That’s right boys and girls, you’re about to get hit with a blizzard of knowledge known as the Downes Side! Since I’ve been living in Southern California the last couple years, I don’t really know what a blizzard looks like anymore. But “blizzard” still sounds cooler than “moderately sunny day of knowledge.”
No matter what climate you live in, the UFC will be turning up the heat in the Prudential Center in New Jersey this weekend. In the main event of the night, we have Ryan Bader and Anthony Johnson fighting for a potential shot at the light heavyweight title. In the co-main event, heavyweights Ben Rothwell and Josh Barnett compete for the right to deliver potentially awkward post-fight interviews.
SAGE NORTHCUTT vs. BRYAN BARBERENA
We start in the welterweight division with Sage Northcutt and Bryan Barberena. Like him or not, Super Sage has gotten the people’s interest. Fighting for the third time since October, the 19-year-old can make up for his lack of experience quickly at this rate. Most recently, he finished Cody Pfister in the second round via guillotine, but “Bam Bam” Barberena wants to knock Northcutt off his “pedestal.”
As your intrepid reporter commented earlier this week, we’re still trying to figure out if Northcutt is more Backstreet Boy or BBMak. He’s athletic and powerful, but the Pfister fight did show that he does have some gaps in his game. To win, Barberena has to be like Barbarella – don’t let emotion get in the way. Northcutt is highly accurate and does have sharp counterstriking, so brawling with him is a big mistake. Super Sage may be raw, but Barberena leaves his guard too open for me to think he avoids a big kick for three rounds. Nortchutt by second round TKO.
IURI ALCANTARA vs. JIMMIE RIVERA
More on Fight Night New Jersey: Watch it on FOX this Saturday | Reasons to watch | Bader focused on fights, not chasing title | Sage Northcutt's secret to success | Barberena happy to derail Super Sage's rise | Ortiz ready to cement comeback in Newark | Watch: Under-the-radar fights this weekend | Watch: Rothwell's rise | Watch free fight: Ryan Bader vs. Keith Jardine | Watch free fight: Anthony Johnson vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida | Watch Road to the Octagon: Alcantara vs. Rivera, Barnett vs. Rothwell, Johnson vs. Bader
We drop to the bantamweight division for Iuri Alcantara and Jimmie Rivera. A veteran of 11 UFC fights, Alcantara has won four of his last five. Extremely well rounded, he has 13 career KOs and 12 submissions. “El Terror” Rivera steps into the Octagon for only the third time, but this New Jersey-born fighter is considered one of the top prospects in the division. Scholars also contend that the translation of his nickname has been lost for centuries.
When you watch video of Rivera, it’s no surprise why he’s won 17 straight fights. He throws with a lot of power, but still strings combinations together. Rivera has more KO potential, but Alcantara is much smoother. Even though Rivera does throw numbers, he does telegraph a lot of strikes and sits down on his punches. Alcantara has much subtler movements and slips/counters more effectively. He doesn’t have the best wrestling in the division, but he’s a grappling opportunist and converts his takedowns at a high rate. Rivera will be someone to keep an eye on, but Alcantara uses his Fight IQ and versatility to take the unanimous decision.
JOSH BARNETT vs. BEN ROTHWELL
Next, we jump to heavyweight for Josh Barnett and Ben Rothwell. The “Warmaster” has gone 2-1 since his return to the UFC. Scoring wins over Frank Mir and Roy Nelson, Barnett is a catch wrestler with 18 career submissions. If I told you Ben Rothwell was 34 years old, would you believe me? Well, he is and Big Ben is on a roll with three straight finishes, including a first-round guillotine over Matt Mitrione. As the converse to Barnett’s style, Rothwell has 27 career KO wins.
When you look at their striking stats, Barnett would appear to have the edge. He has higher accuracy, volume and defense. Much like your college GPA, though, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Part of the reason Rothwell’s numbers look worse is the fact that he spends a lot of his time exchanging at distance while Barnett prefers to clinch and wear opponents out. He’ll want to do the same here, but it won’t happen. Mitrione’s speed helped him score on Rothwell, but Barnett doesn’t have that same advantage. Rothwell’s continued improvement to his conditioning has improved his footwork and that will prevent him from getting pushed up against the cage. Rothwell puts away the Warmaster in the first round.
ANTHONY JOHNSON vs. RYAN BADER
Time for the main event! After losing to Daniel Cormier, Anthony Johnson came back strong with a bruising KO over Jimi Manuwa 28 seconds into the second round. It was the 14th knockout of his career and “Rumble” could jump right back into the title picture with a win here. Once considered a middling 205-pounder, “Darth” Bader has made a big jump the last couple years. A former ASU wrestler, he’s won five fight in a row, including wins over Phil Davis and Rashad Evans.
Familiarity breeds contempt. It applies to MMA just as much as it applies to your failed relationships. A lot of fans still see Bader as the guy from season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter – a good, but not great, gatekeeper. Bader is certainly a top 5 guy in the division, but can he beat Johnson the same way Daniel Cormier did? I don’t think so. Bader may have a wrestling background, but he doesn’t set up his transitions as well as Cormier. Johnson avoids the takedown, and as long as he doesn’t gas out, he’ll take the decision.
That wraps up another temperate edition of the Downes Side. Follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes. Also, don’t forget to leave your own predictions, comments, venerations and tips for beating the snow on the page here. Marrying someone from San Diego is already taken.