Former UFC star Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson passed away on Sunday, November 13th. He was 38.
According to a Yahoo Sports report, Johnson died of organ failure from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a rare immune disorder. The former UFC title challenger last competed for Bellator in May of 2021, where he knocked out Jose Augusto in the 2nd round. Johnson was scheduled to fight Bellator light heavyweight champ Vadim Nemkov that October, but was forced to withdraw.
Johnson had an illustrious combat sports career that spanned over a decade. He had two stints in the UFC and competed in three different weight divisions. In his first UFC run, Johnson competed at welterweight and middleweight. After he missed weight repeatedly, the UFC cut Johnson following a loss to Vitor Belfort in 2012. During that time, Johnson also had a small role in the MMA movie Warrior.
Johnson returned to the UFC in 2014, and proceeded to run roughshod over most of the light heavyweight division. He earned knockout wins over notable UFC contenders including Alexander Gustafsson, Ryan Bader, and Glover Teixeira (who later became the UFC light heavyweight champion). Johnson challenged for the UFC title twice, once in 2015 and in 2017. Both times, he lost by submission to former UFC hall of famer Daniel Cormier.
Following the second loss to Cormier, Johnson retired from MMA. However, he returned in 2021 as a part of Bellator’s push to revitalize its light-heavyweight division. His only appearance came against the aforementioned Augusto.
After he pulled out of the Nemkov fight, Johnson posted a message on social media that indicated serious health troubles, but very few people knew the whole story.
Johnson wrote, “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… Never been this afraid of anything in my life but I’ve remained strong with the support of friends and family.”
Even UFC star, Kamaru Usman, one of Johnson’s closest friends, was mostly in the dark.
“He was kind of like a turtle,” Usman told Yahoo Sports. “He’d be in that shell most of the time, but then he’d open up and come out of the shell and show you who he was. He’d pop his head out, show you who he was and then go back in.”
“You know, it was a little like [the late actor] Chadwick Boseman,” Usman continued. “Chadwick kept his issue private and we were all so shocked and surprised [when he died in 2020]. Rumble would give you these nonchalant stories, and he was having dialysis on his kidneys but he never really told you fully what was going on. He didn’t want to be treated differently. He didn’t want people seeing him losing all this weight and going through these situations and treat him differently because of what was going on.”
Johnson’s loss is a tragic one for the MMA community. His story and impact on the sport is summed up best by the man that beat him for the UFC title.
“What a loss, it really set the mixed martial arts world back,” Daniel Cormier said on his podcast. “It was really difficult for me to deal with. Being, that I spent a lot of time in the octagon with Anthony Johnson. When I tell you this man was a good person, I cannot overstate it. The way he treated me in the build-up to the fights, the way he treated me after the fights. This is a guy that put the belt on me after I won it the first time, this was something most guys don’t do. But, it’s just who he is.
“It is a massive loss to lose a titan of mixed martial arts.”