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HomeSPORTSAnthony ‘rumble’ Johnson dies at 38 after long battle with illness

Anthony ‘rumble’ Johnson dies at 38 after long battle with illness

The mixed martial arts world is in mourning after a star of the industry sadly passed away on Monday morning.

Tributes began pouring in on social media after Anthony “Rumble” Johnson died at the age of 38 following a long battle with illness.

MMA journalist Ariel Helwani confirmed the tragic news of Johnson’s passing.

“Horrible news: Anthony “Rumble” Johnson passed away today,” he tweeted.

“He was 38 years old. Johnson had been battling an illness for quite some time. One of the hardest hitters and most talented fighters in MMA history. Gone way too soon. May he rest in peace.”

Johnson’s manager Ali Abdelaziz tweeted hours ahead of Helwani’s confirmation, simply stating he was “heartbroken” by the passing.

In response to Helwani’s tweet, a user pointed out Johnson’s heartbreaking post from 2021 where he spoke about his scary illness.

“Really wish I could go into detail about how ill I truly am. Just know I need as many prayers as I can get and I’ll see you in 2022 God willing,” Johnson wrote.

“Never been this afraid of anything in my life but I’ve remained strong with the support of friends and family.”

Johnson’s cause of death was organ failure due to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis.

Bellator president Scott Coker spoke in January with MMAJunkie about Johnson’s return timeline and how it would be dictated by his health battle.

“Without getting too much into his medical condition, he’s got to worry just about being healthy first,” Coker said.

“He’s got to heal up and get healthy because there’s so much more in life than just fighting. I want him to have a long, healthy life, and that’s the most important thing.”

Tributes poured in from all over the mixed martial arts world after news of Johnson’s passing with fighters left heartbroken.

“Rest Easy my brother. For a guy who struck fear in so many peoples heart Anthony Johnson was a caring person. From random text to check ins during loss. What a person he was, Rumble will be missed. Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair. Horrible news,” Cormier wrote.

UFC legend Michael Bisping wrote: “Utterly shocked and saddened by this. RIP. Sincere condolences to all his family and loved ones.”

Former UFC fighter Paige VanZant wrote: “RIP legend.”

Fighter Michael Chiesa wrote: “RIP Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. One of the most prolific KO artists our sport has ever seen. My prayers go out to his family and everyone affected by this tragedy.”

Referee John McCarthy wrote: “Crushed and devastated to learn that Anthony Johnson has passed away. AJ was one of the good guys, he was a great man with a huge heart. God Bless you AJ, I will miss you my brother. RIP Rumble.”

Johnson had two stints in the UFC, his first from 2007 to 2012 as a weltweight before he rejoined the promotion from 2014-2017 as a light heavyweight.

With dynamite in his hands Johnson defeated some star power with wins over Glover Teixeira, Alexander Gustafsson and Ryan Bader.

He earned two shots at the light heavyweight championship, both coming against Daniel Cormier where he lost via submission on both occasions.

Johnson’s final fight came at Bellator 258 where he knocked out Jose Augusto Azevedo Barros in the second round.

The win came in the quarterfinal stages of the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix. He was however forced to withdraw from the tournament due to an unspecified illness.

 

And new! Adesanya stunned for THIRD time as kickboxer steals epic UFC title boilover

One of the UFC’s greatest champions has been dethroned.

NZ-based superstar Israel Adesanya has been handed his first middleweight defeat – and first ever MMA stoppage loss – in a stunning upset by Alex Pereira.

The 35-year-old Brazilian had twice beaten Adesanya in kickboxing (via a controversial decision in 2016 and knockout in 2017), before today’s statement victory in their trilogy bout at the iconic Madison Square Garden, New York.

Adesanya entered the meeting on the back of a 12-fight win streak at his native middleweight, with his only UFC defeat coming when he took on Jan Błachowicz for the light heavyweight title in March 2021.

But Pereira, a two-division kickboxing Glory champion, fought through great adversity – having been rocked at the end of the first round, and dominated on the floor in the third round – to fight back and steal a knockout win with a barrage of punches in the fifth and final round.

At the time, Adesanya was up three rounds to one on all three judges’ scorecards, with Pereira’s team repeatedly telling the Brazilian before the final round that he needed a knockout to secure the world title strap.

Victory caps a staggering rise to UFC glory for Pereira, who lost his MMA debut in 2015, before a remarkable six-fight win streak upon his return to the sport, including five stoppages, earned him a championship shot in just his fourth UFC appearance.

“This accomplishment is otherworldly,” Jon Anik said in commentary.

A rematch is almost a certainty, given Adesanya’s dominance of the division for years and the quality of their title bout.

The bout capped off one of the great UFC events, with 11 of the 15 fights ending in stoppages, including a record-equalling seven first-round finishes. Read on for our recap of the action.

