, I feel like I can win in a number of ways, whereas he needs that one certain way. It’s possible, because he can beat anybody. But I feel like you need more ways to victory than just one way.”
Johnson, who is three inches taller than Cormier, came at the veteran with some big power early on in their 2015 fight, flooring the former Olympic wrestler with an overhand right less than 30 seconds in. It was the first time any fighter had recorded a knockdown against him. Johnson would land a couple more big blows that Cormier withstood.
The two Americans have taken some Twitter swipes at each. Cormier wrote: “Truth I’ll knock you out before u knock me out. U don’t hit as hard as people think. I’ll stand right in front of u.”
On Cormier’s plan of striking at him: “I’m really eager to see if he’s really that dumb,” Johnson said Tuesday, laughing.
The two said the social media battle is all in good fun.
“We talk trash to each other, but at the end of the day we still respect each other a lot,” Johnson said. “It’s just alpha-males talking trash and we’re trying to get the fans into it, but we’re also serious when we talk to each other.”
Added Cormier (18-1): “I get on Twitter and let him have it a little bit, just try to remind him that ‘Hey, I won last time, don’t get too crazy.’”
Cormier said he expects a “better version” of the young fighter he beat in 2015, but also sensed a weakness in Johnson in Vegas. In the fight’s dying seconds, he heard Johnson’s coaches yelling “Don’t give up! Don’t give up!”
“I feel like they wouldn’t yell that if they hadn’t seen that before,” Cormier said. “They may see it in training, I don’t know where they’ve seen it, but they’ve seen it before where it must get super tough for him and he kind of folds. I believe that. You will never hear my coaches yell ‘Don’t give up’ because they’ve never seen me just flat out give up. So yeah, I thought it was very telling that they actually said that.”
UFC 206 marks the fifth visit to Toronto but first in three years. Cormier and Johnson did the media rounds in Toronto, and posed in front of the ‘Toronto’ sign at City Hall.
Tom Wright, UFC executive vice-president and GM for UFC operations in Canada, predicts “fireworks” in their rematch.
“If you take a look at both of these guys, they’ve got really impressive records. . . and of those basically 40 fights (combined), about 70 per cent of them don’t go to the judges, and so these guys have knockout power, they know how to finish fights, and so this is going to very high-paced, high-action.”
Toronto holds the record for largest gate in UFC history, when some 55,000 fans watched UFC 129 at Rogers Centre on Apr. 20, 2011.