MMA Review: #533: UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Bader

-With all the other news that’s been flying around in the past few weeks – UFC 197 suddenly becoming 196 and UFC 196 becoming a Fight Night instead, Benson Henderson jumping ship to Bellator, as well as the usual McGregor-related stuff – this show felt like it was flying under the radar a bit, particularly for a big Fox show. I thought it was a solid card myself – nowhere close to December’s Fox special but then the January one (2013 excepted) is never that stacked anyway – and I was especially looking forward to the top two fights.

UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Bader

Newark, New Jersey

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Welterweight Fight: Sage Northcutt vs Bryan Barbarena

This was young wunderkind Northcutt’s THIRD fight in four months which is an insane schedule even by Donald Cerrone terms, but I guess at 19 he wants to rack up experience fast, and the way the UFC are pushing him then why not? He was originally supposed to fight Andrew Holbrook at 155lbs here, but when Holbrook got hurt, Barbarena was strangely chosen as the new opponent, meaning Sage would fight at 170lbs for the first time. Despite the massive discrepancy in experience, Northcutt seemed like the smart pick just because I didn’t think Zuffa would match him up to lose.

Entrance music win clearly goes to Barbarena for stealing Prince Naz’s old theme Here Comes The Hotstepper while poor Sage apes Bendo’s song. Although to be fair now he’s off to Bellator I guess it doesn’t matter so much.

Fight begins and they circle out before Sage lands with a glancing right. Nice flurry of punches from Sage sets up a clinch and he moves Barbarena along the fence. Barbarena blocks the takedown and switches position, but they quickly break off from there. Trade of kicks sees Barbarena slip down for a second but he pops back up. Big head kick misses for Northcutt. Counter right drops Barbarena for a second and Sage tries to pounce, but the veteran pops back up using a whizzer and shoves Sage into the fence. Takedown attempt from Northcutt is blocked again but a second attempt leads to a slam and from there he takes Barbarena’s back. Barbarena stands back up with Sage on him with one hook, but manages to shake him off to get to the clinch. Short left hand breaks for Sage. Wild combo misses for Barbarena and he walks into a glancing right hand. Pair of HARD RIGHTS tag Barbarena and he looks hurt. Sage follows with a takedown, and it looks like Barbarena’s cut. He works back to his feet, but Sage exits with a knee. Straight left lands for Northcutt. Barbarena manages to back him up a bit, but Sage goes for the takedown again. Reversal from Barbarena allows him to get Sage down into butterfly guard, but Northcutt quickly kicks him away. Lunging right hand glances for Sage. Big counter right lands for Barbarena though and seems to stun Northcutt slightly. Exchange follows with both men landing, and that’s the round. 10-9 Northcutt.

2nd round and Sage opens with a leg kick, but gets tagged by a counter right. He’s definitely slowed down a bit. Combo glances for him but Barbarena seems fine. Weird wheel kick attempt goes badly awry for Sage and Barbarena pounces on him and gets on top in full guard. Good elbow and a right hand land for Barbarena and he’s settling down into the position now. Few more short elbows land and it looks like Sage might be cut now too. Hammer fists also land and Northcutt is taking some deep breaths. Into half-guard for Barbarena and he continues to drop the elbows, and he avoids a hip escape attempt too. More hard elbows connect for Barbarena and Sage is struggling here. Arm triangle attempt follows but it doesn’t look all that tight, but he keeps squeezing and SAGE TAPS OUT!

Replay shows it may not have been the loose arm triangle choke it looked like but actually a variant of the Von Flue choke with Barbarena forcing his shoulder downwards into Sage’s neck, but to be honest – and I know I might be being unfair here as I’m no grappler and Barbarena might have a python squeeze for all I know – but it looked like a quick tap to me. I suspect it was more that Sage was just totally out of gas and had no means of escape. Good fight but the hype train slows down dramatically for Sage, and to be honest it might be the best thing for him anyway as he was beginning to get a major backlash largely due to his pay (and obviously he’s got a TON of backlash due to this tapout) and at least now he can regroup with hopefully a bit less hype and build himself up a bit more slowly. Although it isn’t like he’s faced a murderer’s row anyway, no offense. Just goes to show he’s probably not the next GSP or even the next Rory MacDonald I guess. And it feels weird to barely talk about the winner but let’s be honest, Barbarena isn’t a contender either unfortunately.

Bantamweight Fight: Jimmie Rivera vs Iuri Alcantara

I was pretty shocked to see this one on the main card but I was excited either as while Alcantara has never really lived up to the early promise he showed (wins over Massaranduba and Ricardo Lamas pre-UFC!) he’s still a top fifteen guy and the perfect test for Rivera at this point coming off two impressive wins in 2015. I thought ‘El Terror’ could pick up the win here too as he’s a guy who pushes a torrid pace in all areas of the game while Alcantara’s always struggled due to fighting largely in spurts.