Unsurprisingly, the pair of kickboxing champions began with a barrage of leg kicks, with Pereira having the better of the exchanges in the opening 90 seconds before Adesanya landed a right hand.

“It’s amazing how much bigger Pereira looks,” Jon Anik said, having cut over 10kg more weight than the champion.

Pereira soon had swelling under his right eye, before Adesanya landed a good left leg kick to the body.

But Pereira landed a monster body kick when Adesanya went to southpaw, and landed hard shots to the body including a knee when Adesanya clinched.

Then right at the death, Adesanya rocked his rival with a massive right hand to the ear, and followed it immediately on the buzzer with a left hook. Pereira wobbled but was saved by the clock.

Adesanya was struggling to deal with Pereira’s hard jabs in the second round, but replied with a strong right hand midway through the round. But Pereira landed a pair of left hands on his own as Adesanya was stuck against the cage. Pereira landed a head kick and multiple body kicks as Adesanya looked to wrestle far more than he typically would – but it was Pereira who claimed a take-down just before the second round ended, with the buzzer stopping him from doing any damage.

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Adesanya ended up on top of his rival after Pereira badly defended a take-down attempt one minute into the third round, and the champion dragged his rival back down to the ground to deliver ground-and-pound – his first career UFC take-down.

Adesanya used brilliant wrist control to pin down his rival while laying in left hooks from the back. Adesanya tried to turn his rival onto his back on the floor, a mistake – but Pereira abandoned the leg lock he was gifted, while also failing to regain his feet. Adesanya briefly stood up and delivered one brutal kick to the chest before the round ended.

Worn out from the extended grappling, Pereira significantly slowed in the fourth round as Adesanya began to open up and land combinations. Adesanya failed to make his advantage tell, struggling to take him downs both fighters left some energy in reserve.

“You need to knock him out,” Pereira’s team told him ahead of the final round. And he came out firing, landing a brutal left in close before Adesanya clinched.

Adesanya slipped as he attempted a leg kick and stumbled backwards to the canvas, but Pereira failed to capitalise.

Likely behind on the scorecards and needing a finish, Pereira exploded forwards and unleashed a barrage of punches, rocking Adesanya repeatedly. The champion simply couldn’t escape the punishment before the referee rightly stepped in.

Earlier, the action at Madison Square Garden in New York delivered unbelievable chaos, with a double-knockdown as two fighters simultaneously landed left hooks, and some scoring controversy inside the cage.

There’s also been a staggering jab knockout and a 23-year-old announcing herself as a future champion with a demolition over a fan favourite, before a future Hall-of-Famer retired in sad fashion.

FULL CARD RESULTS

MAIN CARD

Alex Pereira def. Israel Adesanya by R5 TKO (punches) for the UFC middleweight title

Zhang Weili def. Carla Esparza by R2 sub (rear-naked choke) for the UFC strawweight title

Dustin Poirier def. Michael Chandler by R3 sub (rear-naked choke) – Lightweights

Chris Gutierrez def. Frankie Edgar by R1 KO (flying knee) – bantamweights

Dan Hooker def. Claudio Puelles by R2 TKO (body kicks) – Lightweights

PRELIMS

Renato Moicano def. Brad Riddell by R1 sub (rear-naked choke) – Lightweights

Ryan Spann def. Dominick Reyes via R1 KO (punches) – Light Heavyweights

Erin Blanchfield def. Molly McCann by R1 sub (Kimura) – Flyweights

Andre Petroski def. Wellington Turman by UD (30-27 x 2, 29-28) – Middleweights

FIGHT PASS PRELIMS

Matt Frevola def. Ottman Azaitar by R1 KO – Lightweights

Karolina Kowalkiewicz def. Silvana Gomez Juarez by UD (29-28 x3) – Strawweights

Michael Trizano def. Choi Seung-woo by R1 KO (punches) – Featherweights

Montel Jackson def Julio Arce by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) – Bantamweights

Carlos Ulberg def. Nicolae Negumereanu by R1 KO (punches) — Light Heavyweights

CHINA STAR MAKES STATEMENT TO REGAIN BELT

China superstar Zhang Weili has regained the UFC strawweight title with a hugely impressive win over two-time champion Carla Esparza.

Weili attacked from the outset, forcing the fight with high-tempo offence, and coming out on top a minute into the second round via rear naked choke.

An outmuscled Esparza copped her first loss since 2018, showing significantly less strength than the new Chinese champion on her feet and out-wrestled on the ground despite Esparza’s renown as a submission talent.

“Today is like a dream come true,” Zhang said, having lost the belt in 2021 to Rose Namajunas and failed to regain it in a rematch later the same year. “Every day and every single night I dream of this moment.”

