UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier says he needs a bit of time away from the sport before defending his crown for the second time.
Former opponent Anthony “Rumble” Johnson doesn’t seem to agree, though, saying the newly crowned champion hasn’t quite earned the right to make such demands when there’s a backlog of 205-pound contenders waiting for a shot at the light heavyweight throne.
“Daniel is his own man,” Johnson told the media (h/t MMAFighting). “I don’t know why he would say he wants six months off. Maybe he wants time to heal, spend more time with his family, train more to perfect his craft. I don’t know. Do I see it as being selfish? No. But I want to say this: I don’t feel like he’s earned it enough to say, ‘I need six months off.'”
In fairness, Cormier’s had one of the toughest years any fighter’s endured of late. He faced Jon Jones in a five-round unanimous decision loss in January, Johnson in May and Alexander Gustafsson in October. Those three are, by most accounts, the top three 205-pounders on the planet — quite possibly even the toughest crop of contenders the division’s ever had.
Still, Johnson doesn’t think DC’s been doing this “titleholder” thing long enough to make such a bold request.
“If Jon was still the champ after two years of whooping ass and he says, ‘Dude, I need six or eight months off,’ you deserve those six to eight months,” “Rumble” said. “You know what I mean? Because you’ve put in the time, you’ve put in the work. Not saying Daniel didn’t do that. But I think he should keep grinding. That’s to me, in my opinion, that’s what Daniel does. He should just keep grinding before it gets too late, because there’s a lot of hungry guys coming up. It’s only a matter of time before his body is gonna say, ‘no more.’ Give [him] six months off again, he might not be performing the same. So he needs to stay active, you know what I mean?”
“Rumble,” who meets fellow top-five contender Ryan Bader at the main event of the UFC’s first 2016 event on FOX on Jan. 30 in Newark, New Jersey, could find himself atop the list of contenders if victorious. Currently ranked the top-ranked contender in the UFC’s 205-pound division — a post that’s likely going to be taken from him once Jones is reinstated in the rankings any day now — Johnson first made his return to the Zuffa waters after a two-year absence in 2014.
A rejuvenated man no longer competing as an emaciated 170-pounder, Johnson looked to take control of the top-heavy light heavyweight class as a swollen version of his former self. It started with an impressive, admittedly unexpected toppling of former top-five contender Phil Davis at UFC 172. After a gimme-victory over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Johnson shocked the masses once more when he stopped Gustafsson in the first round of their main even fight in the Swede’s backyard this January.
The victory afforded him a highly anticipated matchup against the division’s former kingpin, only to see his original opponent suspended indefinitely. He’d no longer be fighting the crafty champion, but facing the division’s most recent title contender in a shot for the vacant throne. One massive haymaker nearly saw “Rumble” toss the crown on his own head, but a resilient Cormier fought through the haze associated with Johnson’s right hand and outworked the 31-year-old Blackzilian fighter.
A loss to the champion could have seen Johnson’s title hopes permanently disappear, but with Jones scheduled to not only return, but to regain his title, “Rumble” could easily make a case for a second chance at the champion he was once meant to face.