Anthony Johnson knows what redemption feels like, something like the first-round knockout blow he landed in January to stun the Ultimate Fighting Championship's top light-heavyweight challenger Alexander Gustafsson in his native Sweden.
On May 23 at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Johnson (19-4) will try to take his revival one more remarkable step, when he meets light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones (21-1).
The loaded card also includes a middleweight title fight between champion Chris Weidman and long-ago champion Vitor Belfort, and third-ranked lightweight Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone fighting for the third time this year against No. 2 contender Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Tickets for UFC 187, priced $125-$1,000, go on sale at 10 a.m. Pacific time through Ticketmaster.
Johnson said he believes the redemptive theme of his fight with Jones is rich.
“With his mistakes he’s been dealing with lately and my story of screwing up, then coming back, that alone will get everyone to wonder what will happen,” Johnson said.
Days after Jones successfully defended his title for the eighth consecutive time Jan. 3 by unanimous decision over Daniel Cormier, it was revealed that Jones submitted a positive test for cocaine on Dec. 4.
He later entered a drug treatment facility for one night but was released, telling Fox Sports 1 that he was deemed a non-addict.
Johnson, meanwhile, is 3-0 in the UFC since the organization released him from his contract in 2012 following a first-round submission loss to Belfort. Johnson had come in overweight, and the loss left him 6-4 in the UFC.
“I’m very proud of not giving up. I wanted to a few times,” Johnson said.
Last week, Andy Foster, executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission, released a pamphlet with the Assn. of Ringside Physicians warning fighters of the dangers of weight cutting.
Johnson said the lack of information and young fighters’ inability to pay for assistance are problematic.
“They just do it on their own, and they do it the wrong way … tough situation,” Johnson said.
Now 30, Florida’s Johnson said the difference between his current run and his past UFC stint is that, “I listen and I actually believe in myself now. I take my job seriously.
“When I was younger, I was young and wild. I’m more mature now, don’t have to cut as much weight.”
Johnson said Gustafsson represented “just another fight” on the heels of triumphs over respected contenders Phil Davis and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
The multi-dimensional Jones is an entirely different challenge, which Johnson recognizes.
“You have to keep that in perspective, but if you’re considered the best at something, you want to go out and prove you’re the best,” said Johnson, a strong striker. “Whatever the champion can do, you always need to believe you can do more. It’s a mental thing.
“I’m going to believe in myself. I don’t care what anyone says.”
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