LAURENS COUNTY, Ga. — The Laurens County community is mourning the loss of a well-known athlete.
At West Laurens, he was a four-time finalist and two-time state champion wrestler. He then moved on to become an Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter.
Even as a kid growing up in Laurens County, Anthony Johnson took the wrestling world by storm. Clifford Garnto is now the superintendent for Laurens County, but he used to be the head wrestling coach at West Laurens High School, and he says even at a young age, Johnson was special.
"I still remember him as that little kid when he was 7, 8 years old, and he was beating 12- and 13-year-olds in wrestling," Garnto said. "He did have that natural talent, but he had a natural drive as well a natural competitiveness, so he hated to lose."
Garnto says Johnson's record was 177-8 in high school and won 104 consecutive matches. Johnson then went on to win a national title at Lassen, a junior college in California.
After that, he become a mixed-martial arts light heavyweight fighter who went 23-6 in his career.
O.J. Hall grew up with Johnson and says, "No matter how successful A.J. was, he had a way of making people feel special, and that never changed."
Hall says in Laurens County everyone knew him as "A.J."
"A.J. didn't just reach success once he became "Rumble" -- he was successful in his middle and high school days. He was one of the few people I knew where older people would wrestle against him to be better," Hall said.
With 17 knockouts in his career, A.J.'s friends think his real legacy is how he treated people.
"He never looked down on people and he treated everybody like they were family," Hall said.
A.J. got the nickname "Rumble," but no matter how many heights of success he had, folks say he always remained humble.
Bellator MMA says Johnson had been ill for more than a year before he died. He was 38.