Standing next to the 6-foot-2 Anthony Johnson (11-4), it's hard to believe the broad-shouldered slugger ever found a way to make it down to 170 pounds.
And while his critics would immediately point to the four times Johnson has missed weight in his 15 professional bouts, "Rumble" isn't interested in arguing about the past.
After electing to make the move to light heavyweight, Johnson insists he's happier than ever. The stress and worries that once accompanied his fighting career are gone, and at 28 years old, Johnson feels he's making a new start to his career.
"It is a new start," Johnson told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). "It's now or never, and I still have a lot of improving to do, especially being at 205 pounds. There are good strikers, good ground guys. There are guys like Lyoto Machida at 205 pounds. He's a threat to anybody. We'll see. I'm just excited about it, and we'll see what I can do."
Johnson's decision to move to the light heavyweight division comes after a pair of embarrassing outings in which the 11-time UFC veteran and former welterweight contender actually missed back-to-back attempts at making the middleweight limit. Johnson, who has long been hounded to change weight classes after missing weight for a 2007 welterweight bout with Rich Clementi and again in 2009 for a fight with Yoshiyuki Yoshida, admits he should have made the move sooner. However, he does not credit public pressure for finally swaying him to make the shift.
"I just didn't want the stress anymore," Johnson said. "Dropping all that weight like I was, it was a lot of stress behind me – too much thinking and not enough actually putting time into stuff. I don't want to go through that anymore.
"When I decided to move up, I started thinking about my past and stuff. I should have probably been here a while ago, just with my bodyframe and the muscle mass I have. Obviously I can get up heavier, but this is where I should have been a long time ago.
"I don't regret my past because it made me who I am today. I learned a lot from my past, and hopefully I can use what I learned in the past now at 205 pounds."
Johnson's first opponent at light heavyweight has yet to be determined, but there is a strong likelihood he will be facing a fighter stronger than any he ever met at 170 pounds. However, Johnson said he's not concerned at any potential power disparity and cites his current work with Florida's Blackzilian camp as proof he can hang with opponents of any size.
"I'm fighting bigger guys now, and some might be stronger," Johnson said. "So what? When I'm training with Rashad Evans and Alistair Overeem, hell, it doesn't get any bigger or better than that.
"I don't need to be bigger than anybody. I don't care about the size. The bigger they are, the harder they fall."
Johnson's first fight at light heavyweight will likely be the subject of much scrutiny. He was once considered a prospect talented enough to give UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre fits, but his constant battles with the scales prevented that possibility from ever coming close to fruition. Now, and despite boasting a respectable 3-1 record in his past four fights and a career octagon mark of 7-4, Johnson is on the regional stage and trying to make his way back to the top.
A strong wrestler by trade and gifted with heavy hands, Johnson has always been willing to brawl, and he promises to keep that mantra in his new division. But with the pressures and constant weight concerns now a thing of the past, "Rumble" believes it's finally his time to shine.
"Do I think I'm going to be successful at 205 pounds?" Johnson asked. "I think I will be more successful there than what I was at 170. I don't have to lose as much as weight. I don't have to worry about anything. I don't have to stress as much. I can come in there healthier, happier. My mind will be just right. I'm looking forward to it."