MMA Today: Anthony Johnson ready for middleweight debut

Jan 12 2012 - 7:10pm

For the past few years, Anthony Johnson has endured a tough task in the days leading up to his fights.

Johnson, who made his debut in the Ultimate Fighting Championship in June 2007 with a 13-second knockout of Chad Reiner, typically shed more than 40 pounds to make weight.

Johnson will not have to make such an extreme cut for future fights. The 27-year-old Georgia native will make his middleweight debut against Vitor Belfort Saturday night in the undercard of "UFC Rio." The event, which will be held at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, airs live on pay per view at 10 p.m. EST.

"I weigh 215 right now, and I still feel great," Johnson said during a conference call last week. "The weight is going to come off, no problem. I will end up cutting my last little bit of weight the day before weigh-in. So this is easy. This is going to be a lot of fun for me.

"That's why I feel so good, because I don't have to cut the weight that I used to cut. And I'm more explosive. I'm more athletic. Everything has just come to where it needs to be right now. I'm peaking at the right time."

Johnson, who won five of his last six fights to improve to 10-3, believes middleweight is his natural class.

"You know, right now, middleweight is where I am. That's all I'm thinking about," he said. "And I really don't mind fighting middleweight, because I get to eat more now. So like I said, I feel a thousand times better than what I did when I fought at 170. That's why I'm so happy and just want to fight really bad."

Johnson will face a difficult opponent in his first middleweight bout. Belfort, who made his UFC debut and won the heavyweight tournament in 1997, then held the UFC light-heavyweight belt in 2004, was defeated by UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva last year.

"It's not intimidating at all," Johnson said. "It's actually motivating for me. It makes me even more hungry because that shows me that UFC believes in me and is giving me this opportunity to fight because he's phenomenal. But when it comes down to fighting, that means nothing. I'm still going to do the best that I can do and do what I know how to do -- punch people, hit people, take people down."

While Johnson's fight against Belfort is a solid contender for fight-of-the-night honors, the main event -- UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo versus undefeated Chad Mendes -- could steal the show.

Aldo, a 25-year-old Brazilian, is widely regarded as the world's top featherweight. He won his last 13 fights, including successful title defenses over Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian in 2011, to improve to 20-1. He also owns victories over Mike Brown, Urijah Faber and Manvel Gamburyan.

Mendes, a former college wrestler for Cal Poly who went 30-1 as a senior in 2008, is relatively new to MMA and enters with an 11-0 record, including two wins in the UFC. Despite the limited resume, Mendes believes his wrestling background can provide an edge over the champion.

"I don't think any of the guys that have fought him have had the wrestling credentials or the wrestling abilities to be able to get a hold of Jose and hold him and get him down and hold him down," said Mendes, 26, a Californian. "So I think my skills, the things that I'm good at, are going to be the key to beating a guy like Jose."

The remainder of the televised card includes middleweights Rousimar Palhares and Mike Massenzio; welterweights Erick Silva and Carlo Prater; and lightweights Edson Barboza and Terry Etim.

The preliminaries, which air live at 8 p.m. on FX, include lightweights Thiago Tavares and Sam Stout; heavyweights Gabriel Gonzaga and Ednaldo Oliveira; featherweights Yuri Alcantara and Michihiro Omigawa; welterweights Ricardo Funch and Mike Pyle; light heavyweights Fabio Maldonado and Caio Magalhaes; and featherweights Felipe Arantes and Antonio Carvalho.

Note: The UFC will make its debut in Sweden on April 14 at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. It will be the fifth international stop for the promotion in the year's first four months, joining Brazil, Japan, Canada and Australia.

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