In preparation for Vitor Belfort, however, Johnson hasn't had to concentrate as much time on cutting weight, and that extra 15 lbs. he gets to work with is an overall boost to what he can do in the cage. In fact, teammate and former Champion Rashad Evans sees a vastly different fighter in this camp than he has previously, and he believes Johnson will be able to show his true potential in this new weight class.
"Rumble is better than you've ever seen him before," Evans said in comments released by the UFC. "I promise you that on Saturday night you'll see the best version of Rumble you have ever seen. You are supposed to root for your teammates, but, I am keeping it real, the 185 lbs version of Rumble is a killer.
"Where he is right now, he's so scary," Evans continued. "You can't imagine how much of a difference moving up to middleweight has made to not only his strength but also his technique. As a welterweight, maybe 60% of his camp was about making 170 lbs, leaving only 40% for boxing, striking, wrestling, BJJ, judo and everything else. Much less than half of his time was actually spent on improving his skills and transitions.
"Now he's spending maybe 80% and more on technique and real fitness training, not just training to lose pounds. He's a scary, scary athlete right now. In practice with him some times, I was 'Damn! What the hell is happening here? I'm not used to getting my ass kicked like this!' but he was just so 'on' he was beating my ass all over the gym on certain days."
It's lofty praise, even if it's coming from a teammate, but Evans honestly believes that Johnson is headed on to big things in 2012. In fact, Evans feels strongly that a title run at middleweight is very much in the near future for the man they call "Rumble."
"I like Vitor a lot, and everyone respects him as a fighter, but Rumble will send a message to the entire division this Saturday in Rio," Evans said. "Honestly, being up a weight is the best thing he ever did. There's no doubt in my mind he will be challenging everyone in the division. It's ridiculous, the difference it has made.
"Keeping it real, Rumble can beat anyone in the entire division. He will be fighting for the UFC middleweight title in 2012. I almost feel bad for ruining the surprise of how badass he is as middleweight, but you'll see to see the fight tomorrow to appreciate what I mean."
Penick's Analysis: This really could be the first step in a major career move for Johnson. He was moving up the ladder at 170 lbs., and even though he had lost to Josh Koscheck just a few fights ago, he's had the skills to be considered a top-flight guy. Getting rid of a brutal weight cut and still being one of the bigger guys means he shouldn't have too much of an issue transitioning into the 185 lb. weight class, but we'll have to see him in action on Saturday night to really judge where he's at. If he comes in and destroys Belfort, that will be a huge statement, and will go a long way towards making Evans' predictions come true in 2012.