In recent years, Anthony Johnson has terrorized the UFC light heavyweight division with his incredible knockout power. Saturday night on Fox, he was matched with fellow top contender Ryan Bader in what was thought to be a solid test moving toward another title shot. It proved to be not much of a test at all. Bader appeared mentally defeated from the moment the fight started and Johnson was declared the winner just a minute and 26 seconds in via knockout.
Before Johnson even had the chance to start throwing on the feet, Bader dove in low with a desperation takedown attempt. Unable to gain top position, he settled for a kimura attempt from the bottom. When Johnson successfully worked his way out and was in mount position, Bader simply covered up. Johnson threw down a few punches and the fight was stopped with Bader turtled up.
Johnson has won five of his last six in the UFC, including four by TKO/KO. He will almost certainly fight the winner of the upcoming Daniel Cormier-Jon Jones light heavyweight title fight. The Cormier fight would be a rematch from last year. Johnson hurt Cormier early but Cormier survived and scored a submission win. Jones hasn’t fought Johnson and it is the most intriguing fresh matchup out there for Jones.
In the co-feature, Ben Rothwell picked up a remarkable submission victory via guillotine choke over Josh Barnett to establish himself as one of the top heavyweight contenders. Rothwell winning wasn’t a shock, but for him to win via submission was completely unexpected. Barnett is one of the best grapplers in MMA and had never been tapped out with a submission hold in his entire illustrious MMA career.
Rothwell has won four fights in a row, including over top contenders Barnett and Alistair Overeem. He could find himself competing with Stipe Miocic next for the opportunity to fight the winner of a Fabricio Werdum-Cain Velasquez title fight. It has been an impressive surge for Rothwell, who was once considered a midlevel heavyweight but who has worked his way up the ranks in impressive fashion.
For Barnett, it’s a disappointing setback. At 38 years old and having fought for a decade and a half, Barnett is toward the end of his career. He can still compete at a high level but it will be difficult for him to string together the wins needed to get a title shot.
This event was also supposed to serve as the highest profile showcase yet for Sage Northcutt, the 19-year-old prospect hyped up tremendously by the UFC in significant part because of his looks and physique. Three fights into his UFC career, Northcutt was featured on Fox against Bryan Barberena, a relatively unknown fighter taking the bout on short notice. Northcutt was the significant favorite, expected to score a big win on a major stage.
Unfortunately for Northcutt, things did not go as planned. In the second round, Northcutt went for a spinning kick and ended up on the ground. Barberena controlled him there with strikes and Northcutt tapped quickly when Barberena began to apply an arm triangle choke from half guard position. That’s not normally a position from which the hold is finished. It was in stark contrast to fellow heavily marketed youngster Paige VanZant, who lost last month but showed tremendous mettle in fighting nearly five rounds through a terrible beating in the process.
Northcutt is still very young and may be able to recover to do big things in the sport. However, the nature of the loss, the opponent, and the pre-fight hype are likely to make it hard on Northcutt in the near future. Northcutt will have to prove he’s worthy of the sort of attention and promotional push he has received so early in his career.
In other action:
- Jimmie Rivera was extremely popular in his native New Jersey and the crowd reacted enthusiastically to his exciting unanimous decision win (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) over Iuri Alcantara. Rivera’s pressure was the difference in the fight as he made it hard for Alcantara to get off.
- Former Strikeforce champion Tarec Saffiedine returned to action after over a year’s hiatus and won a unanimous decision over Jake Ellenberger. The crowd did not appreciate the bout, booing the lack of excitement throughout.
- Carlos Diego Ferreira defeated Olivier Aubin-Mercier via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27). The fight was mostly a striking battle in the first and second rounds while Ferreira dominated on the ground in the third. It’s another quality win for Ferreira, who has impressed in the UFC against a high level of opposition.
- Rafael Natal won his fourth straight UFC fight, stopping a seemingly disinterested Kevin Casey in the third round via TKO. Natal got mount and threw punches until the referee called the contest off.
- Wilson Reis picked up a critical win, upsetting Dustin Ortiz via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27). Reis wants to establish himself as a contender in the flyweight division and Ortiz is one of his biggest wins to date. Reis’ control of the ground game was the difference in the fight.
- Alexander Yakovlev was impressive in victory, becoming the first man to knock out George Sullivan in MMA competition. Yakovlev dropped Sullivan with a hard right hand in the first round and finished the bout with additional strikes on the ground.
- The colorful and energetic Alex Caceres was victorious over Masio Fullen after three full rounds (30-27, 30-27, 30-27), breaking a three-fight losing streak inside the Octagon. The fight was more competitive than the scores might suggest.
- Randy Brown picked up a hard fought unanimous decision win (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) over a game Matt Dwyer in his UFC debut. Brown was hand selected to compete in the UFC by UFC president Dana White and was a local crowd favorite.
- Levan Makashvili and Damon Jackson fought to a lackluster majority draw (27-29, 28-28, 28-28) thanks to a questionable point deduction on Makashvili for a knee to a grounded opponent and accidental eye poke.
- In the opener, Tony Martin made Felipe Olivieri’s UFC debut a rough one, submitting the Brazilian in the third round with a rear naked choke. Olivieri had success with leg kicks early, but Martin took over late.
Follow Todd Martin on Twitter @ToddMartinMMA