Anthony Johnson made his mixed martial arts (MMA) debut on Aug. 16, 2006, knocking out Jonathan Romero in the very first round. That night was a night of firsts for the up-and-coming fighter: His first fight, his first victory and the first time he met former UFC light heavyweight champion, Vitor Belfort.
Fast forward five years to present day.
The then 21-year-old rookie is now an 11-fight Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran and one of the most dangerous strikers in the promotion's welterweight division.
However, after competing at 170 pounds for his entire UFC career, "Rumble" will move up a weight class to middleweight (185 pounds) at UFC 142 on Jan. 14, 2012. He will also step up in competition, taking on the very same man who witnessed his debut and shook his hand afterward, none other than Mr. Belfort.
Speaking to LowKick.com, Johnson talks about the night he met one of the legends of the sport:
"I knocked out my opponent in one minute and nine seconds something like that. Vitor happened to be in the crowd, Shogun Rua was too. After the fight, Vitor gave me props and shook my hand. I never thought I'd be fighting a man who I shook hands with many years ago. I'm a fan of Vitor Belfort and always will be. It's going to be fun fighting him."
Despite the jump in weight class, "Rumble" does not rule out a return to welterweight:
"I still want to fight at 170, but I'm excited about making the jump to 185 and we'll see what happens after this fight is over."
"Rumble" is one of the biggest welterweights in the division. In fact, he has often struggled to make weight, coming in overweight at UFC 76 against Rich Clementi and at UFC 104 against Yoshiyuki Yoshida. His most recent transgression cost him $63,000 in winnings as he had to give up his "Knockout of the Night" bonus and a percentage of his purse for not meeting the weight requirements.
A move to the UFC's stacked middleweight division could provide easier weight cuts for Johnson, but it won't mean easier opponents.
Belfort and Johnson are set to tangle in the co main event of UFC 142, which marks the promotion's return to Rio De Janiero, Brazil. UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo will defend his 145-pound title against wrestling powerhouse Chad Mendes in the featured fight of the night.
Will "Rumble" be able to make a successful debut at 185 against the much more experienced Belfort? Or will "The Phenom" send him back down to welterweight faster than he did Yoshihiro Akiyama?