Johnson (21-5) cemented his spot near the top of the 205-pound division as he knocked out Ryan Bader (20-5) in a matter of 86 seconds. The light heavyweight fight headlined Saturday's UFC Fight Night card inside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
The bout was a nightmare for Bader from essentially the opening bell. A former All-American collegiate wrestler, Bader shot unsuccessfully on Johnson immediately and ended up turtled near the center of the cage. He defensively went after Johnson's right arm with a kimura, in an attempt to prevent him from improving his position and dropping punches. Johnson eventually cleared his arm though and landed a few hard shots from back mount that put Bader to sleep.
The win marked Johnson's 15th career knockout and improved his record at 205 pounds to 9-1. His only loss came via submission to current champion Daniel Cormier at UFC 187 in May.
"It was either going to be one of two things -- he was going to play it safe or come right after me," Johnson said. "He did one of the two and came right after me.
"I never get full mount. How you all like my jiu-jitsu now?"
The loss snapped a five-fight win streak for Bader, 32, in a run that began in December 2013. The eight-year veteran is a respectable 13-5 in the UFC, but has never fought for a title. The loss marked the third knockout defeat of his career.
Johnson was originally supposed to fight Jon Jones for the title at UFC 187, but Jones was arrested one month before the fight on hit-and-run charges in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The UFC stripped the 28-year-old of his championship belt. Now reinstated, Jones is expected to fight Cormier (17-1) in April.
Johnson is a sure bet to face the winner of that bout.
"I will be waiting for whoever has that belt," Johnson said.
Rothwell submits Barnett
Veteran heavyweight Ben Rothwell (36-9) recorded his fourth victory in a row, submitting former UFC champion Josh Barnett (34-8) at 3:48 of the second round via guillotine choke.
The 34-year-old Rothwell wore Barnett down with punches on the feet, eventually forcing him to shoot in on a single-leg takedown, which gave Rothwell the opportunity he needed to finish the fight. It's the first legitimate submission loss of Barnett's 19-year MMA career.
"Josh Barnett just made me a better fighter than I ever could be," Rothwell said. "I've watched him for years. To submit him, this is a message to the rest of the heavyweight division. I will go on to win the title and defend it, but this will remain one of the greatest victories of my career. I respect him that much."
Rothwell, who signed with the UFC in 2009, improved his Octagon record to 6-3. He suffered a cut on the bridge of his nose during an early exchange, but consistently put Barnett on his back foot with inside leg kicks and combinations.
Barnett's right eye was badly swollen after the bout. The victory marked the 33rd finish of Rothwell's career.
Northcutt suffers first defeat
Sage Northcutt, the UFC's 19-year-old phenom, suffered his first professional loss at the hands of Bryan Barberena (11-3) via arm-triangle choke. Northcutt (7-1), who was making his third UFC appearance in less than four months, tapped to the submission at 3:06 of the second round.
Both Northcutt, who fights out of Katy, Texas, and Barberena compete at lightweight, but the bout was contested at the welterweight limit, as Barberena agreed to fill in on short notice after Northcutt's original opponent withdrew due to injury.
"I've got my own hype," said Barberena, when asked how it felt to derail the popular Northcutt. "My family, my friends, my fans -- they all know I was coming in here. They knew I was going to win."
Northcutt, who has trained karate since he was 4, might have shown a little of his inexperience in the loss. He ended up on his back in the second round after attempting a flashy hook kick, during which he basically launched himself into a flip. Once he was on his back, he had no answer for Barberena, who trains out of MMA Lab in Arizona alongside former UFC lightweight champion Ben Henderson.
Barberena, 26, roughed Northcutt up with punches and elbows before isolating his opponent's right arm over his head. He finished the choke still in Northcutt's halfguard, on his left side. The choke is rarely finished from that position -- and it even prompted UFC commentator Joe Rogan to refer to it as a "quick tap."
"This is something I catch quite often in the training room," Barberena said. "I would have liked to pass [guard] but I knew I had it."
Northcutt, who recorded back-to-back finishes in his first two Octagon appearances, looked good in the opening round. He hurt Barberena with a pair of right hands, one of which opened a cut over his left eye.
The youngest fighter on the UFC roster, Northcutt will celebrate his 20th birthday on March 1. Prior to the loss, Northcutt said he hadn't decided whether to remain at 170 pounds or move back to 155.
Rivera takes home decision over Alcantara
Bantamweight Jimmie Rivera (19-1) picked up a decision win in his home state, as he out-classed Brazilian veteran Iuri Alcantara (32-7) over the course of three rounds.
All three judges scored the fight for Rivera 29-28.
Immediate cageside stats had Rivera landing 67 total strikes to Alcantara's 45. The 26-year-old converted takedowns in every round and extended his win streak to 18.
Saffiedine outpoints Ellenberger
Welterweight Tarec Saffiedine (16-4) successfully returned from a 15-month layoff, defeating Jake Ellenberger (30-11) via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
A one-time potential title contender, Ellenberger, 30, continues to struggle and is now 1-5 in his past six contests.
Saffiedine, who missed all of 2015 due to injury, earned his first win since January 2014.
Johnson wins by TKO, snaps Bader's win streak
Anthony "Rumble" Johnson only needs 86 seconds to end Ryan Bader's five-fight win streak, as he gets on top and levels Bader with multiple heavy punches until the referee stops the bout.