Johnson’s manager Ali Abdelaziz told ESPN that Johnson, a two-time world title challenger at 205 pounds who also competed at middleweight and welterweight, is planning a UFC comeback at heavyweight next year. The 35-year-old has not competed since UFC 210 on April 8, 2017, when he lost via second-round rear-naked choke to Daniel Cormier in a light heavyweight championship match.
Per ESPN’s report, which MMA Fighting confirmed with Abdelaziz on Tuesday evening, Johnson (22-6) has already taken steps to re-enter the UFC’s mandatory drug-testing program and are aiming for Johnson to be eligible to compete by March 2020 (retired athletes are required to undergo six months of testing before competing again). Abdelaziz named veterans Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem as potential opponents.
Johnson has experience fighting at heavyweight. Before beginning his second stint with the UFC back in 2014, Johnson actually picked up a unanimous decision win over former champion Andrei Arlovski at a World Series of Fighting event.
“Rumble,” one of the UFC’s most prolific knockout artists during his two runs with the company, has mentioned a possible return at heavyweight in the past, especially if it resulted in a future bout with Jon Jones. After retiring, he formed a working relationship with the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship, helping to promote the organization.
The timing of Johnson’s comeback is somewhat curious given that he had a misdemeanor domestic battery charge looming overhead stemming from an incident in May involving an argument with a girlfriend in Boca Raton, Fla. However, according to a report from TMZ, that legal issue may be close to a resolution.
Johnson’s attorney Michael Walsh told TMZ that they agreed to a pretrial diversion with prosecutors in August (which is confirmed by public court records) and that Johnson’s case will be dismissed after he completes an anger management course.
When the incident was first reported, Johnson admitted that he picked up his girlfriend to take her to another room and that “he was not trying to hurt her but he wanted her to stop arguing with him.” Johnson was arrested after the alleged victim called the police, but was later released under the condition that he be in attendance at a later court date.