Round One and the crowd are super-hot for Rivera as he’s a Jersey kid. Good low kick from Rivera and he glances on a spinning backfist, which draws nods from Alcantara. Wild swing misses for Iuri and Rivera lands a pair of sharp counters to make him pay. Exchange sees the Brazilian glance on a right hook. Nice right-left combo from Rivera and he repeats it and backs Alcantara up, but takes a knee up the middle in the process. Lot of feints from Alcantara and he narrowly misses a big left hand. Good body kick lands for Rivera. Combo backs Alcantara up and Rivera hits him with a heavy right hand counter too as the Brazilian looks to reply. Rivera continues to walk him down but he takes a glancing head kick. Combo lands for Rivera and Alcantara has to circle out quickly. Another nice counter combo lands for Rivera. Nice body kick answers for Iuri. Accidental eye poke from Alcantara causes a brief pause but Rivera recovers quickly and they swing pretty wildly before Rivera hits a BIG SLAM to end the round. That put a stamp on the round for sure. 10-9 Rivera.

Round Two and Rivera presses the action again and lands with the counter right early on. Looks like Alcantara wants to channel his inner Donald Cerrone with the step-in knee. Left hook pegs Alcantara right back against the fence and Rivera follows with another hard right-left. Nice right hand lands for Rivera. Alcantara seems to be struggling with the timing of Rivera. Right hands glance for both men. Couple of side kicks glance for Rivera and he continues to back Iuri up. Clinch from Rivera and he forces the Brazilian into the fence with a knee to the body. More knees to the legs follow but it doesn’t look like he wants to take Alcantara down really. The Brazilian comes back with a couple of knees of his own but he’s being controlled. Crowd begin to boo a little as the action slows down, before Rivera drops for the single leg. Alcantara defends well and the ref calls a break. Good combination lands for Rivera off the restart. Body kick answers for Iuri and he backs Rivera up a little, but then has to stuff a big takedown attempt. Hard left hand suddenly drops Rivera, but he pops right back up and goes for a combo before shooting for a double leg. Slam follows and Alcantara’s on his back. He reverses up and then looks for a switch, but Rivera’s having none of that and he takes the back before ending the round with a right as they stand up. Close round but 10-9 Rivera I’d say despite the brief knockdown.

Round Three and a big head kick glances for Alcantara in the opening seconds. Rivera continues to press forward though, but he takes a body kick from the Brazilian. Good right hand from Rivera but Alcantara uses head movement to avoid a follow-up combo. Nice combination to the body lands for Rivera. Straight left connects for Alcantara and he follows with a hard body kick. Kick is caught by Rivera and he dumps the Brazilian down for a second, but he pops right back up. Rivera continues to walk him down, catching him with a hard left in an exchange. Just over half of the round to go and Alcantara desperately needs to do something. Decent straight left lands for him but Rivera counters with a combo. Nice body kick again for Alcantara and now he’s coming forward more. Another body kick lands for him. A third body kick connects for the Brazilian and he’s clearly got Rivera thinking now. Good exchange sees both men land. One minute to go and Rivera connects on a really nice low kick. Big straight left from Alcantara drops him, but he pops back up and goes for a takedown. Iuri rolls through for a kimura but Rivera avoids it and stands. Front kick to the body from Alcantara and Rivera goes for another takedown, but the Brazilian defends well. Seconds on the clock now and Rivera ends the round with a flurry against the fence. Call it a 10-10 round for a 30-28 win for Rivera.

Judges score it 29-28 all round for Jimmie Rivera, pretty clear-cut in the end I’d say. Fight was good but not great as both guys stayed very active throughout – Rivera basically won the fight by controlling the pace and backing Alcantara up to land the better shots – but really neither man came close enough to a finish to make it a truly memorable one. Still, a big win for Rivera and he’s probably due a top ten opponent next time out – the elusive Bryan Caraway would work perfectly! Alcantara seems settled into a role as a gatekeeper which is fine I think as he’s still going to get plenty of fights in the UFC even if he’s not really going to contend for the title anymore.

Heavyweight Fight: Josh Barnett vs Ben Rothwell

Pretty big Heavyweight clash here and with the title picture suddenly becoming muddier due to the whole situation with Velasquez and Werdum both being injured and Miocic maybe or maybe not getting the title shot and Overeem maybe or maybe not signing a new deal, the winner was definitely looking at a possible #1 contender’s fight. Maybe. I was going with Barnett feeling that while Rothwell had been on a very impressive run, his biggest win (Overeem) felt flukey and he’d never really beaten someone on Barnett’s level before.

We get a CLASSIC WEIRD ENTRANCE from Rothwell prior to the fight that I don’t think was shown on Fox, as he walks out to some old-school horror music (apparently the theme from Bram Stoker’s Dracula!) and a random fan in the background keeps screaming RIVERS OF BLOOD!~! Hey, at least this whole gimmick has made Big Ben interesting!