Zhang began aggressively, repeatedly landing inside leg kicks. Then midway through the first round, Esparza copped a numbed of brutal shots to the head and desperately retreated. The pair went to the ground and both attempted submissions, defending with brilliant scrambles and reverses.

In the second round, Zhang again got the upper hand with the pair on their feet, before defending a take-down attempt and soon turning the tables to achieve a crucifix, quickly transitioning to claim the finish through a rear naked choke.

UNBELIEVABLE ‘FIGHT OF THE YEAR’

It promised excitement. It delivered in spades – and then some. Dustin Poirier, the former interim lightweight champion, won out in a bloody war over Michael Chandler, a victory that will likely earn him another shot at the belt after featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski faces current titleholder Islam Makhachev in February.

Both fighters looked on the verge of losing at multiple times throughout the rollercoaster fight, before Poirier won by third-round submission.

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Poirier checked an early leg kick which led to Chandler wincing in pain and immediately swelling on his own leg. After the pair clashed heads, Chandler rocked his rival with a barrage of shots against the fence which had Poirier in trouble – though he managed to escape any serious damage from a succession of take-downs. Then Poirier turned the tables and rocked Chandler with a sizzling assault on his feet in the dying seconds, with Chandler in dire straits after having his face bloodied and beaten with punches and one final deadly elbow.

Chandler’s face immediately poured blood as the second round began, his corner’s desperate attempts to stem the bleeding failing the moment the action resumed.

But Chandler exploded from the blocks to claim a much-needed take-down. Chandler climbed onto the back of his rival and went for his favoured rear-naked choke, and controlled his rival on the ground for the entire round.

“A terrible round for Poirier, he had all the momentum,” Cormier said in commentary.

“Giant round for Michael Chandler,” Jon Anik said, “Total and complete domination.”

Chandler looked tired at the outset of the third round, and chased a take-down which Poirier defended unbelievably well, turning the tables and scooting onto Chandler’s back – and forcing the submission via rear-naked choke.

Afterwards, Poirier told Chandler: “I was scared to fight you,” and in his post-fight interview admitted he was in deep trouble, saying: “If he throwed straight he probably would have got me out of there, man.”

Poirier was repeatedly complaining to the referee during the bout, and claimed afterwards: “He stuck his fingers in my mouth to lift my neck and get a choke.”

The illegal ‘fishhook’ move was shown clearly on video replay after the bout.

It was 33-year-old Poirier’s first fight since last December when he fell short against then-lightweight champion Charles Oliveira. But he now looks set for one final title run.

LEGEND SAYS GOODBYE

Future UFC hall-of-famer Frankie Edgar has fought his last fight – and it ended in a devastating knockout defeat in front of his family at MSG.

The 41-year-old first enjoyed the Octagon in 2007 and rose to the top of the sport as lightweight champion, but has slipped away in recent years – and took a brutal Chris Gutierrez flying knee to the chin in the first round.

Edgar immediately slumped to his back unconscious, 121 seconds into his final bout.

“There’s no fairytales in fighting,” Daniel Cormier said.

He added: “All of our favourite fighters, when they walk away they generally go out like that – on their back.”

Edgar said: “I’m okay man … I love this sport man. Didn’t want to go out like that. This sport’s a b***h. I got my family here, that’s all that matters.”

He departs with a record of 23-11-1, having fought the best of the best for 15 incredible years, but was sent straight to hospital following the defeat.

Gutierrez is now 7-0-1 in an eight-fight unbeaten streak, taking him to 19-3-2 overall.

It was also a record-equalling seventh first-round knockout of the UFC 281 card.

ALL-TIME PROMO AFTER CRUSHING WIN

Renato Moicano crushed Kiwi Brad Riddell with a first-round rear-naked choke in the highly-anticipated final bout of the preliminary card, then delivered one of the greatest expletive-ridden post-fight promos we’ve ever seen.

He roared: “F***ing Joe Rogan, what’s up … Yo, where we at? I thought we were in New York. New York is f***ing awesome. Let’s f***ing go!

He called Joe Rogan: “the smartest person on the earth, bro,” then went on a wild rant.

Moicano declared “I’m here to take over all these motherf***ers. I’m here to take over. Make no mistake. I lost only to the best. But today I’m the f***ing best.

“Let’s go New York! Make some f***ing noise!”

He also hilariously spoke about himself in the third person: “Moicano doesn’t give a s**t. I can beat these guys on strike, I can’t beat these guys on wrestling.”

As the epic rant went on, he demanded to be placed on the UFC contender rankings, opened up about a late-notice fight (“I was f***ing drinking beer in the streets in Brazil”) and finished by demanding: “Motherf***ers respect me. I want the f***ing bonus. Maicano wants MONEY!”

