“That was not an easy phone call to get,” said Coker during a media scrum in Chicago on Friday. Really, I just loved that guy. He was like a gentle giant. People that really go to know him all loved him.”
“The guy was loved around the world,” continued Coker. “I think he was loved more than he knew – How many fans he had, or the impact he made.”
Johnson passed away on November 13 from organ failure due to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. Coker was shocked when he got the news and reflected on knowing Johnson from early in his career.
“I want to say I met Anthony when he career started. He was at Cung Le’s gym fighting at 170. I don’t think he was even at the UFC at that time,” said Coker. “I got to know him a little bit and followed his career, and stayed in touch. When he became a free agent we said, let’s go get this guy because I think he’s a tremendous talent.”
Johnson was a two-time UFC title challenger. He fought 19 times under the UFC banner, but ended his career with Bellator MMA. His last fight was in May 2021 at Bellator 258. He defeated José Augusto Azevedo by knockout in the second round.
“It was a devastating day,” Coker said. “It’s unfortunate. I knew he was in and out of the hospital. I have texts of me and him texting like two months ago … I had no idea that he was this ill, and I think that he didn’t know, maybe.”
“This came as a shock to us and the whole company because everybody loved that guy,” Coker added. “It was devastating. It was a big loss.”