("Rumble," pre-eye poke.)
Anthony Johnson has repeatedly insisted that he doesn’t hold a grudge against Kevin Burns for poking him in the eye and leaving him with a severely damaged retina during their July bout. It’s the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which refused to overturn the TKO loss on his record, that really bothers him.
In our exclusive interview, Johnson tells his side of the story, and tells us why Saturday night’s rematch on Spike TV is going to turn out much differently.
CagePotato.com: Here we are a few days from the rematch, how is your eye, and what was the recovery from the surgery like?
My eye is 100%. I can see even better now since I had the surgery. It’s been great so far. My recovery was, I would say, 3 or 4 weeks. I stopped wearing my bandage after like two weeks.
Is there not some part of you that really wants revenge against Burns for making you go through that?
For me it’s still a fight. A fight is always a fight. I don’t hold any kind of grudge against him. Everybody thinks I’m going out for revenge, but I’m not. I’m going out to fight, plain and simple. Whatever happens in there happens.
How can you not be even a little mad at him? Are you just the nicest person in the world?
I’m definitely not the nicest person in the world, but with the sport that I’m in I have to accept that things like that can happen. I can’t just get mad because I got hurt. Anybody can get hurt, but that doesn’t mean it was done on purpose. I try and look at things from the positive side. I still have my vision. My eye wasn’t too bad. And I still have my career, so I can’t complain about anything.
Do you think, knowing what we know now, that he should have not taken that fight if he couldn’t punch with a closed fist?
You know, being a man and being a fighter, I think he should have stepped up and fixed his hand before he decided to fight and cause somebody a serious injury. And now that he did cause someone a serious injury, he had no choice but to get his hand fixed. Maybe if he hadn’t hurt anyone he would have kept going like that. Since this happened he realized he had to get it fixed for his career.
What were you thinking during the fight as it was happening?
When he did it one time I just shook it off. But then after two or three times I realized he was just continually poking me in the eye, and [referee Steve] Mazzagatti wasn’t saying anything at all. The last one he got me his fingers went deep into my eye. You can see how bad it was.
He says he didn’t realize he was poking you, even with the last one.
He had to. You can look at my reaction, how my head was going back. It wasn’t because he was punching me, I can tell you that. I had my guard up and his hand slipped through my guard and poked me right in the eye. You can see it if you watch the tape. He can’t just say he didn’t know or that he just poked me once because when he poked me that last time he knew he poked me. I don’t know how he could say he didn’t know he was poking me in the eye.
I heard that Steve Mazzagatti saw you at the EliteXC show and apologized to you.
Yeah, he did.
What did he say?
He just told me he was sorry and he didn’t see him poke me in the eye. Mazzagatti’s the referee but he’s not going to see everything. He’s not perfect. I don’t hold a grudge against him either, but I wish he would have paid more attention to that throughout the fight and seen my reactions. I didn’t say anything about it to him during the fight because I was respecting his wishes. In the locker room before the fight giving instructions he said, ‘Don’t say anything to me when you’re fighting.’ So I was just trying to respect the man and not say anything, show him and the sport my respect.
But he apologized. I can’t blame him for that last one. From the side he was on he couldn’t see that I got poked. He thought I got hit with an uppercut. If I was in Mazzagatti’s position I probably would have thought the same thing. The way I went with the uppercut, I can see how it could have looked that way, so I probably would have stopped the fight too.
What do you think of the commission’s decision to turn down your appeal because of the lack of a remedy?
I mean, I think they should have overturned it. It’s just bull crap that they didn’t overturn it. I don’t know what ‘lack of remedy’ even means. I know if I would have been popped for using an illegal substance they would have been all over that. But I think because I got my vision back and I can still fight they just say, ‘Okay, it’s not serious, we don’t need to do anything.’
But I think if it had been one of the poster boys they would have been all over it. If I was Chuck Liddell, they would have overturned that so fast. It wasn’t even a punch. I could see if I got punched in the eye and got hurt, hey, that happens. But I got poked in the eye. You don’t give somebody a loss when you know they got poked in the eye and that’s what ended the fight. That’s disrespectful towards me.
Is that a little like giving you the win if Kevin had been unable to continue earlier in the fight when you accidentally kicked him in the groin?
Right. When I kicked Kevin in the groin, to be honest with you, my foot barely even touched his cup. But I know how sensitive those things are so I backed off and gave him his space and his time. I guess it’s just the different character of different people.
Do you ever think about how close you came to having your career ended that night?
I’ve thought about it. I know it could have ended my career, and things could have turned out really ugly, and thank God it didn’t. But it’s just weird. I have to look at the positive side of it. I can’t keep talking about what should have happened or what could have happened. I can’t live off that.
Kevin says that you won’t want to stand with him this time, now that you’ve seen his striking. He says you’ll want to keep it on the ground. Is that your plan?
That’s a surprise. You know, Kevin can think whatever he wants. Any time you go in there to fight somebody the game plan always changes up a little bit. Kevin’s going to be in for a surprise, because you know what? I held back that last fight. I didn’t even show half of my potential, and he still couldn’t take me out. So imagine when I give it my all, Kevin’s going to be in a world of trouble.
I know that and he knows that and everybody who knows how I train and how I fight, they know that. So whatever, Kevin can believe what he wants. I’m glad he’s that confident. You’re supposed to be confident when you’re a fighter. But his confidence is going to fuck around and get him knocked out.
What do you mean you didn’t give it your all?
I just had issues outside of fighting. I had my own issues and it just affected me inside the Octagon. But it ain’t going to happen this time. I cleared my head of all that crap and it’s on now.
Thanks for talking with me, Anthony. Anything else you’d like to say?
I just want to thank everybody for supporting me, and my sponsor Tapout, my coaches, and thank the whole world for supporting me and I’m going to put on a good show for them.