Meet the new Anthony "Rumble" Johnson who, unfortunately for late replacement Jose Augusto, looks a whole heck of a lot like the old one.
Johnson (23-6) added yet another one-punch knockout to his career highlight reel on Friday when he returned from a four-year retirement to finish Augusto (7-3) in the final quarterfinal matchup of the Bellator MMA Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix. Johnson advanced to the semifinal round where he will face reigning 205-pound champion Vadim Nemkov.
Originally scheduled to face fellow former UFC title challenger Yoel Romero, Johnson accepted the fight against Augusto on just six days' notice after Romero failed a pre-fight medical exam. Yet thanks to Augusto, the 29-year-old native of Brazil who won his Bellator debut last month, the replacement fight turned out just as wild as the Romero fight was expected to be.
Johnson, 37, delivered a counter right hand in the co-main event of Bellator 258 to knock Augusto out cold inside the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, at 1:30 of Round 2 but was forced to rally after being dropped the previous round.
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Not only did Johnson get caught with a left hand late in Round 1 that wobbled him and a subsequent two-punch combo to drop him, he didn't remember the moment at all during his post-fight interview.
"I felt [the left hook] but I wasn't like -- I don't think I was wobbled. If it looked like that on tape then I can't answer," Johnson said while watching highlights. "Honestly, I felt like I was just off balance when he hit me. I'll admit it [after watching], that's the first time I have been rocked [in my career]. I don't even remember it."
Johnson, who last fought in 2017 when he dropped a light heavyweight title rematch to Daniel Cormier at UFC 210, made big headlines in December when he signed a free-agent contract with Bellator MMA one week before Romero did. And his first fight back saw equal flashes of good and bad.
Although Johnson was the aggressor off the start and landed the more telling blows early, Augusto did well to avoid Johnson's bigger strikes and appeared to succeed in starting to tire him out in a fight that was scheduled for five rounds. But Augusto's chances started to slip away when he hurt his right hand after landing a right cross to the head of Johnson and nearly turned his back on the action shortly after when a subsequent right hand caused him pain.
Johnson stepped up his pace knowing his opponent was hurt and landed a flurry of combinations to the body along the cage while mixing in heavy right uppercuts through Augusto's guard. But Johnson's aggression would leave him open to counter shots that eventually dropped him and caused Johnson to scramble out of a submission attempt on the ground.
A frustrated Johnson would land the fight-ending right hand in the following round after missing with the jab that set it up.
"[Nemkov] is going to be a hell of a fight. I like Nemkov, he's the total package. He can do it all," Johnson said. "I look forward to testing him with my old skills. We are still in with the old and not in with the new. It is what it is."
Nemkov defended his title in April by outpointing Phil Davis in their rematch which served as a quarterfinal bout in the Grand Prix.