It’s been an eventful week or so for the UFC, to say the least. The main event for their next pay-per-view fell apart over the course of two whole days, as UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum and challenger Cain Velasquez both dropped out due to injuries. The UFC then moved UFC 196 from pay-per-view to FS1, rechristened it UFC Fight Night and changed UFC 197 in March to UFC 196.
Oh, but they also have a card on Saturday on Fox, in case you forgot. While a champion and one no. 1 contender are taking a hiatus, the Fox card has the opportunity to determine the next set of contenders in the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions. What else does this card have in store?
Sage Northcutt (7-0) vs. Bryan Barberena (10-3) (Welterweight – 170 lbs.)
Barberena is a late replacement for Andrew Holbrook, who had to withdraw from his fight against Northcutt because of injury. This fight will be Barberena’s second, as he defeated Joe Ellenberger (brother of Jake) in 2014 after toiling on the regional mixed martial arts scene. Only two of his fights have gone to a decision, while all seven of Northcutt’s victories have been via finish.
UFC wants Northcutt to be its next big star. That much is clear. He faces a stiff test in Barberena, who is just as capable of making his opponent tap out as he is scoring a knockout. While he will be as game as he can be, Northcutt’s speed and strikes will be too much for Barberena to handle on short notice.
Winner: Northcutt by second-round TKO
Iuri Alcantara (32-6) vs. Jimmie Rivera (18-1) (Bantamweight – 135 lbs.)
Did you know that Rivera’s lone loss came way back in 2011, and even it was under somewhat controversial circumstances? Yeah, I didn’t either. Rivera has quietly put together a dominant run in MMA, winning his first two UFC fights and his last nine overall. He faces the longtime UFC veteran Alcantara, who’s been with the UFC since 2011.
Alcantara will probably look to grind out Rivera and keep him on the ground, since the majority of Alcantara’s UFC fights have gone the distance. River’s UFC debut was an emphatic first-round TKO of Marcus Brimage, followed by a close victory over Pedro Munhoz. Which Rivera will we see in this fight? I like him to put the bantamweight division in rather memorable fashion.
Winner: Rivera by second-round TKO
Josh Barnett (34-7) vs. Ben Rothwell (35-9) (Heavyweight – 225 lbs.)
The UFC’s heavyweight division is a hot mess right now, frankly. As I said before, Werdum and Velasquez both dropped out of their fight at the formerly-known-as-UFC 196 next month. Velasquez dropped out first and Stipe Miocic was named as his replacement. When Werdum dropped out, Miocic found himself without a fight and Barnett and Rothwell now have an opportunity to leapfrog him in the line to get a title shot.
Barnett looked like a different fighter with his dominant decision victory over Roy Nelson last year. Rothwell has also looked reborn, as he is on a 3-fight win streak and seems to have adopted a “supervillain” persona, as we now live in the Age of the Conor McGregor Style of Fight Promotion.
I expect this to be a long, grueling slug-fest. But I like Rothwell to finally take his claim to a title shot with a convincing victory.
Winner: Rothwell by unanimous decision
Anthony Johnson (20-5) vs. Ryan Bader (21-4) (Light Heavyweight – 205 lbs.)
Speaking of determining a no. 1 contender, this fight is expected to figure out who will receive the next light heavyweight title shot after the expected showdown between former champion Jon Jones and current champion Daniel Cormier. Bader is on a 5-fight win streak and if he doesn’t receive a title shot after dethroning a recent contender in Johnson, one has to wonder if there is anything Bader can do to get a title shot.
Johnson looked to be on his way to becoming champion last year when he nearly knocked Cormier’s head off early in their fight last year. But Cormier recovered and exposed Johnson’s lack of a ground game and poor cardio by choking him out for the belt. I expect Bader to try and take Johnson down early and often. But if “Rumble” has as good a takedown defense as he says, this fight could go the distance as both will give everything they have not give their opponent an inch.
If Johnson lands one big blow, it’s all over. But Bader is a much smarter, much more methodical fighter now than he was early in his career. I think Johnson will be over reliant on trying to knock Bader out, and Bader will use his advantage on the ground to eke out a close victory.
Winner: Bader by split decision