The MMA community has been left shocked by the news that UFC and Bellator star Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson has passed away at just 38-years-old.
It had been known that Johnson was dealing with an undisclosed health issue for quite some time and in recent photos had looked considerably thinner than he had been before, but he’d kept the reason for that private.
Now it’s emerged that he died due to organ failure as the result of having non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH).
Lymphoma as a condition that sees lymph-node cells multiply uncontrollably, producing cancerous cells that can invade other parts of the body, while HLH is a severe systemic inflammatory syndrome that can be fatal as it attacks the body rather than bacteria and viruses.
The sad news means that MMA has lost a fighter who may very well have been one of the heaviest hitters in the history of the sport.
The evidence for that is compelling.
Johnson was just 3-0 when he first joined the UFC as a welterweight in 2007, and he started as he meant to go on by KO’ing Chad Reiner.
‘Rumble’ would go on to compile a 6-3 record at 170lbs, with five of those victories coming via strikes, including KO’ing Tom Speers, Kevin Burns and Charlie Brenneman along with TKO’s of Luigi Fioravanti and Yushiuki Yoshida.
However, Johnson repeatedly struggled to make weight and so he’d soon find himself being released from the UFC and competing up at light-heavyweight.
And remarkably his power proved to be just as devastating at 205lbs as he promptly racked up three wins in a row via strikes.
In fact, Johnson, who was now competing for WSOF, actually then moved up to heavyweight to fight Andrei Arlovski, where he’d break his jaw in the first round, before dropping back down to 205lbs to KO Mike Kyle, which would result in him being re-signed by the UFC.
Johnson’s second spell in the UFC proved to be even more successful than the first, with a win over Phil Davis followed by a KO of Antonio Rogerio Rodriguez and TKO of Alexander Gustafsson leading him to a light-heavyweight title shot against Daniel Cormier in 2017, which he’d lose by submission.
Undeterred, Johnson’s now infamous punching power was again on display in his next three Octagon outings, KO’ing Jimi Manuwa, Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira to earn a title rematch against DC, where he’d again lose out by submission.
In his post-fight interview Johnson caught everyone by surprise when he announced that he was retiring from the sport.
In 2019 Johnson revealed that he was in talks with the UFC about a possible comeback, and did eventually re-enter the USADA testing pool in August of the following year, but a few months later it emerged that he had left the UFC and was now signed to Bellator.
In his Bellator debut, and what would prove to be his final fight, Johnson fittingly capped off his career in the style he’d become accustomed to, KO’ing Jose Augusto Azevedo in the quarter-finals of their light-heavyweight grand-prix.
Johnson had been scheduled to fight Bellator champion Vadim Nemkov in the semi-finals, but he withdrew from the contest due to an unspecified illness and tragically only 13 months later he passed away.
In total Johnson’s career ended with a 23-6 record, including 17 finishes by way of strikes. Johnson remains tied with Anderson Silva and Thiago Silva as having the 4th most knockout wins in UFC history (11).
Johnson is the second former UFC fighter to have died far too young this year, with Elias Theodorou having lost his life at 34-years-old after a private battle with stage-four colon cancer.