The world of combat sports is mourning this weekend’s passing of one of its most exciting fighters of the past decade.
Anthony Johnson, who was nicknamed “Rumble” for his willingness to engage his opponents with thundering strikes, died Sunday at age 38. Bellator MMA, the promotion Johnson last competed in, announced his death in a Twitter post yesterday afternoon.
Johnson’s exact cause of death is unclear, although multiple reports attributed his passing to an undisclosed illness that he had battled for some time. The Washington Post noted that after he was forced to pull out of a bout on the October 2021 Bellator 268 card, Johnson posted to Instagram about his health.
“Really wish I could go into detail about how ill I truly am,” he said. “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,” he wrote. In the caption accompanying the post, he wrote, “NOT COVID.”
Johnson fought with a ferocity that was the opposite of the fear he expressed about his illness. During an MMA career that peaked with two losing effort in UFC title fights with light heavyweight superstar Daniel Cormier, he notched a record of 27 wins to six defeats with with 17 TKOs and one knockout. In his last fight, he defeated Brazilian Jose Augusto with a second-round KO.
Cormier and other fighters expressed their grief via social media.