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Back in the UFC, Anthony Johnson no longer sees weight as a problem

Johnson takes on Phil Davis in first UFC appearance since January 2012

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Steve Marcus

Anthony Johnson of Boca Raton, Fla., celebrates his victory over DJ Linderman of Yreka, Calif., during his World Series of Fighting debut in the PH Live theater at Planet Hollywood on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012.

The persistent topic Anthony Johnson can never dodge came up within 10 minutes of the first UFC 172 media session of fight week.

It wasn’t a reporter belaboring the point of the returning UFC fighter’s weight for once. Rather it was UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who was also on a conference call promoting Saturday’s pay-per-view card in Baltimore, prodding on how much Johnson weighed.

Johnson responded that he was 215 pounds, right where he needed to be ahead of cutting weight to make the 205-pound light heavyweight limit on Friday, and returned the query. Jones, who puts his championship on the line against Glover Teixeira in the main event, said he was currently 220 pounds.

“You’re bigger than me, fat boy,” Johnson said playfully.

Johnson has moved beyond letting allusions to his repeated failings to make weight in the past bother him. The way Johnson greets them now going into his UFC 173 co-main event bout against Phil Davis is with a joke.

“I just smile about it,” Johnson said. “What can I say? I brought it upon myself. I’ll admit that.”

Johnson has come to accept the mistakes as a part of his career narrative that will never cease, even though he’s left them behind. Johnson hasn’t missed weight in two years since moving to light heavyweight.

But the 30-year-old had to turn things around outside of the UFC, which exiled him in 2012 after too many weigh-in snafus. Johnson’s last bout in the octagon was a first-round submission loss to Vitor Belfort at UFC 142.

Johnson had moved up to the 185-pound middleweight division for the showdown but came in 12 pounds too heavy. It followed a disturbing trend of weigh-in scares at welterweight, where Johnson twice tipped the scales well above the 170-pound limit while in the UFC.

“I was just young and dumb and not caring as much as I should have,” Johnson said.

Johnson, along with almost everyone else in mixed martial arts circles, knew he was far too big to safely compete at 170 pounds like he did during his first four years in the UFC. But stubbornness forced him to keep dangerously cutting down to a class 35 pounds lower than where he naturally fit at light heavyweight.

An exacerbated UFC President Dana White cut Johnson from the roster after the Belfort loss but never dismissed the opportunity of him coming back after getting himself in order. Johnson didn’t have a reckoning of how badly he wanted to earn his way back until missing weight again in his first post-UFC bout.

It was after that fight, a unanimous-decision win over David Branch in Titan Fighting Championships, that Johnson decided to give light heavyweight a try. The switch has looked like the best decision of his career.

He’s won all five fights since ditching his middleweight and welterweight pipe dreams, including four by knockout and three in World Series of Fighting.

“He’s a dude I’ve been watching for a long time — actually a dude I’ve been a fan of, so it’s a cool opportunity,” Davis said. “I think he’s dangerous all over. He has a lot of experience. There are no real big holes in his game.”

It was difficult to ever find any glaring weaknesses when it came to Johnson, always highly regarded. But he said the profile he built for himself in the cage had shielded internal issues.

Johnson had mental shortcomings during his first stint in the UFC that played into his insistence of staying in weight classes where he didn’t belong. He overcame all of that outside of the UFC, an experience that delivered him to where he was supposed to be.

“It’s great for me not to have to cut so much,” Johnson said. “I feel awesome. I’m just ready to get it done.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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