‘DECAPITATION’ SHOCKS MSG

Light heavyweight Ryan Spann demolished Dominick Reyes with a supremely devastating jab that sent Reyes straight to sleep.

Spann now has 15 first-round finishes and moves to 21-7, with 18 of his wins coming by finishes.

“Damn I look good,” he declared after watching the video replay, and remarkably declared he had never trained for more than three weeks ahead of a previous bout.

“I trained (for this). I literally trained. I’ve never trained for a fight before.”

But for former title contender Reyes, that’s now three-straight KO defeats.

‘I MAKE NAILS LOOK SOFT

Kiwi Dan ‘The Hangman’ Hooker is back to winning ways (and now 22-12) after a bizarre bout with Claudio Puelles.

The southpaw battled off an early grappling war with Puelles in the first round, fighting away a number of ankle hooks and leg submission attempts. When the duo were on their feet, however, he used his height and length to snipe his rival – then demolished him with a series of front kicks to the ribs.

Puelles was repeatedly left flopping on the ground, with Hooker not pressing his advantage but rather letting his rival get back to the floor – only to repeat the body abuse.

Eventually, Puelles simply refused to get back to his feet, with the referee waving the fight off deep in the second round.

Hooker said: “I’m six foot with a vicious hook. I bite down on this mouthpiece, and ooh boy I make nails look soft.”

“Perth, I’m coming for you. Any man walking the face of this earth can get it!”

UNBELIEVABLE DOUBLE KNOCKDOWN STUNS

Featherweights Michael Trizano and Seung Woo Choi came to scrap – and it unsurprisingly didn’t last even one round.

In a high-octane fight, the pair landed left hooks at the exact same time, sending BOTH fighters sprawling to the canvas.

But Trizano – the The Ultimate Fighter 27 winner – came out on top with the fourth knockdown of a crazy round, with another left hook sending his South Korean rival crashing to the ground late in the first round, before he quickly finished him with a pair of shots on the ground.

SCORECARD CONTROVERSY RAISES EYEBROWS

Karolina Kowalkiewicz beat former title contender Silvana Gomez Juarez via unanimous decision in a very, very close strawweight bout.

But while the high-quality contest impressed fans around the world, what happened next was the very opposite. After handing the official scorecards up to the ring to be read out, officials soon edited one of the scores – seemingly after a judge’s mistake.

Kowalkiewicz was given scores of 29-28, 29-28, 29-28 and the win, but the farcical scenes caused plenty of concern.

‘PURE DOMINATION’ BY RISING STAR

23-year-old Erin Blanchfield might have been fighting on home soil, but she was booed on arrival by the crowd at Madison Square Garden – such is the popularity of Liverpool’s Molly ‘Meatball’ McCann.

But undefeated rising flyweight star ‘Cold Blooded’ Blanchfield won her seventh-straight in crushing fashion, quickly taking McCann to the ground before pouring on the pain in the crucifix position and finally forcing her rival to tap out with a Kimura.

“This was not competitive at all, Blanchfield dominated from start to finish.” UFC Hall of Famer Daniel Cormier said: “That was pure domination … what a performance”.

Statistics showed she threw 111 strikes to 6.

Blanchfield said: “That felt really good, I feel like it was worth 50k right there (fight of the night bonus).

She now has four-straight wins in the UFC since arriving in the organisation just 14 months ago.

Commentators were begging McCann to tap out earlier after gutsily holding on through a first Kimura submission attempt.

But they – and Blanchfield herself – were surprised the referee didn’t step in earlier to save McCann. Blanchfield said: “I was definitely surprised he didn’t stop it … I think it probably could have got stopped earlier.”

Blanchfield is now set to rise into the top 10 flyweight rankings but is already being touted as a future champ.

‘FLAWLESS’ FIRST ROUND KO STARTS THE ACTION

Elsewhere, while all eyes will be on Adesanya in the main event, there are three other Kiwi fighters in action on Sunday’s card in a New Zealand takeover at Madison Square Garden.

First up was Carlos Ulberg, a fellow City Kickboxing product who trains alongside Adesanya, Dan Hooker and Brad Riddell — with all four fighters featuring on Sunday’s card.

Ulberg (6-1) opened the UFC 281 card in stunning fashion, knocking out Nicolae Negumereanu (13-2) with a brutal left hand before following it up with two more punches to bring an end to the fight.

“Oh my goodness,” exclaimed Daniel Cormier in commentary, who said the Kiwi has “never looked better” while Jon Anik described it as a “flawless” performance.

“Who doesn’t love a first-round knockout. I enjoyed it,” he said post-fight.

“Everything fell into place. I worked on a lot of the things I had done in the fight. It was frugal for me. I think by the time I put a bit of blood in his nose, I knew the knockout was there. I just needed to give it time.”

Hooker, as written above, also won, while Riddell lost in brutal fashion.

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