Fight begins and Rothwell looks totally nonchalant and he’s hanging his hands a bit. Couple of combos from him back Barnett up, but don’t really land. Crowd sound mad impatient with this already for some reason. Nice short right hand clips Rothwell right through his guard. Few right jabs land for Barnett and Rothwell isn’t really doing much to avoid them. Low kick lands for Big Ben. He rushes Josh and looks to clinch, but Barnett quickly shrugs him off. Looks like Rothwell might have a bloody nose. Leg kick lands for Barnett. Rothwell comes back with one of his own. Another stiff jab lands for Barnett. Slow pace thus far. Combo glances for Rothwell. Crowd begin to boo as another jab lands for Barnett before Rothwell clinches. Josh breaks again quickly though. More jabs from Barnett, this time to the body, and he adds in a straight left for good measure. Handful of wild swings glance for Rothwell as the pace remains pretty slow. Rothwell’s nose is busted up badly though. Round peters out on the feet. 10-9 Barnett for those jabs and the damage done I’d say.

Second round and Barnett opens with a couple of front kicks to the body to try to keep Rothwell at bay. Flurry from Rothwell allows him inside for a second but Barnett circles out. Good right hand lands for Rothwell and Barnett clinches. He lands a knee to the body and moves Rothwell back into the fence, but Rothwell breaks with an uppercut. Good inside leg kick from Rothwell after both men miss on some punches. Uppercut follows but Barnett seems fine. Couple of counters land for Barnett before he takes another uppercut. Crowd begin to openly boo as they trade punches from the outside again with neither landing really cleanly. Body kick lands for Barnett. He lands a couple more nice counters, but Rothwell absorbs them well and lands a stiff jab. Takedown attempt from Barnett but he leaves his head open and Rothwell actually locks up a guillotine variant! Suddenly he forces Barnett onto his back and BARNETT TAPS OUT! Holy shit.

Did not expect that finish in a million years, seriously. Barnett had never been subbed before in MMA and for BEN ROTHWELL to be the guy to pull it off is just ridiculous, given he’s not known at all for his ground game despite hitting the same variant on Matt Mitrione last year. Massive win for Big Ben, no doubt, but I don’t think you can put him in a title fight even after this as I’d still consider Miocic, Velasquez and Overeem ahead of him. If they decide to give Overeem the title shot though (which I think they will in order for him to re-sign) then a match with Miocic to decide the next contender definitely makes sense. I guess Big Ben is just one of those guys I continually underrate. Fight wasn’t much until the finish though to be honest as the pace was a total crawl.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Anthony Johnson vs Ryan Bader

Winner of this one was promised a crack at the Jon Jones/Daniel Cormier winner, as despite Bader having lost to Jones before and Johnson to Cormier, LHW is so quiet at the minute that the top guys are just going to end up fighting each other numerous times. Rumble was coming off his win over Jimi Manuwa while Bader had put together five wins in a row since his last loss to Glover Teixeira back in 2013. Rumble was the big favourite going in for the obvious reason that he’s got as much knockout power as anyone in MMA right now, but I thought he was still vulnerable to someone who could weather the storm and wear him down in the later rounds, something I thought Bader could do. I went with the mild upset and took Bader in the knowledge that one bad move would probably end his night.

Round One begins and Bader shoots on a single leg right away, but Rumble sprawls beautifully and grabs a front headlock before spinning to take the back. Bader turtles up and then looks to lock up Johnson’s right arm for a kimura, but he’s got no control over the body as Johnson’s legs are free. He clings onto the arm though, but it doesn’t look dangerous for Rumble and he actually moves into full mount with Bader still trying the kimura. Finally Johnson pulls his arm free and GOES TO TOWN with some BOMBS, and after a few heavy shots Bader is OUT. I’m talking totally unconscious, face down on the mat. Brutal stuff.

Well, I said Bader would lose if he made one false move and that wild takedown was that false move. He shot from way on the outside with no setup or anything and as soon as Johnson took his back he was in trouble. The kimura I guess was a good idea in itself, but to try it with no control of the legs wasn’t smart and Rumble just doesn’t mess around when he gets a position like that. The title shot was so close for Bader and now it’s so far away. Here’s hoping for Rumble vs. Jones some time later in the year as we’ve already seen Rumble vs. Cormier and while I think Jones beats Rumble with relative ease, he at least has a big equalizer in the form of that power. And for sure he’s earned another crack at the belt. Nasty way to finish the main event even if it wasn’t much of a fight in the end.

-And from there we head back to the Fox studios to wrap the night up.

Final Thoughts….

Naturally the only talking point coming out of the show seemed to be Sage Northcutt and his tapping out, but in reality the whole show top-to-bottom was pretty good in the end, with the main event ending in violent fashion, a cool finish almost making up for the slow action in Rothwell/Barnett and then a really solid fight between Rivera and Alcantara in the middle. With these Fox cards you just have to hope for four good/great fights with some nice finishes and this one delivered just that, so it’s an easy thumbs up for me even if it won’t get any mention at the end of the year probably.

Best Fight: Rivera vs. Alcantara
Worst Fight: Rothwell vs. Barnett

Overall Rating: ***

Until next time,

Scott Newman: