UFC ON FOX 18 PREVIEW: Penick’s main card quick thoughts and fight picks for “Johnson vs. Bader” event

By Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief

UFC on Fox 18 hits network television on Saturday night with a four fight main card, topped by the light heavyweight contender bout between one-time Interim Title challenger Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Ultimate Fighter 8 winner Ryan Bader. The card also features an intriguing heavyweight matchup between Josh Barnett and Ben Rothwell, as well as another quick return fight for 19-year-old Sage Northcutt. Time to break down the four main card matchups!

Anthony Johnson vs. Ryan Bader (Light Heavyweight): This matchup isn’t all that hard to figure out, at least in terms of what each of them wants to do in this fight. Bader wants to impose his will, grind Johnson out, and out-work him on the ground to either break him down for a late stoppage or to take a decision. Johnson wants to break Bader’s skull before that happens.

Johnson’s as dangerous a fighter early on in a fight as there is in the sport, as he’s got the type of power that can completely throw off an opponent’s gameplan. He rocked Daniel Cormier early in their fight, and though he couldn’t capitalize entirely on the opportunity presented, that power was on display. And given the type of damage Alexander Gustafsson made it through against Cormier and Jon Jones, it remains damned impressive that Johnson demolished him as easy as he did last year.

While Bader’s been mostly durable throughout his career, he’s susceptible to getting knocked out, as happened against Glover Teixeira in his last defeat. At the same time, should Johnson fail to score the stoppage, his past history doesn’t leave things looking well for him from there. He’s never had a great gas tank, and if fighters can grind him out he often winds up getting taken out eventually. Bader doesn’t have the greatest finishing instincts in that regard, so even if he wears Johnson out it’s not at all a given he’ll stop him. Still, if he can avoid the onslaught in that first round, he can easily out-work Johnson the rest of the way for a decision. That may very well happen, but I think this one ends Johnson by TKO in the first round.

Josh Barnett vs. Ben Rothwell (Heavyweight): Barnett returned in a mostly entertaining fight with Roy Nelson last September, and looked pretty good in his first fight since a December 2013 KO loss to Travis Browne. Rothwell’s won three straight over varying levels of competition. In a heavyweight division devoid of a legitimate youth movement right now, these longtime veterans remain at the high end of the field, and this could be a competitive, entertaining heavyweight fight.

Rothwell’s resurgence began back in 2013 when he bounced back from a submission loss to Gabriel Gonzaga with a stoppage win over Brandon Vera in Milwaukee at UFC 164. Barnett himself scored a win over Frank Mir on that card, but they’ve each had just two fights in the two and a half years since that event. Barnett’s layoff was somewhat self imposed, and he’s looking to make up for lost time, while Rothwell had been suspended, but returned well with a surprising TKO over Alistair Overeem and a submission over Matt Mitrione his last time out.

Rothwell’s going to need to find a way to stop Barnett in this one. “The Warmaster” is a superior grappler, and his boxing game is very much capable of hanging with Rothwell here. Should Rothwell fail to catch him with something, this one becomes Barnett’s to lose. He’s got stoppage power of his own, and his clinch game and ground work could allow him to dominate the action here. Rothwell still has significant power, of which Barnett needs to be wary, but Barnett isn’t easy to stop, and I don’t think Rothwell gets it done here. Barnett by submission in the third round.

Iuri Alcantara vs. Jimmie Rivera (Bantamweight): 26-year-old Rivera gets a chance to take another step up in the bantamweight field after consecutive victories to kick off his UFC career. Alcantara’s the aging veteran, and though he’s had a lot of success in the UFC, some inconsistent work in his recent performances has him seeming vulnerable. This is a statement fight for both; Rivera to show he’s ready to move into the top 15 of the division, and Alcantara to prove he’s still a viable competitor at that level in this field.

Rivera’s an impressive young bantamweight at this point in his career. He’s 18-1 on his career, with his sole loss coming by split decision in his second career bout. He’s hopped around promotions nationally and on the east coast, but made an impression in his UFC debut last July when he took out Marcus Brimage by TKO. He followed that with a decision win over Pedro Munhoz, and he aims to be competitive against a well rounded and talented opponent in Alcantara.

Alcantara has lost just three times over a four and a half year run in the UFC, and they’ve all come to good fighters by decision in Hacran Dias, Urijah Faber, and Frankie Saenz. He’s got solid submission skills, occasional KO ability, but more than anything he’s got the ability to mix things up well in order to score points and out-work opponents. This one should be competitive, and could be all over the place with both trying to take advantage wherever they can. I’m not sure if Rivera’s ready to take that next step up or not, but he’s going to have his opportunities here in what should be a close and competitive fight. Rivera by decision.

Sage Northcutt vs. Bryan Barberena (Welterweight): Northcutt’s gotten a massive promotional push, but it may come to a screeching halt here in New Jersey. Barberena’s a very dangerous fighter, and as a late replacement represents a tougher fight than the scheduled Andrew Holbrook bout. Of course, neither have to cut weight into this one because of that fact, so we’ll see what we get out of them under those circumstances.

Northcutt showed some holes against Cody Pfister his last time out, but he bounced back strong in the second round to find the win to remain undefeated. Barberena did lose his last fight, but he got ground out by Chad Laprise a bit to a decision, and he hasn’t been stopped in six years.

This is going to be a competitive fight given its short notice nature, and the hype train will either continue on, or Barberena will introduce him to defeat. Coin flip, Barberena by decision.

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