Former UFC title contender Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson signs with Bellator

Anthony "Rumble" Johnson is headed to Bellator.

In an unexpected move, the former two-time UFC title contender has signed with Bellator, his manager and Bellator officials said Wednesday. Johnson has not fought in more than three years.

Johnson mutually parted ways with the UFC in November, according to his manager, Ali Abdelaziz. Johnson announced earlier this year that he planned on coming out of retirement to resume his fighting career, though the initial thought was he would return to the UFC.

"Honestly, I missed the sport," Johnson said at a news conference over the summer. "I missed competing."

Johnson, 36, is slated to compete in Bellator's light heavyweight division. While his debut fight isn't set yet, he is expected to fight in the first half of 2021, sources said.

"Anthony has signed with Bellator MMA and fans can expect to see him in late March or April," Abdelaziz said. "He will fight at heavyweight and light heavyweight. Anthony and I would like to thank Dana White, Hunter Campbell and the UFC for the opportunities he was given over the years, and he's excited about this new chapter with Bellator."

"Rumble" hasn't competed since his April 2017 loss to then-UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. Johnson retired immediately after the defeat.

This marks his second departure from the UFC. He was released in 2012 after missing weight by 11 pounds prior to a middleweight fight against Vitor Belfort, which he ultimately lost.

After going 6-0 outside the company, he returned in 2014 as a light heavyweight. He won three fights in a row before losing to Cormier for the first time in a vacant 205-pound title fight in 2015. He would go on to win three more in a row before losing to Cormier again in 2017.

Johnson, a fan favorite who is considered one of the hardest-hitting fighters in the world, started his career as a welterweight and has fought as high as heavyweight. He made his UFC debut in 2007.