BUFFALO, N.Y. – put a rather surprising end to an overall weird night when he announced that his UFC 210 headliner against champ .
Following the pay-per-view event, Johnson (22-6 MMA, 13-6 UFC) went into further detail about the somewhat shocking decision, which he clarified he’d made long before Cormier (19-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC) sunk in the .
Whether he left the octagon on Saturday with the 205-pound title or not, Johnson said, his mind was made up. But that doesn’t mean he’d in any way “checked out” coming into the rematch.
“I felt great,” Johnson said backstage at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y. “I trained my butt of to fight Daniel. You still saw ‘Rumble’ out there, trying to knock heads off and try to go out there and give his all. I went out there and did my thing, and whatever happened was going to happen. I wasn’t really worried about anything. I just went out there and did my best.
“Of course, I’m an athlete. I’ve always been an athlete. So I wanted to come out on top.”
While Johnson spoke mostly candidly about his octagon run, he remained cryptic about the non-MMA-related future he alluded to in his post-fight interview. That’s a clarification he said he’s not yet ready to make – though he did rule out a few options, including exclusively pursuing his well-known passion for caring for dogs or – – joining the Los Angeles Rams.
“It’s just business,” Johnson said. “I want to do something beside going to the gym every day, punching and kicking, and rolling around with another dude. That (expletive) get old. I’ve been doing this for so long. I’ve been in sports since I was 8. It’s just time to move on to something different. I won’t say better, but just different.
“And no, I am not about to play football for the Rams. Because everybody’s hitting me up and saying some crazy stuff. ‘I’m about to play for the Rams.’ Why would I go to another sport that is the same thing as this and you take the same impact? That’s absolutely insane.”
Johnson also addressed his Saturday strategy, which struck many – including – as odd considering the challenger’s willingness to play to the champ’s strengths.
“The game plan was to win,” Johnson said. “(To) keep my composure, control the pace and things like that. Just in the middle of the fight, I just kind of fell off track and started playing his game, which was wrestling and things like that. I felt fine. I felt great. It wasn’t like I was tired. He beat me. I don’t take anything away from him.”
In spite of a second title-costing loss and to the same man, Johnson walks away as one of the most menacing presences in the UFC’s light-heavyweight division. Between his two losing appointments with Cormier, who also turned out to be the only 205-pounder to ever beat him in octagon, came a streak of three “Performance of the Night” knockouts.
Johnson’s career, of course, didn’t come without its bumps. Apart from the , which in turn made for a turbulent relationship with the media, he also had problems inside of it before successfully moving up two weight divisions in what became one of the sport’s most remarkable career reinventions.
But, when it comes to MMA, Johnson doesn’t “regret a single thing.” His career highlight, he said, was “every fight” – from the UFC 142 loss to Vitor Belfort that had him first leaving the UFC on a sour note, to the time he “shut down” Sweden at UFC on FOX 14 with a quick knockout of Alexander Gustafsson to solidify his comeback.
“Not many people can go through hell and back like I did and still rise to the top,” Johnson said. “I didn’t win a title, but I was still knocking at that door. Nobody can say they did what I did.
“(I want the be remembered as) just the guy that went out there and went all out and never gave up. And even when I was down and was getting stepped on and kicked and things like that, I still kept going. I didn’t win all of my fights, obviously, but I went out there and did my best, and I think people appreciated what I did for them, and what they saw in me out there. I hope that I made a lot of people happy and excited to see me fight.”
But Johnson does lament one missed opportunity: the chance to face former 205-pound kingpin (22-1 MMA, 16-1 UFC) – whom he was supposed to fight before the then-titleholder’s had him walking away from their UFC 187 encounter and that Cormier ended up conquering.
“I’m an alpha male, and he’s an alpha male,” Johnson said. “I wanted to see what I can do against him. I am pretty sure he wanted to see what he can do against me. Because you guys hyped it up so much that I was supposed to be the guy who beat him, and all this and that. You guys do your job very well, hyping things up, so props to you. But I feel I’m more – I don’t know if I want to say sad, disappointed, for the fans, because I know they really wanted to see it.
“Day in and day out, people are always talking about Jon Jones and myself fighting each other, and it just never happened. Maybe if I decide to come back one day, we can fight at heavyweight or something like that.”
Asked to elect the toughest out of all the scraps in which he in fact got to perform, Johnson had an honest and somewhat profound reply.
“Toughest fight I could possibly think of was always with myself,” Johnson said. “That’s just what it is. That’s everybody’s fight. You always battle yourself and not the opponent.”
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