Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson, seasoned and dynamic UFC contender, is in optimistic mood about the health of MMA as he prepares to make his Bellator bow on Friday against Jose Augusto.
The light heavyweight (22-6) feels the rise of competing organisations like Bellator has created options for fighters and improved their chances of securing appropriate pay.
Johnson told Sky Sports this week: “Speaking on all of it in general, I think we, as MMA fighters, should be getting paid just as well as the NBA players, the NFL players and Major League Baseball, hockey as well, I’m not trying to skip any sport as I don’t think any sport is superior to the other.
“But I think we should be getting paid, no matter who you fight for, the same way because we put our lives on the line.
“The fact that those other athletes know who we are, that they come to watch us, not play, but fight, I’m like ‘man, these fans are coming to see us, these other athletes who make millions are coming to see us, we deserve to get a piece of the pie’.”
For many, the battle for commensurate pay in MMA is being played out most conspicuously by the public negotiation between the UFC and Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones.
The mooted match between explosive heavyweight champion Ngannou and legendary light heavyweight king, Jones is apparently being held up because of a disagreement over the fight’s value. But Johnson is unequivocal, it’s a contest that makes money for all parties, including the UFC.
“If those two gentlemen want to fight each other, let them fight,” he said. “They are the best in the world. The UFC knows what it’s worth. If these guys are asking for a few million give it to them because you’ve already made your millions.”
On his personal experience, 37-year-old Johnson has nothing but positive things to say about his old employer, the UFC, but is embracing Bellator culture as he prepares for his quarter-final match in the light heavyweight World Grand Prix tournament.
“Everyone is so laid-back. Everyone is super cool. And the staff at the UFC was amazing. I never had any issues with them. But in Bellator there are some faces I haven’t seen for a while and everyone is so welcoming, everything feels so natural,” he said.
Johnson himself comes across as cool and calm despite a late change of opponent, after another UFC legend Yoel Romero failed a medical screening. ‘Rumble’ certainly isn’t expecting an easy night in Connecticut, even though Augusto (7-2) has only appeared once before in Bellator.
“It’s just fine, it’s another fight,” he said. “It’s another deadly opponent, which is what I expect from here on out in my career. I don’t expect to fight people who are not on my level. I expect to fight hardcore stone-cold killers. Even though people haven’t heard of him, he’s dangerous.
“I don’t know him at all. I watched a couple of his fights and he does have talent. He does present a couple of things that I have to watch out for. We both haven’t had enough time to study each other. And everybody thinks they have figured me out. They think they can take me down and submit me, but it’s a lot harder than it looks,” Johnson said with a grin.
Neutrals will be inclined to back Johnson, who has 16 knockout wins on his record, to prevail and book his spot in the semi-final of the tournament. That would also bring a title shot as the champion Vadim Nemkov awaits the winner in the final four. But the heavy-handed American says he can’t afford to contemplate that:
“It’s a tournament, anything can happen. Everyone in this tournament is legit. They put in their time. As far as Nemkov, I can’t think about him. If I think about him, I’m looking past the guy who’s trying to take my head off… Nekmov can wait!”
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