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MMA fighter Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson dies at 38

Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, shown in a 2021 Bellator match, was renowned for his punching power. (Lucas Noonan/Bellator)

Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, a well-known MMA fighter who had been battling an unspecified illness, died at 38. His cause of death was not immediately made public.

Bellator MMA, the fighting promotion with which Johnson most recently competed, confirmed his death Sunday.

“The Bellator family is devastated by his untimely passing,” the promotion said, “and we send our condolences to his family and friends during this difficult time.”

During a 15-year MMA career in which he notched a 23-6 record, Johnson twice fought for a UFC title, losing both times to Daniel Cormier. Those matches, in 2015 and 2017, came at light heavyweight, where Johnson eventually settled in after starting in the welterweight class.

Seventeen of Johnson’s wins came by knockout, a testament to his punching power.

“For a guy who struck fear in so many peoples heart Anthony Johnson was a caring person,” the now-retired Cormier wrote in a tweet. “From random text to check ins during loss. What a person he was, Rumble will be missed. Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair.”

Johnson last fought at Bellator 258 in May 2021, scoring a knockout win over José Augusto Azevedo. That earned him a light heavyweight title shot against Vadim Nemkov the following month at Bellator 268, but Johnson was forced to withdraw with what was described as an undisclosed illness.

At that time, Johnson shared a post on Instagram in which he expressed regret that he couldn’t go into “detail about how ill I truly am.”

“Never been this afraid of anything in my life,” he added, “but I’ve remained strong with the support of friends and family.”

In October 2021, Johnson wrote that doctors had “pumped all bacteria from my stomach” into a container “the size of a football,” and he shared images of the procedure.

Johnson said in May he was starting to train again for a return to competition, promising a “different, more dangerous version of what you’ve already seen.” He posted a photo then that appeared to show he had lost a notable amount of body mass.

Late last month, Johnson’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, said that the fighter was “going through some health problems right now.”

“Very sad. I want everybody to pray for him,” Abdelaziz told ESPN. “Pray for Anthony; he’s not doing well. He’s very strong, spiritually, but pray for him.”

“RIP Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson,” UFC fighter Michael Chiesa wrote Sunday on Twitter. “One of the most prolific KO artists our sport has ever seen. My prayers go out to his family and everyone affected by this tragedy.”